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Claims Technology:
New Productivity Tools
By Kevin M. Quinley CPCU, AIC, ARM

Claims Software

Doing more with less is the new corporate ethic, both within and outside of the claims industry. Expenses rise, taxes jump and for better or worse, claims seems to remain a growth industry. The latter is lamentable for insurers, a boon to independent adjusters. In the eternal quest to do more with less, claim departments, adjusting firms and adjusters will strive to find more efficient and productive ways to perform loss adjusting tasks as they approach the twenty-first century.

Time is the one inelastic, non-renewable resource. When you boil it down, all adjusters have to sell, besides their skills, is their time. If they manage time well, they and their organizations will profit and flourish, in good economic times and bad. If they squander or mismanage their time, their unfulfilled aims will drip by like sand in a hourglass. To make the best use of their time, adjusters and adjusting companies must be consumed, not only with concerns for customer service, but also with productivity. The two go hand in hand.

Making the most productive use of time is one way to service more clients with maximum efficiency. It is also a way to deliver the highest quality of service to a set number of clients and constituencies.

In the twenty-first century there will be two types of adjusters and adjusting firms: the quick and the dead. Taking advantage of all the tools available for personal productivity will help claim professionals survive this Darwinian age as members of the former category. No professional football player would take the field without proper equipment: shoulder pads, neck guard, helmet, etc. To do so would hinder his effectiveness and be outright dangerous. It would put such a player at a competitive disadvantage. Likewise, claim professions need to be aware of and utilize the full complement of productivity tools which are available for busy professionals.

Laptop Computers - Adjusters traveling away from the office can boost their productivity through the use of laptop computers. Loading a laptop with a word processing program such as WordPerfect or Word Star, adjusters can use laptops to knock out reports, letters, status updates. Armed with a modem -- internal or external -- they may even be able to log onto the computer system back at their office to check on a file status, payment information, etc. With a database program, an adjuster might be able to call on a client and to punch up on the screen a listing of all open claims for review. This can turn loads of otherwise "dead" and down-time during travel into productive time.

Cellular Phones - Stuck in traffic while trying to meet with an attorney? Did you spend hours trying to establish control with a difficult claimant, only to face the possibility of being late due to traffic tie-ups? A cellular or car phone can assist in making the most productive use of one's time. It can also be used to knock out phone calls while on the road, or to call into one's office to defuse a crisis.

Advantages of a car phone should be clear. Your in-office time is spent more efficiently since you don't have to spend as much time knocking out call-backs -- you've already returned your calls! Your out-of-office time is more productive because you can now do more than simply drive and listen to the radio. Nor do you have to waste as much time merely driving around, looking for a pay phone so you can check in with your office. If you're stuck in traffic en route to some appointment, you can phone ahead and avoid ruffled feathers. Being more accessible to clients -- and to your boss -- has service advantages in addition to the productivity payoff.

If just one new business opportunity opens up for you because of having a car phone, then this gadget will have paid for itself many times over.

Electronic Estimating - Where once claim professionals had to spend much time laboriously digging up estimating data: information on component replacement parts for cars, the going rates for lumber and other building materials, adjusting for local fluctuations in values. Now, estimating software is available which automatically factors in these variables to aid adjusters in estimating and appraising loss.

Recently I was involved in a parking lot fender-bender. It has been a while since I worked in the auto side of the claims business, so I was a bit stunned when I took my Subaru station wagon in to have the damage appraised. The other driver's insurer set up shop twice a week at a nearby car dealership. When I drove in, the appraiser greeted me, took a few snapshots of the side-panel damage, and then entered data into a laptop computer in his office. The estimating software in the computer spit out an itemized estimate. By modem, he sent the estimate to his home office, which approved payment on the spot. Within a few minutes, his portable printer was spewing forth a draft for $458.17. Very impressed, I calculated the total elapsed time at around 23 minutes. When I marveled at this to the appraiser, he informed me that his company was soon to be upgrading its equipment to make the whole process faster still! This type of speed would not be possible without the assistance of estimating software, coupled with computer and communications technology.

I recalled the not-so-long-ago days in the late `70s and early `80s when the appraiser would need to get back to the office, page through crash manuals, write up and estimate and get it to the adjuster. Then, the adjuster would mail the estimate to the insurance company, which would mail a draft to the adjuster, who would then try to contact the claimant. Total elapsed time under the old system: perhaps as much as 2-3 weeks.

Voice Mail - I know that some people hate voice mail, considering it very impersonal. It is frustrating to call and get only a recording, then have to twist and turn your way through a labyrinthine voice mail maze. You know what, though, phone-tag is also very frustrating and impersonal. Many of the critiques against voice mail are really not criticisms of voice mail, but rather go to the misuse of voice mail. Voice mail stifles productivity is it becomes . . .

A "crutch" for adjusters to use to insulate themselves from clients or difficult callers
A nuisance for clients
The only way to deal with a company, never having the option of pressing a number to speak to a living, breathing human being.

Used wisely, voice mail can short-cut irritating and time-wasting phone tag. Assume, for example, you need to leave an important message for your defense lawyer on the case of Beavis v. Butthead. Under the old system, you'd call your attorney. If he or she was out of the office, you'd leave a message. When the lawyer called you back, you were out taking a claimant's statement. When you get back to your office, you call the lawyer back. She is in court at a settlement conference, however, and you will have to leave a message. Four days and seven messages later, the two of you finally connect, after playing phone-tag for days.

With voice mail, you can leave a four minute message, telling the lawyer what you want, or granting him the settlement authority requested. On your message, you add that you don't need a call-back unless the lawyer has a question. Total elapsed time: five minutes at most. For this reason, you may want to consider urging all of your outside counsel to get a voice-mail system for their offices. At your own office, it becomes a great way to check in for messages while you are out on the road. You can dial in, pick up your messages and return calls. To the client, it can appear as though you're still in your office. If you are on vacation or otherwise indisposed, you can leave a message to that effect or ask a co-worker to phone the client to help them out. Creativity can produce other nifty uses of voice mail. I work with one guy who will wake up in the middle of the night with a marketing idea and leave a message for himself on his own voice mail! Used wisely, voice mail can boost your productivity and avoid time-wasting wheel-spinning.

Teleconferencing - You can't be everywhere at one time, though this might surprise your boss. Travel costs -- airline tickets and hotel fees -- are shooting through the roof. Travel out of the office also takes you away from the office, and even with good backup help back at the ranch there is a huge backlog of work waiting for you. Therefore, as an alternative to travel to meetings, adjusting firms in the 1990's may explore teleconferencing as a lower-cost, more productive way to conduct meetings.

There will still be settings where there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. To that extent, in-person meetings will not go the way of the dinosaur. Further, there is no way to adjust a truck roll-over or a boiler explosion via teleconferencing. Hence, productivity inroads through this technique are somewhat limited by the very nature of loss adjusting work and investigative imperatives.

Paperless Files - Imagine a world where you did not have to go hunt for claim files. Visualize a setting where, when you want to retrieve a file, you bring it up on your computer screen. No more file hunts. No more "I'll call you back as soon as I find the file." No more taking flak from Claimant Jones because Hazel the file clerk is on vacation for a week. Wouldn't it be luverly?

At some insurers, the future has arrived in the form of a paperless office. USAA based in San Antonio, TX is a pathfinder in pioneering a true paperless claim system. They replaced warehouses of files with optical scanners which store massive amounts of information on discs similar to the CD's you buy in record stores.

Still, the advent of the paperless file system has probably been prematurely heralded. Companies which have gone paperless are the exception, not the rule, and still a few bugs and kinks need to be worked out. Not the least of these is the cost factor. Optical character scanning is very expensive, though the costs are diminishing. In addition, old habits die hard and most claims people are still more comfortable have a hard copy file to page through as opposed to finding a claim file document on the computer. Still, the features of optical storage of paper-intensive claim files holds the promise of genuine productivity gains.

One thing is clear. Much of the productivity revolution in the twenty-first century will be tied to computers. Those claim professionals who are not at least conversant with these gadgets had better overcome their technophobia, lest they face professional extinction by the up-and-comers who grew up with video games and computer technology. Reinvent yourself or pack your parachute.

Kevin M. Quinley CPCU, AIC is Senior Vice President, MEDMARC Insurance Company, Fairfax, VA. He can be reached at

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