In the C-Suite: Matt McColley

We chat with Riverport Insurance Company’s Vice President and Chief Claims Officer.

By Taylor Smith

Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about your childhood and your family growing up.

I grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. My mom was always a teacher. My dad originally was in real estate, but went back to school and became a teacher. I also have an identical twin brother. It was my brother who introduced me to the claims industry, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time teaching in the claims world, perhaps as a result of my parents’ profession. As it turned out, I was influenced by everyone in my family.

What did you do after high school?

I went to college for about six months, but the economy was terrible and I just couldn’t afford it. So I joined the Army. I spent two years with the 101st Airborne from Fort Campbell. During my enlistment, I was fortunate enough to spend six months in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula monitoring the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Did you learn anything from your time in the Army that you apply to your work today?

When I was in Egypt with the multinational force, I worked with people from many, many different countries, each with their own assumptions and cultures and different ways of looking at things. That was an invaluable experience, in that I learned how to deal with many different and varied points of view. That’s very similar in some ways to handling claims and managing claims staff.

What did you do after your time in the Army?

When I left the Army, I went to visit a cousin at Kansas University and started school there, studying modern European history. I was drawn to that because my mother’s father was a B-24 Liberator pilot and was shot down over the English Channel about a month before she was born. They never found the plane, any of the crew, or my grandfather.

How did you find your way to the claims industry?

Through my twin brother, who is now an associate director of claims at Nationwide. I guess he is the one who is responsible for my career choice. My brother got a job with Sentry Insurance back in the1980s. Right after college I became a mortgage banker, but when the rates bottomed out in the early 1990s, my brother suggested I look into a career in claims. So I moved to Richmond, Va., and got a job with Sentry Insurance.

Did you have a good training program at Sentry?

Sentry had a very strong training program. We started with a basic claims program that lasted two weeks. After that, there were specialty-training courses on specific areas, like bodily injury and auto claims. In fact, I liked the training program so much that I ultimately became a trainer in the program. I loved it. It was a combination of claims work and education—both things I really enjoyed.

When did you move into management?

Technically, I began to move into management while serving as a trainer at Sentry in their home office in Wisconsin. However, my next job was to run a personal lines unit at the head claims office in Steven’s Point. I took over that unit to expand my management experience. Some of the students who attended my training courses were in that unit, so it was fun to see their growth and to work with them in a different way.

What are some of the challenges that claims professionals face today?

I personally believe that it is harder than ever for claims professionals to manage their time and the demands placed upon them. There are simply too many ways to communicate now—cellphones, texts, emails, phone calls, faxes, and even traditional mail correspondence. Claims handlers are bombarded with information from so many different directions. Everyone, from internal staff to the insured, expects an immediate response.

All of these communication channels mean more interruptions in the claims professional’s day. Today’s claims professionals have to be excellent multitaskers. They have to be able to prioritize their work so they can be responsive to the insureds’ needs and also effectively manage all aspects of the claim. You can’t simply print a week’s worth of diary on Monday and expect to be able to work through it all week. Each day is different and interrupted by multiple communication requests coming from multiple directions.

Last spring, I sat down with a group of litigation adjusters to examine their responsiveness and proactive behavior. My own observation was that a pending file of “x” today, is much more difficult to manage than it was in the past. As I’ve surveyed adjusters, I’ve come to appreciate just how many distractions they face every day.

Years ago, communication on a file would come in and would get placed in a file. Unless it was urgent or required an immediate response, we wouldn’t deal with it until the claim came up on diary for review. Today, adjusters can get communications from multiple parties on one claim in a single day, and the expectation is that they respond to those inquiries immediately. It’s a whole different experience now.

How do you advise adjusters to be more effective?

Technology is great, but it’s not a replacement for voice-to-voice communication. Technology should not become the process because claims handling is an art. There’s a level of humanity involved. I recommend limiting email as much as possible. One email can generate another one and then another. It’s a never-ending cycle. If you pick up the phone and talk with the other person, you generally get everything resolved and done. I suggest using email only to confirm conversations and not to gather information.

Why do you think people rely so much on email?

There’s no conflict in email. Claims adjusting sometimes involves giving people bad news that can be hard to say and even harder to hear. Again, though, I counsel against this temptation to rely primarily on email. Everyone is better off and more productive with personal face-to-face or voice-to-voice communications.

How do you describe your management style?

I’m hands-on and I believe in attempting to find a consensus with my management by staff or initiatives. While there can never be any doubt as to who is ultimately responsible for the decision, it behooves us to achieve buy-in as a team to ensure we are executing properly. At the end of the day, the team needs to focus together. I spend a lot of time with individuals to see what we can do better. My number one goal is to try to remove as many obstacles for the adjusters to get their jobs done on day-to-day basis.

What is the role of the claims department within the larger organization?

Many years ago, I was on an elevator in an insurance company with one of the main underwriting directors. He looked at me and said, “There’s profit prevention.” We laughed about it, but it stuck with me for years. Some may not know how valuable a good claims department is until they no longer have one.

I feel that the claims department is crucially important. Claims provides consistency in reserving, process, and customer service. We have more touches with customers and potential customers than anyone else in the company, and we’re doing it in challenging and often unpleasant scenarios. A confident, effective claims department is as important—sometimes more so—than anything else in the insurance company.

As a chief claims officer, what kinds of things keep you up at night?

Staff development. Everything is so “now” and instantaneous that we don’t spend enough time developing people. We’re getting ready to see an evolution of claims management. The executives who have been around for decades are nearing the end of their careers. What happens when the bench starts to clear as people step into those leadership roles? As an industry, we don’t have the bench strength anymore. The question to focus on is, 20 years from now, who will we have attracted into claims?

What would you say to a college student today who is considering a career in claims?

Claims is a great career path with many options. People in general are inquisitive. Think how mesmerized we all are by crime television shows. In claims, you get to work in a world that allows you to entertain those interests. You’re a medical examiner, a lawyer, a police officer, a detective, and much more all rolled into one. There are opportunities to learn all the time about many different subjects. There are no other jobs out there where you get to explore so many areas. It’s really a fantastic career.

What three things would you tell a claims adjuster to focus on?

First, be thorough. Understand that you want to touch a task once and get it done correctly the first time. Complete the task and move on. Second, don’t worry about being caught up. You’re always going to have something more to do. There will not be a day when you finish everything and walk out the door with nothing left to do. The sooner you understand that concept, the less anxious you’ll be. Lastly, be courteous and honest with everyone with whom you deal, from the insured to your colleagues. Honesty and ethics are essential.

Do you have any hobbies?

The Kansas Jayhawks. I’m a huge college basketball fan, and they are a great team to support. Rock Chalk Jayhawk! I also like to run and read. I read on a wide variety of subjects, but right now I’m into Vince Flynn who wrote a series of anti-terrorist, espionage books. I can’t put them down.

Tell me about your family.

I’m married and have four children. I have a 15-year-old daughter, 14-year-old stepdaughter, 12-year-old son, and six-year-old son. They’re all fantastic kids and they keep us very active (especially the youngest). I met my wife eight years ago through my oldest son actually, as she was his teacher. Another tie to education and its importance!   


Taylor Smith is a contributing editor to CLM Magazine and president of CLM Advisors, which provides consulting and talent acquisition services to the claims and litigation management industry. He may be reached at taylor.smith@clmadvisors.org, (224) 212-0134, www.clmadvisors.org.

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