In a merger-hit and ever shrinking insurance market, loss adjusters have been feeling the pinch over the past few years. Many major adjusters have announced branch closures and, last month, Norwich Union shed its 65-strong team.

There is also new competition from Royal & Sunalliance (R&SA), which recently bought Independent's loss adjusting arm Property & Casualty Services for £3m. The company now plans to reduce its panel, which comprises Cunningham Lindsey, GAB Robins, Miller Fisher and Crawford & Company, and will deal with more claims in-house.

It is therefore likely that more cuts will follow. So what can loss adjusters do to make sure they remain in the competitive job market?

Consultant at executive search firm Mansion House, Lesley Winrow, says: “There are still roles available in the loss adjusting market, but generic positions are being downsized.”

She adds that the loss adjusters most in demand are those with a specialist area, as insurers are increasingly looking for people with specific skills, such as IT or engineering.

And more pressure is being put on loss adjusters to prove that they have specific skills, such as languages for the global market.

“Loss adjusters need to have much more of a business mentality nowadays and should know how to market themselves,” says Winrow. “In the future, they will need to be more leading-edge in terms of service provision, whether working for a niche company or multi-national global players.”

Client relationship management is also important, as the claims arena is now being considered a part of the overall customer service.

A recruitment consultant for Kelly Insurance, Keir Greenwood, agrees. He says in some areas of loss adjusting, it is actually an employee's market.

“Much of what happens in the insurance market as a whole is reflected in loss adjusting,” he says. “There is a lack of people in the market with the relevant skills and solid experience.”

Greenwood says many people seem to have left the market and gone into maintream claims, or are staying with the same employer for a considerable time.

There is a great deal of “churn” in loss adjusting – some people leave as they get older due to the demands of the job. Loss adjusters need to be very flexible, are often on call and have to travel long distances and this type of job does not tend to suit an older person with a family.

The changing role
The typical role of the loss adjuster has changed dramatically over the past few years, says Cunningham Lindsey's director of home services, Peter Walker.

Changes in technology have naturally affected the time frame in which jobs can be completed, meaning fewer employees are needed.

“Things do not stand still and there has been a change in efficiencies,” says Walker. “Staff can absorb more work than they could a few years back.”

But he adds that, despite consolidation among insurers, there are no fewer claims than there used to be and there will always be a buoyant market for people dealing with claims.

Many of Cunningham Lindsey's staff now work from home and can access the company's intranet and update files via their own PCs, which means time is saved on travelling to and from the office.

There has also been more diversification in the industry over recent years. Many loss adjusters, including Cunningham Lindsey, now have their own managed contractor networks.

“We now have total claims resolution services where we take on the risk, rather than just dealing with post-loss,” Walker adds.

He says one way of avoiding staff cutbacks is to bring flexibility to working hours, to cope with peaks and troughs in the demand for claims services, such as in times of storms or floods.

“We can't afford to carry spare and unproductive resources,” he says. “So we need to come up with creative ways of avoiding this, such as employing people part-time and offering flexi-time. This allows us to expand cost-effectively.”

How to stay in the market
The trend in recent years has been for insurers to alternate between outsourcing claims and bringing them in-house. Each time there is a change, jobs are lost.

Loss adjusting is under threat from a number of directions – the growth of solicitors and accountants offering claims services, and new internet systems which allow direct communication between insurers and assistance companies.

However, according to Walker, while some outsourcing companies are suffering from panel cutbacks, others keep getting busier.

“The market is an anomaly, as there is no particular trend,” he says.

His advice to people just starting out in the market is not to jump ship too many times – to allow time to develop a specialist area.

But it seems that loss adjusting firms and recruiters all agree that there are specific things they look for when looking for staff – some specialist knowledge, flexibility and good customer service skills. Those who have these skills are the most likely to buck the trend and find that they can pick and choose positions.