From the C-Suite: Lola Hogan
Sequoia Insurance Company’s Chief Claims Officer Lola Hogan explains what good claims adjusting means to her, how to fix the talent crisis in claims, and what traits make for a successful adjuster.
By Taylor Smith
Current Position: Vice President, Chief Claims Officer, Sequoia Insurance Company
Years in Current Role: 9
Years in Insurance Industry: 30
Degrees: BA in History, University of California-Davis
Designations: Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter and Associate in Risk Management
Originally From: New England
First Insurance Job: Claims Adjuster at Safeco
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New England, north of Boston. After one particularly bad winter, my mother decided to leave and move to California, so I went to school on the Monterey Peninsula. I went to UC Davis and earned a degree in history and planned to be a teacher.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to ride horses in the Olympics, but that was problematic because it required horses and money. I was interested in teaching, but I was not dying to teach. Ending up in claims was great for me because I’m much better at this than I was at teaching.
How did you get into the claims industry?
The way everyone does: by complete and total accident. After I taught high school for a couple of years, the economy took a turn and it became hard to find a long-term teaching job. So I ended up looking for a new career. I took my first job as an adjuster without knowing what it was, but I did get a company car and that was the motivating factor at the time. I got a Ford Maverick, and it was horrible but free. I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job with Safeco, which was looking to hire female claims adjusters. Then I was off to Safeco School in Seattle for a month.
How was Safeco School?
It was very thorough. We did everything from working in a body shop to learning to build a garage. We did a lot of role playing. It was true multi-line training.
How long did you stay at Safeco?
After a few years, I went to The Hartford mostly because back then, the only way to get a raise was to change companies. Safeco was all personal lines, and The Hartford also had commercial business, so it was fun to learn new lines of business. I stayed at The Hartford for two years and then went to American States. There I was a resident adjuster before moving on to be a branch adjuster. That was the first job where I had a management role.
Tell me about your current employer, Sequoia.
We are a commercial lines carrier, about $100 million. We write some workers’ compensation and a little personal lines business. We write primarily in California, but also in other western states. We only write through independent agents and don’t advertise to the public. We are known for work in habitation insurance—homeowners’ associations, hotels, and motels. We run everything from our Monterey office, with the exception of a few people in Bakersfield, Calif. Our claims operation is broken down by line of business.
Do you draw on your teaching experience in your current role?
I think good claims adjusting is about teaching people what their policy says—explaining what’s covered and what’s not and doing it in the nicest way possible. It takes a lot of patience and skill to do that well and to keep the customer in spite of the fact that they may not be happy with what’s happened and how their insurance policy works. Claims management is a customer service job—ultimately, we are responsible for customer retention.
How did you acquire that perspective on claims management?
I was very fortunate when I first started to be taught that claims adjusters are service providers. Our job is to look for coverage, not against it. Our job is to pay what we owe. It’s not our job to beat up someone who has paid premiums. We’re the “promise keepers.” Often we’re the reason people stay with the company or leave the company. I was raised with that attitude about claims management.
Did you have a mentor?
I had a law firm that basically helped teach me commercial insurance. We would meet informally a couple times a week. I would show up with files and a ton of questions. It was a great learning experience to discover that the law was very flexible, with lots of rules subject to various interpretations. That experience made me much more aware of what adjusters could do. At that time, I used to also go to depositions. I learned so much from those depositions about asking questions and taking statements. That knowledge was tremendously helpful in negotiating settlements.
What advice would you give to new claims professionals?
I have found that having a multi-line background is very helpful to me. However, companies today tend to have their claims professionals specialize more narrowly. I don’t have a problem with that, but I do think you’ll be a better overall adjuster if you learn about the areas you have nothing to do with—learn about the other departments of your company and expand your knowledge.
How can young claims professionals hone their skills?
I believe that practical training and role playing are extremely helpful. We’re planning to start monitoring phone calls of our claims professionals not in an effort to discipline them, but rather to educate. Sometimes claims professionals may be using approaches that might be technically accurate but not effective. I think processes like that can be very helpful.
What are your thoughts on the talent crisis in the claims profession?
There definitely is a talent crisis, which I think is driven in part by business intelligence. As an industry, we no longer train adjusters to use good judgment. We have all this data and tools to help adjusters—for example, adjusters can use injury assessment software—but if the adjuster doesn’t know how to value a claim in the first place, those tools are not successful. I’m finding that someone with 10 years of experience today doesn’t really have the knowledge that you used to find in someone who had the same experience.
Is there a way companies can help resolve that problem?
I think we lose a lot by putting everyone in their houses working alone in environments where they can’t interact and talk about a claim. We’re not sharing experiences any more. That interaction with peers is missing in a lot of companies, and it’s really important. In this business, half of what you learn is by informally sharing with peers and supervisors.
In the past, claims professionals were hired because they could sit down with a pile of files and creatively figure out how to resolve them. We were hiring young professionals who were innovative, self-starters, and creative thinkers. With today’s reliance on business intelligence software, there is less focus on those skills. To raise a generation of claims professionals who can handle complex claims, we need to get back to focusing on that skill set and encourage that type of professional.
What could companies do to make claims careers rewarding?
It has to pay competitively. It has to give claims professionals enough autonomy, authority, and responsibility to act. Respecting an individual’s ability to do her job is critical. This is pretty independent work and we need to encourage individuals who excel at that kind of work.
What does the claims industry need that we don’t have?
The most common problem is that the people they work for do not recognize how much time a good file takes. We measure important metrics, like the number of files opened and closed, and that’s important—but we also need to recognize the time it takes to work the file properly so we’re not short-changing the company or the customer.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to hire the right people for the right job and then stay out of their way so they can be successful. If you micromanage, people stop innovating and creatively figuring out how to resolve files. At the same time, I try to talk about files in a non-combative, non-threatening forum. I also recognize that each person I manage requires a different management style. Part of my job is to recognize which style works best with each person.
Switching gears a bit, tell me about your family.
I’m married and have two stepchildren and grandchildren.
What do you travel with?
On a day trip, just my Blackberry. On an overnight trip, I bring my laptop.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve read recently?
“Rin Tin Tin”—it was really interesting. I was not aware before reading the book that there had been a real Rin Tin Tin rescued in Germany and brought home by a soldier. It made for great reading.
Do you have any pets?
I have two cats: Fluffy and Princess. Because they are Siamese, we have resigned ourselves to the fact that they enjoy having us around mostly to serve as their staff.
What’s your idea of a great vacation?
A great vacation for me is to sit on a beach with a big pile of books. An even better vacation is to sit with my books and have wine delivered to my lounge chair and only have to worry about when the next great meal will be and what I should order!