The leap forward in technology, with large amounts of business now conducted electronically, means ebusiness is here to stay. Any business that does not grasp the nettle and install the means to communicate electronically at all levels will undoubtedly be left behind. In a service-based industry such as insurance, speed and quality of electronic communication is a value-added commodity that can and should be easily incorporated into the day-to-day running of claims handling.

Many insurance companies have embraced the new technological age, offering electronic communication and web-based claims to policyholders, while others appear reluctant to do so. Carmichael's believes smaller loss adjusting firms should take certain steps if they are to increase their claims handling efficiency.

Maidstone-based Carmichael's is a medium-sized independent company with a good track record in investing in new technology. This began when it became the first loss adjusting company to use email back in 1987.

This was followed by the regular use of digital cameras on site, making photographic evidence immediately available for reporting purposes. Digital communicators are now in everyday use, and satellite navigation systems are installed in all of Carmichael's company cars, enabling adjusters to get to a site quickly and easily. The company is also at the forefront of implementing digital dictation, being the first to experiment with IBM Voicetype voice recognition. Carmichael's is keen to ensure that the benefit of IT is not lost on clients.

There is no doubt that the use of IT can significantly speed up claims handling without the loss of accuracy or efficiency. We have set ourselves high service standards for the speedy submission of preliminary and final reports, and these standards are monitored.

As loss adjusters are constantly on the move, the ability to communicate from anywhere in the UK is vital to the speed at which they can respond and meet work demands. Being able to send and receive faxes, emails, text messages and data via laptops and/or digital communicators while on the road is an important asset and one that is used as frequently as possible by Carmichael's loss adjusters. The electronic delivery of reports, digital images and other attachments to insurance companies is one way of ensuring maximum efficiency, and for companies that do have the technology to accept information in this way, there is a significant time-saving element.

Online advantages

Websites, too, are an important business vehicle and there are companies that allow policyholders the option to initiate a claim via the web – but the figures speak for themselves. Less than 5% of insurers offer claims initiation or processing online, although a larger percentage of policyholders have access to the web and email. Carmichael's website includes an initial instruction form as well as full details of the service provided. A growing number of clients are making use of this facility, which again saves time. An online claim form is also included which policyholders can fill in online.

At Carmichael's, we are also working on an extranet facility which will allow insurer clients, brokers and even policyholders to access specific areas of their own files.

With all the advantages that IT brings, it can clearly never take the place of good old-fashioned personal contact and quality of adjusting, but it is an important step. Carmichael's has a slogan that underlines its philosophy: “Linking technology with tradition.” This personal touch combined with the speed and efficiency that IT brings, improves the service at Carmichael's.

I believe it's a myth that independent adjusters offer limited service – larger firms formed through takeovers, mergers and acquisitions can often result in diluted effectiveness. While the independent adjuster is not by definition better, it is often the smaller company that will try harder to produce accurate and comprehensive reports, ultimately delivering a superior product. This is often unappreciated, mainly because of the skill shortages and acknowledged “dumbing-down” within insurance companies' claims departments.

My company has just achieved an ISO 9002 Certificate a full two months earlier than originally anticipated, largely due to the fact that the minute attention to detail meant that an endorsement of the correct quality control systems was, ultimately, a mere formality.

Loss adjusters that take IT seriously have a great deal to offer clients. It is clearly a matter of persuading all insurers that electronic claims handling is the way forward.

  • Paul Rolland is senior partner at Carmichael's

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