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Claims adjusters lean on technology to speed response to hurricane losses

Posted On: May. 1, 2018 12:00 AM CST

Claims adjusters lean on technology to speed response to hurricane losses

From drones to data, technology is enabling and enhancing the claims process, outsourcing and automating certain functions to allow adjusters and others to function more efficiently.

Technology does, however, have limits, both in specific situations and more broadly. While it may help people do their jobs more quickly and efficiently, tech is unlikely to supplant people in the claims process.

The multiple catastrophes in the second half of 2017, especially hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, became a proving ground for some new technologies.

The response to Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston Aug. 25-29, was the first time Marsh L.L.C. utilized drones and aircraft, said Charlie Martin, Norwalk, Connecticut-based national claim practice leader and chief claim officer for Marsh.

“We engaged with a particular vendor that utilized drones and aircraft to assess the damage,” Mr. Martin said. “I will tell you that it proved to be very effective in the right situation.”

“This was one of the initial times drones were used at scale,” said Matthew Lehman, managing director in Accenture P.L.C.’s insurance practice in Chicago. The drones were “very beneficial because it allowed the insurance companies to more quickly assess damage and understand its extent.”

There were limitations, however, Mr. Martin said, such as a civil airspace restriction over the Houston area in the days following Harvey. “You couldn’t fly for a few days because the airspace was restricted, so that held us back a little bit.” Drones, so far at least, see only the outside of damaged structures.

“We obviously used drones, and while in many cases they were effective to get an external view, we still had to go inside the homes, inside the buildings, to look at what the damage was,” said Rohit Verma, Atlanta-based global chief operating officer for claims manager Crawford & Co.

The insurance and claims communities are also looking more to satellite intelligence.

“We are gaining great traction in the insurance industry,” a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Earth imaging firm Planet Labs Inc. said in an email. “The focus on P&C really began in January of 2017 and has been ramping up over the course of the year,” including during the aftermath of Harvey.

“Using our daily, medium-resolution satellite data and integrating public parcel data, we were able to conduct early estimates of which homes had been affected or spared by Hurricane Harvey shortly after peak flooding,” allow insurance companies to better model risks and improve response preparedness, the spokeswoman said in the email.

Mobility and data progress also played a role in last year’s catastrophes.

“Where technology is making it easier is in limiting the time needed in the field,” said Derek Royster, partner with forensic accounting firm RGL Forensics L.L.P. in Charlotte, North Carolina. “With more business records being kept digitally, technology has enabled us to conduct more of the loss analysis remotely. Following last year’s hurricanes, we had fewer team members on the ground in Texas and Florida than were needed 12 years ago for Hurricane Katrina. Much of this can be attributed to the changes in business record-keeping and an increased reliance on technology and backing up records in the cloud.”

The way these carriers can now set up their mobile workforce and mobilize, they can do that so much faster now with the enhancement of cloud technology,” Mr. Lehman said.

“In January 2017, we acquired WeGoLook, a technology platform that enables us to manage an on-demand workforce,” Mr. Verma said. “Today we have 40,000 people that are part of this on-demand workforce, and what we can do is, using mobile technology, push some simplified tasks to these individuals.” In addition, “We are building a platform now to help manage adjusters,” Mr. Verma said, tracking things such as licensing, work history, performance and technical capabilities.

Communication with policyholders is also different now.

“Data is passed and moved more easily given the digital channels almost every carrier has these days,” said Darcy Dague, managing director in Accenture’s insurance practice in Chicago. “From a customer perspective, the ease of providing information is much greater now.”

Social media has become a crisis management tool as well.

“We saw carriers posting information and using social media a lot more to talk about where to go for help and what to do once you had a loss,” Ms. Dague said. “In the past, there’s been a lot more uncertainty. I think social media has helped carriers tremendously in getting that information out so that people feel much closer to their carrier.”

“A 2018 JD Power Survey advised that communication was the most important criteria driving a positive customer experience,” said Jason Landrum, chief information officer for Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc. in Memphis, Tennessee. “By using push notifications, collaborative communities, and web-based status updates, we are leveraging technology to create an improved claims experience for our customers.”

The number and popularity of hand-held devices continues to grow. Recent data from global market intelligence firm International Data Corp. shows the number of hand-held devices per employee doubling from 1.6 just three or four years ago to 3.4 in the next three years.

Hand-held devices such as tablets are now a staple of the claims process, allowing enhanced documentation of events as well as connectivity and access to data among stakeholders, Mr. Martin said.

“They are obviously the way of the future,” he said.