Analysis: How loss adjusters are responding to the coronavirus - remote inspections, Covid-19 technical teams and prioritising the vulnerable

Coronavirus

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Jonathan Swift, director of content for Infopro insurance division, caught up with a number of loss adjusters to find out what they are doing to reduce staff and client exposure to Covid-19, while keeping operations as business-as-usual as possible.

 Are you reducing the number of site visits you are doing in light of Covid 19? If so, what are the exceptions?

Lisa Bartlett

Crawford UK & Ireland president Lisa Bartlett: Field visits are often an essential part of the claims management process but in the current environment, we are fully focused on taking all necessary steps to minimise potential exposure to Covid-19.

These measures include introducing new risk assessment practices and first notification of loss protocols, which are designed to ensure that we do not visit premises where occupants are in isolation or where there is a risk to our adjusters in visiting and progressing claims.

We will, however, undertake site visits when necessary and have implemented procedures to prioritise those claims where a visit is required, including those involving vulnerable customers. We will maintain this approach unless directed otherwise by the UK government.

All of our adjusters have received detailed instructions on how to protect themselves from exposure to Covid 19. These include maintaining a distance of two meters from people at any loss location.

James Norman

Charles Taylor Adjusting strategy and business development director James Norman: The necessity for site visits will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis depending upon individual circumstances. Wherever possible, non-essential meetings are being replaced with conference calls/video calls. Non-critical visits can be delayed, and other aspects of the loss worked on remotely as much as possible, so we may have to restructure the normal cycle. We could also see increased use of drones where appropriate and if they can capture the necessary level of detail.

Site visits are inevitable on certain types of losses where there can be no substitute or technology solution. However, safety is our primary concern, and these will now have to be managed in a way that adheres to Government advice. Any essential site inspections which need to be undertaken will be planned in advance to reduce the period of time spent on site and limit the number of physical interactions, as much as is practically possible. Enhanced personal hygiene practices are also being followed. The key to this process will be managing end customer expectations around any delays and regular communication.

Steven Wallace

McLarens UK and Ireland managing director Steven Wallace: Our policy is to avoid unnecessary travel and social contact in keeping with the current government advice, but we are very conscious that the situation is changing rapidly and our UK and Ireland pandemic committee are meeting daily, the output from which is feeding operational adaptions to ensure that the evolving risk is properly managed.

Our default position at the current time is to proceed with all essential visits but only after a risk assessment and under strict adherence to social distancing and hygiene procedures. This will typically be on large losses, those requiring essential mitigation work or policyholder assistance, and claims involving necessary physical evidence collection.

Chris Hall

Questgates managing director Chris Hall: We have introduced new triage and visit processes, and protocols which reflect government advice and these are being reviewed and revised as necessary on a daily basis. Our standard response makes specific allowance for vulnerable customers but we have increased the checks that we make to ensure that we identify and support such customers even during this difficult time.

To date there has been no reduction in required inspections but we do not expect this to remain the case. We have advised field-based staff not to visit offices and all internal and – where possible – external meetings are being undertaken using tele/video conferencing. We have contingency plans in place to enable inspections to take place where required under specific conditions and subject to government advice and any restrictions. We anticipate being able to use remote video inspection technology where necessary. 

Paul White

Sedgwick International UK CEO Paul White: Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, we have put processes in place to manage the risks associated with site visits. Following government advice which was issued on 16 March, we are updating our procedures and moving toward a more selective approach toward the types of visits we undertake. We are limiting physical visits to higher priority claims, with other claims being managed using virtual visits. Our priorities for in-person visits include: major losses; cases involving vulnerable customers; cases where alternative accommodation is required; and cases otherwise defined as urgent by Sedgwick or our clients.

What practices and technologies are you putting in place to help facilitate less site visits?

Bartlett: In recent years, Crawford has invested significantly in a range of new capabilities and processes designed specifically to facilitate the remote handling of claims. These include self-service apps for first notification of loss, artificial intelligence to enable more effective claims triage and automated claims resolution, and 3D technology that supports virtual walk-throughs of particular losses. All of these capabilities are adjuster led and we will look to leverage this investment to maintain our ability to respond to claims while limiting potential exposure to Covid-19.

In recent weeks, we have put in place comprehensive business preparedness plans that span every aspect of our operational activities. These include a number of well-tested procedures that are performing as expected under the pressure of this unique situation. 

Norman: Especially now but also in broader terms, if a claim can be managed without a physical visit or face to face interview, this is a preferable and sensible measure.

In basic claims handling, technology is advancing rapidly and in the current climate there will need to be an escalation of this; for example, investments into algorithms which can fast track decision making processes, video adjusting, mobile apps, self-service portals, chat bots, voice to text screening, voice stress analysis—all ways to capture key components of a loss and basic validation. More complex claims will continue to require more personal interaction and we are constantly finding new ways to adapt.

In times like these, the choice aspect of how to communicate is essentially removed, so if the technology is not mature, there could be workarounds using softer technology. For example, screening calls between adjuster and client using more basic cognitive interviewing on Skype or FaceTime to assess the loss scene, body language, etc., and to help fast track settlement recommendations.

Charles Taylor Adjusting are rapidly expanding our use of video adjusting. We are well placed to use remote client working practices and, on suitable claims, to hold FaceTime client calls, WhatsApp video inspections, SharePoint presentations and report sharing, and Teams calls to present updates and proposed outcomes. For international losses, if there are no travel restrictions, we have a high-quality network of associates and can utilise them to carry out physical inspections and communicate on the various technology streams mentioned.

kath mainon

Davies Claims Solutions CEO Kath Mainon: Our well-established Davies View technology service enables us to provide an immediate adjuster service in situations where we can’t get immediate access to the customer property. The customer is supported by an experienced claims adjuster through a live streaming video connection with enhanced functionality supporting evidence capture and cost validation. This enables us to identify immediately situations where urgent customer support is needed as well as giving insurer clients the earliest possible accurate view of the loss.

Davies View has been an integral part of our proposition for a number of years and continues to increase in popularity with both clients and end-user customers.

Wallace: We are fortunate in that our systems already support a remote working model; we have the ability to desk-handle claims, working collaboratively with second-tier suppliers if required, and making use of video streaming, remote photographic evidence capture, video-conferencing and/or drones.  By flexing our processes in this way, we are confident that we can maintain service levels while continuing to control indemnity spend.

Hall: All of our field staff are home based and supported by web-based technology which, subject to their own health, will enable them to continue working normally albeit if inspections and meetings are not possible, this will be undertaken using tele/video conference and inspection software. 

White: We have been investing in our digital solutions for the last two years, and we will now be drawing upon this technology more significantly. This means implementing virtual site visits in order to reduce the risk and potential spread of the virus. Claims are still being managed by the same skilled technical adjusters and claims handlers performing the same activities they would in-person, but by way of a virtual visit through live video streaming, as opposed to a traditional physical visit.

Are you seeing more insurers/brokers/MGAs/other clients request these practices and technologies in light of Covid 19?

Bartlett: Our clients have been incredibly supportive and recognise the significant challenges that we all face during this time. As mentioned, we remain fully committed to delivering a first-class claims service whilst also protecting our people, our clients and their customers.

The considerable investment that we have made in new technologies supporting our claims management capabilities are now clearly paying dividends. As an example, our clients use of our self-service app, You Go Look, and the ability to livestream from site are proving to be invaluable.

Norman: Inevitably, with or without a pandemic or other sort of catastrophe event, technology solutions and virtual adjusting will continue to be on the agenda and there will be an expectation that adjusters and insurers invest in it and collaborate to create the best customer experience. If the technology adds real value during the Covid 19 crisis, this will invigorate the use cases and demand.

Wallace: We understandably have had a stream of requests seeking confirmation of our approach to Covid-19 from an operational and welfare perspective. As conditions continue to change rapidly, our priority remains the safety and health of our employees, our clients and their customers, while continuing to deliver an uninterrupted quality service delivery – in this regard our objectives are aligned. We are also seeing losses and various requests for our view on coverage for Covid-19 related losses – given the complexities but we have established a discreet Covid-19 complex technical team of senior adjusters and accountants to lead the claims arising from the pandemic and ensure consistency in approach.

Hall: All of our clients are liaising with us on an ongoing basis to ensure that service can be maintained whatever the circumstances at the time. Inevitably the level of service may not be able to be maintained at the historic levels, but we are satisfied that we will be able to continue to provide a response and continue to handle work in progress.  

White: Our clients are facing the same challenges as us, and finding a solution which enables claims to progress smoothly is everyone’s focus. Our tried and tested technology which we already use as part of our loss adjusting practice is therefore in demand as we try and navigate through these exceptional circumstances.

Have you shut any/all of your entire offices to stress test your resilience? If so which ones and was the exercise a success?

Bartlett: We are adhering to specific business continuity and operational guidelines designed to enable us to maintain the high level of service that we normally provide to our clients. Regular testing and updates have ensured the swift and seamless integration of our plans in response to the evolving situation over recent weeks.

At present, we are not planning to shut any of our offices but we are monitoring the situation in London very closely. The majority of our employees are now working remotely. We have in place a comprehensive remote-working infrastructure which enables our employees to maintain business-as-usual activities at all times.

Norman: Our remote working capability is an important part of our operating model. Charles Taylor successfully conducted a global work from home day on Friday 13th March which gave us the ability to “test the load” on our IT infrastructure, whilst allowing those that would not usually work from home the time to ensure they can connect and work efficiently.

The vast majority of our staff globally are able to work remotely and have been advised to do so. This followed preparatory investment and advice to ensure that we were ready for a prolonged and widespread remote working. In addition, and in common with many firms, we have been taking robust action and providing advice to staff throughout this crisis to minimise the risk of infection to themselves and others. Our central incident management team meets several times a week to ensure that our action and advice remains up-to-date and appropriate.

Mainon: All of our desk-based third-party administration teams and loss adjuster and engineering field forces are enabled through technology to respond to the range of scenarios that Covid-19 presents.

We have carried out extensive testing of our ability to provide business as usual claims handling in scenarios where individuals and teams need to work from home. Like all businesses we are seeing a number of our people needing to self-isolate, and we have the technology to support them to successfully continue working. This is enabling us to continue providing full claims handling service to all our clients.

Wallace: All offices in the UK and Ireland have been tested and this week we move to a temporary full home working model. Our communications and systems infrastructure supports a fully flexible homeworking model – we operate paperless files, all staff (including office based staff) have laptops and tested secure home internet access and we recently installed Skype telephony throughout the business, enabling a seamless location switch.

Hall: We do this on an ongoing basis but have increased such testing taking into the account the particular circumstances. We have, however, undertaken additional testing which has led to us purchasing additional soft and hardware to enable all staff to continue working from home.

White: After managing the claims rising from the Beast from the East in 2018 which affected our two main service centres in Cardiff and Glasgow, we significantly ramped up our investment in new technologies, which enables colleagues to take calls and manage claims from home. More than 90% of our colleagues in the UK are now equipped to work from home, and we expect to see that number rise over the next few days and weeks.

Our offices will remain open for business to our clients, but office functions will be restricted to essential activities such as switchboard or post, managed by a small number of colleagues.

Do you think as a business everything will return to normal once the threat of Covid-19 rescinds; or do you see [for now] temporary working practices being introduced in light of Coronavirus becoming more permanent fixtures?

Bartlett: Our work from home capabilities are well tested, but this is the first occasion which has required the majority of our employees to work remotely. That level of preparation has meant that the transition to the current state of operation has been conducted seamlessly with no disruption to service.

The morale among Crawford employees is exceptional and I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far. There will be numerous valuable lessons learned during this extreme period and when we return to a normal business environment, we will look to ensure that these are fully implemented into our operational infrastructure and business continuity plans to further enhance our response capabilities.

Norman: While this is a fast-moving situation and no service provider can claim that it is ‘business as usual’ currently, Charles Taylor is proud to say that our teams across all business areas are fully operational and are continuing to serve our clients. Some of our teams are extremely busy dealing with claims resulting from the crisis, and we are actively redeploying teams from other business to support those areas experiencing ‘surge’ volumes in order to maintain service levels. We are closely monitoring the developments.

Wallace: It is difficult to predict, current modelling suggests that the threat will be present for some time and the precautions being implemented may well be a feature to some extent for the foreseeable future.  We are confident in our planning that the measures that we are currently taking are sustainable.

Hall: We have been moving increasingly to more home-based working, indeed 55% of our staff are home-based in any event. It may be that the changes required now and the lessons that we will learn will enable us to increase this percentage. However, this does require increased/ improved communication and under normal circumstances team management and infrastructure does need to be office or centrally based while regular face to face meetings and training are a must if high staff turnover and service failings are not to occur. 

White: Covid-19 is certainly not a normal situation – the virus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation and is affecting the workforce both across the UK and globally as employers rush to educate employees on best practices and navigate a new world of remote working.

Home working and flexible working has been part of our culture for some time, and we would expect this to continue.  However, we would expect the majority of our colleagues to return to office working once the threat has passed. 

We are a people business and our job of supporting our clients, customers and colleagues is best served through face to face interaction. As organisations across industries work to put new rules in place, they are turning to those with the expertise to provide counsel at this time. Only time will tell how this will affect the future of work.

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