January 17, 2017 by Emily Atkins, Editor
Changing a company name can be risky, but for T&L Adjusters it was simply a matter of formalizing what everybody called them anyway.
The company, formerly known as Townsend & Leedham Adjusters, is based in Edmonton, Alberta, and in addition to changing its name also moved to a new location in 2015.
Although that’s a fair bit of upheaval, it’s not the first name change for the firm, which was started in 1980 as Dobie Townsend Adjusters Ltd by partners Dave Dobie and Bud Townsend. When Dobie retired in 1991, the name became Townsend & Leedham Adjusters Ltd, reflecting the two partners at the time, Townsend and Mike Leedham.
In 2010 Townsend retired, and now Leedham has given up his partnership and is trying to work less, although “that’s difficult as he’s in so much demand”, says Chris Zambo, the company’s current managing partner.
There are six partners with equal stake in the firm now, Zambo says. They are Morris Blatz, Dean D’Agostini, Cory Gilliam, Blair Richmond, Chris Twardzik, and Zambo himself.
T&L considers itself a boutique firm even though it has expanded from the original partners to the current staff of 18 adjusters. They manage T&L’s files on automotive and property/liability claims, spanning the province of Alberta. They are split, with 11 working automotive and seven on property, although Zambo notes “there are a few people that will walk in both worlds,” with the expertise to cross over when needed.
A ‘Mom & Pop’ atmosphere
“Over the years we’ve maintained a ‘Mom and Pop” atmosphere,” he says. “We’ve always maintained that boutique feel. We’ve got a really good client base that we work with and some of them have been with us since the doors opened back in 1980. We’ve had relationships with some of those clients for 35 years now.”
The longevity of those relationships is testament to the service ethic at T&L. Zambo is certain the company’s success is due to the work staff do to keep client relations strong.
“It’s something that we’ve worked hard to maintain over the years. I think it’s something you always have to work hard to maintain, but it’s those relationships that I think have made us as successful as we’ve become.”
What makes a good adjuster
Ultimately the company’s success comes down to the people who work there, and Zambo readily identifies the qualities those people need to have. Energetic and curious are the first two words he mentions, but those are just the prerequisites.
“You can teach anybody to investigate a loss, to take a statement from someone. There are spreadsheets and there are questionnaires that someone can go through,” he asserts. “But a good adjuster, an experienced adjuster, is someone who will go through a statement with an insured or a claimant for instance, and be aware of any inconsistencies, red flags that pop up that require further investigation.
“If somebody just answers questions one through twenty-six, that’s not really what we’re looking for. I’m looking for somebody who’s going to dig a little deeper and get to the reasons behind the claim, and find out what really happened. A good adjuster is somebody who looks at a situation and asks questions and wants to understand why and how things happened.”
Although the firm has already been through significant changes with the move and name change in the past couple years, the leadership team has its sights set on a few plans. Primarily, Zambo says, they are looking to deepen their relationships with some of less traditional partners within the insurance business.
“We always work to maintain a relationship with our clients, but that has changed over the years just by the fact that claims have been relatively hard to come by over the past few years,” he says. “So we find ourselves talking to organizations that we haven’t spoken with before, specifically the broker community. And we’re finding that the brokers, in many cases, take an active role in the claims of their clients. They’re looking for information, they’re looking for guidance.”
He says that they are getting a good response to this initiative, and it has fostered some strong relationships with the broker community. “We can assist them on behalf on their clients. Sometimes clients are just looking for some, some information about claims. Those are services we can offer outside the traditional insurance company relationship that we fostered in the past.”
A bigger community
For T&L Adjusters the CIAA is key to gaining information about what’s going on in the claims world.
“The biggest benefit for us is sharing information, being part of a larger collective,” Zambo says. “I think sometimes we get the impression that we’re out here alone doing what we do. But getting together as a group with other like-minded individuals and similar organizations, you realize that many of them face the same type of challenges that we face on a daily basis.”
Zambo says it’s not uncommon to get a call from another adjuster or even someone on the insurer side “asking to run a scenario by, just to see what your thoughts might be with respect to some aspect of a claim. In the end we’re all working towards a common goal; sure there’s competition there but I don’t think it has to be to the point where we’re trying to run anybody out of business. I certainly know that’s not our intent. So we share information together.”
He credits the association for making a lot of this collaboration possible, as “an organization that’s looking to better the industry as a whole.”
To that end he also notes that in Alberta the association was recently asked by the government to offer comments and suggestions on a review of the automobile accident benefits policy. “I’m impressed with the fact that the government asked the CIAA for their thoughts on something as important as coverage under the auto policy,” he notes.
In conclusion, Zambo returned to the true key to his company’s success. Because the adjusting business depends so much on outside factors, with weather-related events determining the business cycle-especially in Alberta-Zambo believes that success really does come back to ensuring the company has the right people “with experience and good work ethic, they’re the ones that are important in our industry.”
And he counts on his people to foster and maintain great relationships with their clients.
“We truly live by those commitments. We fostered those relationships over years to the point where there has to be a certain amount of trust between us; they have to have the confidence that we have their best interests in heart, that we’re going to do a proper investigation, a proper coverage review, a proper assessment of the claim and the quantum associated with it, and that doesn’t come overnight,” he says.
That trust has to be fostered over many years and it’s something that T&L takes great pride in. And the customers have followed through changes to the company name and location.
“That gives us the comfort level to work with our clients and I think it gives them the comfort to know that their claim is in good hands,” Zambo concludes.