6/24/2013
Smart Technologies Hit Home

Smart Technologies Hit Home

High-tech, single-source housing providers allow carriers to stay ahead of the curve.

By Joan McCarthy Mack

Almost 134 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones as of February 2013, up eight percent since November 2012, according to a recent study by comScore Inc., a provider of digital measurement and analytics. In addition, 76 percent of Americans expected to get help in less than three hours of posting a request on social media during emergencies, according to a 2012 survey by the American Red Cross.

These statistics prove that a record number of Americans are using smartphones, mobile devices, and social media as a part of everyday life and have even higher expectations than ever before for immediate access to information and improved customer service. Like many other businesses, insurance companies are feeling the pressure to keep up with technology to provide higher service levels for their customers.

With more insurance carriers turning to third-party suppliers such as temporary housing providers for help throughout the claims process, they are recognizing the real value of working with a forward-thinking partner that can offer customized and interactive technology solutions. While it’s important to find a single-source temporary housing provider that offers the essentials, including excellent service and safe, comfortable accommodations for policyholders, it can be even more beneficial to work with a partner that can tailor technology solutions that allow carriers to elevate their service levels to meet the higher expectations of today’s policyholders.

There are current technology solutions and creative developments on the horizon to help better manage claims costs, simplify the housing sourcing process, give adjusters the freedom to work more efficiently from the field, and offer a more streamlined compliance and reporting process. Two solutions in temporary housing that currently help carriers and adjusters include supplier management systems and applications—“apps”—for smartphones and other mobile devices.

Emerging evidence shows that carriers with a strong supplier management strategy, including use of the latest technologies, are able to contain costs and boost service levels. In fact, a 2011 Deloitte study, “Driving Operational Excellence in Claims Management,” reported that claims is the single largest expenditure for property and casualty insurance companies. For those companies, investing in operational improvements in claims management is one of the most effective strategies to increase profitable growth. The study reports that, typically, up to 80 percent of each earned premium dollar is “claimed by claims” in the form of payouts and related expenses. Insurers that can reduce their claims costs by just one percentage point will likely achieve substantial savings.

The study also suggests that, to achieve this, carriers must commit to a strong operational excellence strategy and then put in place the business processes and supporting infrastructure, such as robust technology solutions, that are necessary to leverage data that will provide information about what drives losses and expenses.

Customization and Simplified Sourcing

New technologies in temporary housing, such as supplier management systems, offer the greatest benefits for carriers that want to boost their operational efficiency. Supplier management systems enable sourcing of multiple vendors simultaneously to easily obtain the most comprehensive list of available options and competitive rates. They can produce customized reporting to monitor service levels and analyze spending, and they offer a single entry point for service escalations and invoicing.

The vendor selection and temporary housing sourcing process involves many variables—including tracking response times for securing housing options and pricing, locating the best and most appropriate housing options for policyholders, analyzing costs, and tracking service ratings.

Supplier management systems can help customize, simplify, and streamline the process. These systems enable automated sourcing of multiple housing providers at the same time and provide housing options, availability, and pricing for apples-to-apples comparisons. They can distribute the “request for housing” to an insurance carrier’s approved or preferred suppliers and present accommodation options based on requirements outlined by the carrier or adjuster. From there, the adjuster can select and offer those options that best fit the need and policy criteria of the insured.

In addition, supplier management systems can be customized to meet a carrier’s specific needs, whether they need to manage one or more aspects of a temporary housing claim. That could include pricing all potential accommodation options or managing all phases of the additional living expense (ALE) claim, including tracking utilization, trend analysis, guest satisfaction, and pricing.

Improved Reporting and Time Saving

Since many carriers have established supplier programs and policies for their employees to follow, working with a temporary housing provider that offers a supplier management system allows carriers to better track compliance. They can see whether adjusters and claims managers are selecting vendors within their preferred vendor program, and, if not, they can determine why they are choosing alternate vendors. They also can help their people choose the best option, as opposed to favoring one housing provider over another.

With these programs, insurers have excellent data at their fingertips and the ability to generate reports quickly for internal stakeholders, which might include something like a utilization and cost savings analysis for senior management.

Many of the essential day-to-day duties often performed by insurance carrier staff, such as conducting policyholder surveys, can be managed within a temporary housing provider’s supplier management system. Other key benefits include:

  • Access to real-time data and information.
  • Access to metrics and KPIs.
  • Cost comparison information.
  • Reporting on policyholder satisfaction.
  • Tracking of the housing claims process.
  • Assistance with ALE budgeting and forecasting.
  • Increased productivity and efficiency for adjusters.

Mobile Apps

Adjusters are usually so busy working through the details of multiple claims simultaneously that they are dependent on finding a temporary housing provider that can act as a true partner—one that will make the process of handling a displaced policyholder’s accommodations as easy as possible. A housing provider that offers the latest mobile apps can save adjusters critical time and energy.

Mobile apps allow adjusters in the field to use smartphones and Web-enabled tablets to distribute housing requests instantaneously to a temporary housing provider. Many of the applications in development for mobile devices will enable adjusters to place housing orders from the field, track the move-in process and service requirements, and review billing and invoicing.

Customer expectations are at a high level because of mobile technology. From a policyholder’s point of view, the quicker an adjuster can understand their housing situation and needs and then make adjustments, the sooner the policyholder can return to their normal lifestyle.

Looking Ahead

Temporary housing technology solutions continue to evolve and likely will experience significant changes in the near future. Many forward-thinking insurance companies are developing claims management systems that will be able to integrate with supplier technologies, giving them a distinct competitive advantage. Some temporary housing companies are looking to develop solutions that integrate their supplier management systems and mobile applications—the two major technologies being used today.

Another technology currently in development is a “property sourcing program,” which will allow adjusters to enter the loss address into the program and immediately receive a listing of all types of accommodations, including extended-stay hotels and vacant apartments within close proximity. This technology will offer a much broader and comprehensive level of temporary housing inventory and will prove particularly useful during a catastrophic event, like a hurricane or tornado, where hundreds or thousands of displaced homeowners can be booked into accommodations with a quick entry from a mobile device. An estimated 776,000 U.S. residents were displaced and in need of temporary housing due to Superstorm Sandy, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. This type of technology could have helped expedite their placement, which was particularly important given the impending weather systems set to add even more complications.

Some temporary housing providers are creating their own, more sophisticated applications for the handheld platform that will enable adjusters to manage the move-in, temporary housing stay, and billing processes from the field. They will have access to details of a policyholder’s ALE policy limits and the ability to check coverage status, submit an invoice, track a bill, and even follow a policyholder’s feedback throughout the claims process, including their experience with the housing provider and quality of their accommodations. These advanced apps also will enable them to view housing inventory quickly and select the right option in the best location for their policyholders. Adjusters also will be able to make side-by-side comparisons of available inventory within their specified pricing limits.

Ultimately, using customized technology tools to handle temporary housing claims will allow carriers and adjusters to more easily gather essential data and better quality information, streamline tracking and reporting, and improve the process of handling future claims.

“We are always looking for additional quality assurance from our suppliers, like temporary housing providers, that are able to enhance their services using technologies that enrich our claims process, save time, produce more detailed reports, and reduce costs,” says Dan McNamara, senior claims technical coordinator at MetLife. “We take pride in offering our policyholders a high level of service, so we’re looking for partners that will work with us to modernize and streamline our claims process so we can further enhance our service levels.”

Insurance companies that partner with an experienced temporary housing provider that can assess their business and provide customized technology solutions will stand out from the competition. Employing these new technologies will enable your adjusters to manage the claims process better—both in the office and in the field. Moreover, when teams are productive, they can focus on the most important part of the business: taking care of their policyholders.  



Joan McCarthy Mack, CRP, CCHP, is vice president for insurance housing solutions at Oakwood Worldwide, a provider of corporate housing and serviced apartments. She has been a CLM Fellow since 2013 and can be reached at (203) 917-2040, www.oakwood.com.

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