Hurricanes Reveal Need for More Catastrophe Adjusters

By Denise Johnson | October 2, 2017

Back to back hurricanes coupled with retiring, experienced personnel has created a tight adjuster job market. From emails to online jobsites, there’s no shortage of firms advertising jobs for cat adjusters in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma.

A recent KPMG survey of more than 300 senior insurance executives found that a significant risk insurers face in connection with hurricanes is a”lack of claim handling personnel.”

Though the Association of Claims Professionals (ACP) couldn’t provide exact figures on the additional adjusters needed by carriers for the two storms, the association did say it was in the thousands.

Dave Coons, The Jacobson Group, said his company is in the throes of staffing hundreds of claims adjusters in response to Hurricane Irma in Florida.

The two back to back hurricanes have been stressful, said Ken Tolson, CEO, of Crawford & Company, U.S. Property & Casualty division.

“In many cases, direct instruction and pre-nomination by our clients has enabled Crawford to deploy adjusters locally in advance. This was extremely effective after Superstorm Sandy in 2012; reducing delay and enabling us to avoid bottlenecks caused by publicly imposed travel restrictions in affected states,” he said in a statement after Irma.
Tolson, who oversees catastrophe services for the firm, said Crawford & Company has accelerated its training program to meet the demand for adjusters.

During a catastrophe, Crawford & Company shares resources among its divisions. For example, the firm was holding a systems training class for their adjusters from Canada who will assist in assessing Harvey claims.

To help with the storms, ACP member companies sent in additional claims adjustment teams from across the United States and Canada.

Coons said that in a scenario such as this one – with back to back hurricanes and additional storms still causing destruction – it does create an adjuster shortage.

“The demand is so great right now,” he said.

The aging adjuster resource pool combined with two category 4 hurricanes that hit two large population centers created stress on the ecosystem,” said Tolson.

Crawford & Company, a global independent adjusting firm, prepares for disasters all year long, coordinating with clients and reviewing their exposures.

“Our clients are typically very transparent with us, not only are they contracting with us but often they will contract with other partners, as well,” said Tolson.

Where loss severity is minor, he explained the firm is handling many inspections remotely through its WeGoLook group to gather photos and limited measurements.
Regarding technology, Tolson said “There’s tools available to us today that weren’t available 10 years ago that help address some of that stress on the human resource side of the event.”

In the aftermath of Harvey and Irma, many insurers reported dedicated, mobile cat units along with in-house adjusters ready to take on claims.

State Farm reported it had taken steps to strategically position resources, people and equipment, for further deployment after the two hurricanes.

Chubb reportedly activated more than 400 people from among its service center and field resources to respond to customers impacted by Hurricane Irma, according to Bill Turnbull, senior vice president, North American Property Claims.

“Chubb’s catastrophe team is designed to handle more than one event simultaneously, especially during the North Atlantic hurricane season,” said Turnbull.

According to an Allstate spokesperson, the two storms hadn’t yet strained its adjuster roster.

“We’ve had as many as 4,200 claim professionals on the ground from Texas to Florida, and in our catastrophe call center helping customers. We currently have teams of Allstaters with about ten mobile claim centers and catastrophe response vehicles positioned in public places and canvassing neighborhoods in the hardest hit areas. We’re also using drone technology and images from aircraft to help settle claims as quickly as possible,” Allstate’s spokesperson said.

Loretta Wolters, vice president of media relations for the Insurance Information Institute, said she hadn’t heard of an adjuster shortage among the larger insurers she’s spoken with.

“Typically, they [larger insurers] move their adjusters from different parts of the country from one event to the next. For example, they might have had their company adjusters in a part of the country for hail, but that event is almost finished, so they will move to the next event (disaster). For some of small or mid-size insurers that are new to the Florida market, they may have to turn to independent adjusters. Perhaps Florida Citizens might be having a shortage, but the regular market, from what I’m told, has enough,” Wolters said.

Preparation is Key

Preparation is critical, said Coons.

“We establish staffing and contingency plans for these sorts of things well in advance. The recent drop in high cost, high damage events has resulted in a lower need for temporary cat professionals,” said Coons.

As a result, he said many experienced catastrophe professionals have moved into full time jobs or may have left the industry altogether.

“Many organizations are contacting the same individuals for similar assignments,” said Coons.

Jacobson makes sure to establish communications with available adjusters early on to confirm interest and availability for assignments. The firm begins prepping in March or April for the upcoming hurricane season.

“I think this is pretty much true of most firms who either staff adjusters, independent adjusting firms, carriers and the like. I think everybody has the tendency to start very early, just in an anticipation of what might happen,” said Coons.

Despite many insurers increasing use of technology, like drones, Coons is not seeing a reduction in the need for physical adjusters.

That’s because, according to Coons, “the claims area is one of the highest concentrations of individuals that are rapidly approaching retirement in the insurance industry.”

Recent studies conducted by Jacobson indicate the median age of claims employees is 43 years old, just slightly younger than the insurance industry median age of 45 years, he explained.

“Even though technology has helped in alleviating some of the need for adjusters to, for example, go up on roofs because now they are using drone technology and things of this nature to help assist in the process,” said Coons. “The reality is you still need human capital and that’s something that’s becoming less and less available to us.”

Insurers confronted with an adjuster shortage will start by seeking out adjusters from other departments and call on retirees for assistance, he said. Typically, desk employees will be deployed into the field and then employees from other departments may be tapped for desk duty or First Notice of Loss handling. The remaining open positions will then be backfilled by temporary workers or independent adjusters.

“You see companies reaching out to retirees all the time,” Coons explained. “These individuals are proven, experienced and trained, and they can be really valuable to an organization in times of need.”

Retirees often feel comfortable coming back to their former employer.

“These individuals oftentimes feel comfortable coming back because they know the systems, they know the culture, they know the environment,” said Coons.

Besides tapping retirees and outside resources, insurers are taking the time to introduce claims careers to young professionals, he said.

“It’s really incumbent upon all of us [insurance industry] to pretty much band together to create this level of awareness,” said Coons, referring to the year-round campaign called the Insurance Careers Movement. The campaign began out of a collaboration among companies across the industry, he explained, that went on to create to help educate young professionals about insurance careers.

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