Adjusters Embrace New Technology after Catastrophe Claims

Thailand’s 2011 floods caused $2.2 billion in losses for Lloyd’s but at that time, claims technology was just finding its feet.

Paul Handy

Paul Handy

Now, Paul Handy, Crawford & Company Europe’s head of Global Technical Services, says the industry is in a position to provide support with greater immediacy thanks to tools that include satellite imagery, focused social media trawling or remote drone camera operations.

However, at a recent lecture to the Insurance Institute of London, Paul reminded the audience that with this advance in technology and information flow comes the parallel need for enhanced communication with all stakeholders—and with that the careful management of expectations from the outset.

Pre-Social Media in Thailand

“In the early stages of the Bangkok Floods in 2011, flooding covered an area the size of Denmark,” said Paul. “So how did we get information on damage and with that, potential exposure?

“The answer is that we travelled by boat, hired helicopters, or waded in areas that presented significant risk to ourselves and the insured’s employees. On the back of this, it was not unusual to post initial reserves in excess of $100 million, sometimes without even having visual access to the site. Yes there were news reports, but social media was far less developed or widely used.”

Four years later, Paul explained that such situations would be handled differently.

“We would utilise such tools as satellite imagery, drones or focused social media trawls with embedded video,” he said.  “The accuracy of data would be improved and information flow would be far enhance—enabling better and faster decision making both locally and by the market. Security and comfort regarding numbers would also be improved; and with that, efficient and effective appointment of service providers and experts.”

Hurricane Odile: 2014

Photo credit: RamonBerk via istockphoto.com

Photo credit: RamonBerk via istockphoto.com

Paul cites another example from 2014’s coastal storm in Mexico, which emphasised how Crawford’s teams have embraced technology. “Here, we were able to provide underwriters with a detailed report within days of the incident. These utilising imagery and comments from social media, clearly depicting the damage to a particular risk and potential exposure. All of this was long before public access could be gained to the area.”

He explained the main benefit following Mexico’s coast storm was that Crawford managed resources and carefully budgeted the initial human response. “Technology has allowed us to do this in only three years since we were wading through flood waters,” Paul added.

Tianjin Port Explosions: 2015

Paul reminded the audience how the 2015 explosions in Tianjin, China, also resulted in widespread and immediate television, satellite and video imagery at our fingertips. “This was a major change because we had real-time access to data and information, fed straight into the market from a country where cultural, language and political influences have rendered some of the traditional channels of communication less effective.”

Now, with all of this information come other challenges, and Paul explained how despite the benefits of technology, the management and setting of expectations is still essential to what adjusters do.

“Gone is the time when people are prepared to sit and wait for an adjuster’s preliminary report or phone call. The need for communication is immediate, both from an insurer’s and client’s perspective. Phrases such as contract certainty cannot be more relevant; there is no longer time to hide behind inefficiencies. The insured party can verify the damage to their portfolio as can their investors, so quick answers are expected, and expectations need to be managed accordingly.”

In doing so, Paul explained that the role of the adjuster is now, more than ever, to be a well-informed editor of the public information deluge. “With all of that media noise, what was the actual or real version of the events?  Catastrophe claims, whether traditional or emerging in nature, are often managed at boardroom level. We, as adjusters, need to manage and control information flow to all interested parties from the outset. Otherwise, we run the risk of stepping out of the value chain and look ineffectual.”

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