February 20, 2020 by Adam Malik
Brokers are taught the principles of indemnity early in their training: Return the client to the same financial position they were in prior to the loss. But what about their clients’ mental well-being? Can the industry restore that to what it was before the loss?
While that kind of question may never be answered, the industry needs to find out what it can do to mentally support clients going through a loss, panelists at the recent CatIQ Connect conference in Toronto agreed.
“What we don’t do as an industry is focus on or worry about the mental condition of the person,” said Stephen Darling, president of Stan Darling Insurance in Sundridge, Ont., a village almost halfway between Huntsville and North Bay. “I believe it’s something we need to spend some time talking about and investigating how we can do a better job.
“We can get a basement cleaned up, we can get a [house destroyed by fire] torn down and rebuilt. But we have to make sure we’re managing the people and the experiences that they’re going through.”
Sometimes, the client just wants to know “that things are going to get better for them, rather than knowing the process of that, on Thursday, a guy is coming in to do the tile work,” Darling added. His brokerage is located in the Muskoka area of Ontario, which saw extreme flooding last spring.
Darling was part of a panel with Chantal Gagné, vice president of personal insurance at Desjardins Insurance, Alison Paul, acting senior director of case management with the Canadian Red Cross, and moderator Anna Ziolecki, director of Partners for Action, a research network.
Darling said he makes his personal number available and invites clients to call at any time, even late at night. “Because the worst fears are going to come to realization between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.,” he tells his clients. “You’re going to start to worry about something, and I’d much rather you phone me, wake me up, and I can [walk] you through that so you stop worrying.”
Darling would rather speak to a well-rested client the next day instead of one who might be frazzled after a sleepless night. That’s his way of helping clients keep their mental health in check.
Insurance professionals may tell clients that they will return to their normal life, but that doesn’t necessarily take into account how people feel about a loss. “To us, a normal life is having a house rebuilt,”Gagné said. “But all the souvenirs, they’re gone. They’re not something we can bring back.”
Gagné pointed to the losses following the 2016 wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta. “It was rebuilt,” she said, but “it’s not the same city. Let’s say you live in a flood-prone area: You rebuild, [but] you live with that fear that it will happen again. So is it the same life that it used to be? Not really. It’s a life, but it could never be exactly the same. So when [clients] realize that, sometimes it’s tough for some to accept.”
Darling noted that it’s virtually impossible to know what will trigger a mental health episode. It’s not like a broken leg that has a timetable for recovery.
So, Ziolecki asked, is the P&C industry structured to address mental health?
“No,” Darling answered. “It’s been traditionally built on a system of fixing physical aspects.”
Gagné said it’s important to remember that the role of claims professionals is to advise on claims; they are not mental health professionals. However, part of the job is to accompany clients the best they can along the claims journey.
There are ways to help, Gagné said.
“We all have a responsibility as human beings that, when you’re in contact with another person, and you feel that person is in a situation of difficulty, we have a responsibility to detect that,” she said. “And when we do, we have the responsibility to act — but as a human, not an insurance company. So, as an insurance company, I think we should provide more resources to our front-line employees so that when they face those situations [they know what to do]. Where can they refer the client, for example?”