6/14/2011

Chief Concerns: Claims Executive Focus

Michael Prandi, National Claims Leader/Westfield Insurance

By Taylor Smith

Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?

 

MICHAEL PRANDI: I grew up in Cleveland, but don't believe what you hear. Northeast Ohio is a great place to work, live and raise a family.

 

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

 

I was a typical boy. I dreamed of being a professional baseball or football player. Nobody grows up with the dream of becoming a claims manager. That being said, claims is a great career!

 

What was your first job in claims?

 

My first job in claims was as a multi-line claims representative in Parkersburg, W. Va., with Westfield. It was a great experience handling a wide range of claims in a large geographical area. I quickly learned that people are depending on us to do our jobs well.

 

For younger professionals entering the claims management arena now, what do you think are the biggest roadblocks to success? What should they be focused on?

 

Our industry does not promote itself or the opportunities we have to offer very well. It's a challenge attracting younger people to our industry. Once they're a part of our industry, I would say they need to have patience. Opportunities do come, just not always as fast as everyone wants. I tell younger professionals to enjoy each day and every experience. Also, no matter where you are in your career, you can always learn something new. I know I learn something new every day.

 

When you got your first management job, what was your biggest concern? How did that change as you moved up through management ranks?

 

In my first management job, I worried about everyone being happy—customers, bosses, employees. Today, doing the right thing is most important, and in the end, that leads to making people happy; it's just a different journey sometimes.

 

If you were giving advice to claims executives in today's environment, what would you stress? What should they be focused on?

 

Focus on balance—never too high and never too low. There are good days and good results and bad days and bad results. People need leadership to maintain a balanced approach with a focus on the long term.

 

To that end, I advise claims leaders to maintain an equal focus on the customer, on their staff, and on appropriately managing their indemnity and expense numbers. To the extent that some of these areas might conflict, I urge leaders to always put the customer first whenever possible. It is also important to note that leaders should not focus on themselves. An executive is really only as good as the people with whom they work. I think executives who can maintain this balance and who are always thinking of these four areas will be extremely successful.

 

A new television series that has captured the interest of many Americans is CBS's "Undercover Boss." If you were to go undercover in your company, what might you find? What would your people say about the company?

 

First, it would be hard for me to go undercover because my employees know me, and that's important. But I know we would see too much bureaucracy in getting things done. As much as we try to make it easy for our employees, compliance issues, technology issues and bad processes slow them down. I think people would still view Westfield as a good place to work where they are respected for their contributions, with very good benefits and a great environment. There is always room to improve!
Where are the best and brightest ideas in claims management coming from?

 

That is a great question. In my view, the best ideas come from our customers and our employees on the ground. Those people facing the claim issues or trying to resolve them have the best perspectives on solutions to improve our processes or practices.

 

It is important to have a formalized process for harnessing good ideas, and I think we've done that well. Because we are so data-driven in our general management approach, we rely heavily on both employee and customer satisfaction surveys to help us identify ideas that will improve our process and results. We find some of the best ideas to be in the comments sections of those surveys, and we aggregate and organize them into themes. From that, we develop and pilot initiatives we believe are responsive to the ideas that have been identified—and then test them again in follow-up surveys.

 

We deploy a fair amount of resources to do this right, including sections of a Research and Development group that we've formed to help with these and other new initiatives we test.

 

As a senior claims executive, what do you need that you don't have?

 

Well, obviously, I "need" to win the lottery! Don't all of us need that? And, if I can dream, I want unlimited resources for staffing and state-of-the-art technology.

 

More seriously, though, I feel sometimes I need a crystal ball to better predict loss trends and catastrophes. We are particularly focused on analytics and predictive modeling, and we have been for several years. I think we're making good progress in that area, but some disciplines are simply easier to predict than others. We've done good things with subrogation and fraud, for example. The prediction of cycle time and proper reserve levels, however, is more complicated. I think the industry is maturing quickly in this area, but it's not there yet. I guess I need for it to mature as quickly as possible.

 

When you think of the phrase "top-notch employee" as it relates to claims management, what comes to your mind?

 

I think customer focus, critical thinking, flexibility and strong interpersonal savvy.

 

What do you believe is the most important trend or influence in the claims industry today?

 

The expectations of customers have an important influence in our industry. With the Internet and speed of getting information, customers want instant contact and communication. That pushes us to get better.
What's your industry pet peeve?

 

As I said earlier, I just think we have done a poor job of marketing ourselves as a profession. We have so many opportunities in our industry from sales, accounting, finance, attorneys, marketing and more. Yet it's rare to even have an insurance major at most colleges or universities. We are missing an opportunity. Industry internships help, and so do organizations like InVEST and The Griffith Foundation. Westfield is a big supporter of both organizations.

 

InVEST is active in 25 states and annually prepares more than 6,000 graduates for careers in the insurance industry. The Griffith Foundation promotes the study and teaching of risk management and insurance and is run through The Ohio State University. For your readers who don't know about those organizations, I encourage them to get involved and to learn more.

 

What was the most unusual claim you ever worked on?

 

A contractor was doing some work in a hangar at an Air Force base and set off all the sprinklers.
An F-16 had its cockpit open at the time, and water flooded the aircraft. Needless to say, there was not a lot of cooperation in appraising the damages. One button alone was $300K, so you can imagine our concern around cost for this claim. We were never allowed to photograph or touch anything and never allowed to speak to anyone. I did get one opportunity to look inside the aircraft after a full background check, complete security check and more questions than I have ever answered in my life. Well, given my background with F-16s—none—I went up on a ladder to check out the craft, though I had no idea what I was looking at. Even the officer in charge laughed very hard. In the end, two years later, there was no damage and we closed it as a no pay, but it was an interesting experience.

 

If you could look into the future, what do you see claims organizations in the future looking like?

 

Technology and transparency will be more prevalent. But there will always be employees who enjoy helping customers and are empathetic to them. Claims are tragic in nature.

 

As a last question, and on a lighter note, is there anything about you that very few people know that you'd be comfortable sharing with our audience?

 

Really! OK, maybe why I chose insurance is a good story. On graduating college, I had three different job offers. I was happily contemplating my future while driving in my car, which was really old and more rust than metal. I must have hit a bump when all my clothes fell out of the trunk onto the highway. Well, the claims position included a car in the job offer. And the rest is history.
Marc Lanzkowsky and Taylor Smith are contributing writers for Claims Advisor. Lanzkowsky is founder of The Claims Spot—a Claims Advisor media partner and award-winning blog dedicated to claims professionals. Smith is a contributing editor for The Claims Spot. Chief Concerns are interviews with C-suite and top-level claim executives that seek to give insight into the insurance claim industry's highest leaders.


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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