Far from suffering - contracting and down-sizing - Carmichaels is now bigger and employing more trained loss adjusters than ever before. So while major firms forced by claims departments' insistence on price, cost-cutting and moving volume claims, can only see the "pile it high, sell it cheap" route, Carmichaels and other medium-sized loss adjusters have prospered by going down more traditional routes.

Only recently, while one of the big five national adjusters was thrown off one insurer's panel, we strengthened our hold with an extension of our remit. One reason must be that we have never forgotten service. If that means the firm loses work which requires only "box ticking" at marginal rates - well, so be it! There are still plenty of insurers which realise that major savings can still be achieved by proper loss adjusting.

Our commitment to service, almost regardless of the effect on final profit margins, means the savings that we can achieve on claims through proper investigation is only one side of the equation.

Adjusters which bring professionalism and expertise to the claimant are adding value to the whole insurance contract. In fact, everything else in the insurance process is supply-driven rather than market-led. It is the quality of claims handling that may well secure the loyalty of the policy provider.

Falling service standards
Recently, a block of flats where one of our adjusters lives suffered storm damage. One of the "big five" loss adjusters was employed by insurers, and they, as is becoming more and more common these days, instructed a nominated contractor to clear up the mess and repair the damage. The contractor turned out to be a sub-contractor of a sub-contractor and, almost inevitably, problems arose. The nominated adjuster's attitude was "all enquiries should be directed to the contractor and not to either us or the insurer". A level of service which falls far short of anything that our firm would provide and a level of service which calls into question the very existence of loss adjusters in the marketplace.

There is a lot of talk in the industry about technology. What is not often mentioned is how far behind the insurance industry is generally - and claims departments in particular. While some household names have made dramatic strides in marketing their domestic products over the internet, few have done much to see how claims can be similarly brought into line. This is finally beginning to change. While fewer than five per cent of insurers today can offer claims initiation and/or processing by the web, it is expected that, in the next three years, 40% of policy administration and 25% of claims initiation will be done on the internet. How far insurance companies have travelled can be seen by recent research which showed that fewer than half of their claims departments used e-mail for routine correspondence and fewer than ten per cent could receive reports electronically, let alone digital images or other attachments.

Embracing the future
Those loss adjusters which have embraced technology - e-mail, digital cameras, web sites and the like - will be in a position to help their insurance clients make the great leap forward. Carmichaels for instance is already looking at an insurance shop which will sell a variety of policies over the internet. Whichever way policies are sold, claims will also have to be handled more efficiently. Paying claims without any kind of adjustment investigation is a sure way to higher premiums and ultimately, no business. Even now, we are seeing a change in stance with some insurers moving away from the "sausage machine" approach and with some even lowering the limit for claims investigation to as low a figure as £500.

Carmichaels slogan is "linking technology with tradition". To that, I should add further, that the future of the firm rests in training, the quality of staff and not least, their morale which is a vital ingredient. Pride in your work starts at the bottom. Those who have sacrificed everything to a dumbed down, skeleton service, geared to producing a mass product, are already finding that their overall service is affected - sometimes terminally.

While my adjusters can never be experts on every subject, we aim to be the "Jacks of all trades, masters of some".

It may never be that my firm will ever be a top five player. But the fact is that we have survived over the last 15 years, by providing the market with a service that is still very much in demand.