Extreme bad weather this autumn has been estimated to cost the insurance industry more than £200m but thorough preparation has meant that adjusters are handling related claims well, leading the industry with a professional approach.

In times gone by insurers and loss adjusters were used to regarding individual claims in isolation – some customers received excellent service while their neighbours' cries for help remained unanswered. Problems experienced by loss adjusters included:

  • dealing with hundreds of damaged properties at once
  • locating experienced contractors
  • co-ordinating contractor response around the country when more than one region was affected
  • avoiding rogue tradesmen
  • failure to manage resources tightly location by location
  • difficulty laying their hands on large quantities of specialist equipment.

    Developments over the years

    An excellent weather forecasting service means we are in a position to warn our call centres of storms in advance. We can report and act on information within the hour, staff out-of-hours call centres to emergency levels and alert adjusters to be on call or on site for inspections and damage assessments. Adjusters, as they travel round, can also report quickly on local problems, such as flooding, as they arise – another useful early alert mechanism.

    Learning from lessons of the past has been necessary. How to dry out property thoroughly, the characteristics of different materials, and how buildings trap and hold moisture – all these pieces of knowledge are coming together. Combining that knowledge with refined lead times to initiate response and co-ordination of resources has improved planning and procedures. Customer expectation is also being dealt with in a better way.

    National networks of vetted building and specialist contractors, who satisfy requirements in terms of men, materials, machinery and plant, as well as criteria including availability at short notice, mobility and the right combination of equipment and price, are a key resource in weather catastrophe adjusting.

    Close relationships are formed as work, at previously agreed rates, is allocated on a regular basis and loyalty, resulting in an improved service, develops as good organisation and familiar circumstances encourage a positive response.

    Using a pre-planned network avoids the problems which result from being met with raw contractors who rush jobs, fail to strip and dry properties, use inferior materials, or merely cover up damage rather than repair it.

    With the help of dedicated teams and effective contractors, loss adjusters can concentrate on ensuring that jobs are done quickly, effectively and at a fair price, rather than having to waste time handling problems and enquiries from customers who have insufficient information.

    Driving force behind the change

    In the 1990s, criticism came via the press, from individuals with bad experiences of insurance companies, to independent reports commissioned by local authorities, that sensed lack of co-ordination within private insurance.

    Though we never wholly accepted the findings of such reports, we realised the benefits that were to be gained by proper planning and preparation. Seeking efficient processes in terms of costs and time-scales, adjusters now can muster weather catastrophe teams partnering with contractors, reclamation specialists, customers and insurers to provide an effective emergency service incorporating project management, response to questions, provision of advice and claims settlement.

    This planning allowed crisis management systems to be active from day one of the recent devastation. After initial reports of flooding, helpline resources were increased, claims management teams worked over weekends and meetings were held with contractors to finalise action programmes, ensuring availability of services required. To increase efficiency work has been allocated among contractors, some on local grids, allowing site offices and compounds to be established and materials, brought in bulk are at hand, meaning work can be completed at speed.

    Unfortunately, no easy solution to the problem of cleaning up and repairing after flooding exists. Before repairs can be done properly, properties need to be vacated, stripped, dried and treated thoroughly. If house owners are persuaded by a fast-talking contractor that he can do repairs quicker, it is likely that more harm will be done than good – the property may suffer damp or a long-term defect and would need to be emptied again. In the long term the disruption will be worse. When adjusters offer alternative accommodation, they explain to policyholders what will happen to their property. In addition, many will distribute advice sheets detailing why the process is so lengthy.

    Lack of co-ordination wastes time and time is precious. Adjusters provide a consistent service, in terms of communication, teamwork, advice, relief and access to financial assistance, to as many people at once as possible. Repairs are being done at a steady rate. Continual performance assessment is being given full support by adjusters and contractors as a strong presence is maintained in affected areas. Policyholders' needs must be listened to by someone local who has the authority to solve problems as they arise.

    Where to go from here

    Though the past represents handling claims in isolation, a period of realisation occurred, backed up from outside the industry. When adjusters debrief on recent events, company and contractor performance will be assessed and process efficiency investigated.

    Results of drying techniques will be examined, time-scales considered, and response of different materials to treatment looked at – all contributing toward building and improving our service for next time.

  • Alex Gargolinski is marketing director at McLarens Toplis.

  • Topics