New Hands on Deck

Refilling a professional pipeline siphoned off by Harvey, Irma, and Maria

By Eric Gilkey

When Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria made landfall in three different areas of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts this fall, insurers and third-party administrators quickly found that, short of having their claims teams in three places at once, they would be facing a major crunch when it came to having enough professionals in the field to handle the surge.

The numbers don’t lie. Harvey is expected to generate more than 130,000 wind- and flood-related claims. That number pales in comparison to Irma, which the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation reported caused more than 700,000 residential and commercial property claims to enter the adjustment pipeline. While Maria’s damage may end up being the costliest, the number of claims isn’t expected to be catastrophic due to the less than 50 percent penetration of homeowners’ property coverage. But the remote location requires long stays away from the mainland, removing claims professionals from the resolution equation for longer periods of time.

Times like these call for creative approaches to producing claims professionals quickly in order to fill the need and fulfill the promises to policyholders. After all, there are only so many people you can pull from other satellite offices, and getting claims paid accurately is just as important as paying them quickly. Here’s what one company did to fill the gap while at the same time hitting on what seems like a hunger to be a part of the industry.

Writing a New Chapter

Vale Training’s Douglas Dell was only on the job as vice president and director for two months when Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast. When it became clear that Irma’s arrival was imminent a few weeks later and that adjuster resources would be stretched, he launched an effort to streamline his company’s already-intense three-week claims professional training course to just six days while still covering property coverage, claims adjusting, scoping, and estimating residential dwelling damage.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How do we consolidate the program and focus on the essentials?’ We decided to focus on key areas within the workbooks that we usually use for the three-week program, spending less time than usual in areas like learning Xactimate,” says Dell. “We also extended the learning day and planned for review sessions in the evenings, which we figured would result in 60 hours of classroom time. On top of that, the candidates would be required to complete 10-15 hours of pre-work before arriving.”

Before that training plan could be implemented, though, Dell had to find professionals willing and able to handle the unique requirements of field adjusting in a post-catastrophe environment.

“We briefly considered just posting something on our social media channels, but thought that approach would require too much sifting to be viable,” he says. “So instead, we gave a description of what we were looking for and then required a survey to be completed. By doing so, we were also creating a new database of potential candidates.”

Dell leveraged Vale’s parent company, Cunningham Lindsey, to target those familiar with property insurance, construction, and real estate. He also had to make sure that they could meet the job requirements of a catastrophe claims professional.

“Can they get to a deployment area? Can they carry a two-story ladder? Can they climb a roof? Can they navigate roads that are going to be challenging due to lack of signage and landmarks?” says Dell. “These are all questions to think about before deployment. The candidates need to know what’s expected before they show up to do the work.” Additionally, there was a basic math skills component, a writing sample to gauge communication ability, and an insurance term quiz.

When Dell pushed the survey out through Cunningham Lindsey’s marketing channels, the response was immediate: 400 completed surveys in two days—a substantial number given the investment of time needed to complete the forms and the fact that Dell thought only 60 positions would be needed.

“I think so many were interested in starting this new career because they recognized the opportunity,” says Dell. “They knew the volume of claims was very high, which meant that this wasn’t going to be a week or two of work but rather several months of employment that could, at the end, turn into a career for them. The ones who I talked to really looked at it as a new chapter of their lives.”

Problem Solving at Its Best

With the 60 candidates identified, Dell utilized Vale’s property claims training facility in Arlington, Texas, and also called in a favor to a friend at Rollins Inc., the parent company of Orkin Pest Control, which has a similar indoor residential training facility in Atlanta called the Rollins Learning Center, allowing him to run two training programs simultaneously. The hands-on approach was key to getting the candidates up to speed.

“It’s one thing to check a box and say that you can get up on the roof of a two-story house; it’s another when you’re looking up at a house and thinking, ‘Oh, boy, I have to get up there…,’” says Dell. “Our goal was to reassure them that not only do they have things like ladder assists available to help them, but also that it was always about doing the safe thing from a commonsense perspective. Getting them out of the classroom and into the types of physical claims environments that they would be working in helped convey what they should expect. It was a real ‘aha moment’ for many.”

At the end of the training week, successful candidates earned an emergency adjuster license from Florida and could begin handling claims. Most were given 15 claims to start and a process to follow in order for Vale to evaluate their progress closely.

“We didn’t just cut them loose; we set up an experienced team leader in a hotel conference room who stayed near them during deployment,” explains Dell. “The new claims professionals would work one claim by collecting and uploading the pictures, measurements, and data, then bring it all back to the team leader for review and feedback. It served as a safety net for everyone. Once they did that successfully three times, the new claims professional could stay out in the field without coming back after each inspection, but the support from the team leader remained.”

Though the compressed timeframe for training won’t stick around, the ability to adapt to emergency situations while maintaining a commitment to safety and continuing education means Dell could bring the program back again should circumstances require it.

“Vale’s standard property program is three weeks and is designed for students to absorb information, write many estimates, receive feedback, and build confidence in using software in the adjusting process,” says Dell. “This is a proven model we will maintain. The success of these new claims professionals confirms a modified learning strategy works in times of need.”

Eric Gilkey is executive editor of CLM Magazine, a publication of the Claims and Litigation Management (CLM) Alliance. He may be reached at 513-273-8025, eric.gilkey@TheCLM.org.

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