November 30, 2015 by Craig Harris, Freelance Writer
There are city adjusters and then there are country adjusters. Keith Wright happily counts himself in the latter category.
With his adjusting firm in Moose Jaw, he and his wife Bev Wright service a wide swath of Saskatchewan’s southern region, from Davidson in the north to the U.S. border, to Alberta in the west and Manitoba to the east. In between are small towns many people have never heard of – from Gainsborough and Willow Bunch to Shaunavon and Val Marie.
These are just the types of communities Wright feels truly benefit from the service commitment and response of a local adjuster.
“Geography makes a huge difference,” he says. “If you were in a major city, you would go to a client’s house and you would probably have on business attire. When you cross over into a different region, the mentality changes. Here, you show up to a farm with a three-piece suit and the first thought from them is that you must work for the Canada Revenue Agency.”
The ability to handle a smaller number of files while working more closely with clients is a tradeoff Wright gladly made when he moved from Regina to Moose Jaw six years ago with the creation of Absolute Claims Adjusters. He wanted more autonomy, but also craved a more community-focused experience.
“There is only one independent adjusting company in Moose Jaw and if you are going to operate in a certain area, you should have an office and be licensed and understand that area,” he says. “I carry city licensing;
I participate in my town; I try to put back in, rather than just taking out.”
One thing that frustrates Wright is the perception some adjusting firms try to convey that they have “offices in every corner of creation, but it is really just a cell phone. I get exceedingly perturbed by IAs that profess to have local offices with the best adjusters, but there is nothing there. They are not putting in; they are just taking.”
Absolute Claims Adjusters is an all-lines adjusting firm that does a large volume of heavy transport and farm business. Wright has been in the adjusting profession for 33 years, previously “working for a number of the major IAs,” he observes. He also served for 17 years as a firefighter with the town of Moose Jaw.
Bev Wright has been a licensed adjuster for six years; before that she was with Halton Regional Police in Ontario as an identification and prisoner transportation officer. In addition to being active as an adjuster, Bev handles all the administrative work of Absolute Claims Adjusters. The firm is also in the process of training and teaching Level 1 adjuster Jackie Crawford.
Despite their small-town focus, both Keith and Bev Wright have traveled extensively in their adjusting lives, including stints in Australia, the Caribbean, Fiji and New Zealand. Whether handling catastrophe losses such as floods in Sydney and Brisbane or the aftermath of hurricanes in the Caribbean, Keith Wright notes that: “you learn from everything you do. If you go in with the attitude that you know it all, then you’re done. You can learn something new from every day on the job.”
Even with this international experience, it is the rural communities that have shaped Wright’s philosophy, ethics and approach to business. Being outside of the insurance companies’ urban radius means that the firm gets a considerable amount of regional accounts.
“As a mom and pop operation, we can’t do the big contracts with the largest insurers because we are not a national IA – but we still get business from companies,” Wright says. “If there is a claim in a town like Shaunavon or Val Marie, we are closer than most. These are the places we service on a regular basis for insurers.”
As a smaller adjusting firm, Wright explains that he values the services of a national organization like CIAA. “We have been with the CIAA for a long time; they are phenomenal people,” he says. “It is a very personalized, supportive conversation we can have with CIAA. They keep our interests as a profession front and centre and it makes for a great focal point. Being a small operation, you don’t always have that fallback, and CIAA gives us that support. With the knowledge base they have, that is an invaluable asset to us.”
When it comes to business practices, Wright notes that his “philosophy is that we have a stated contact time with clients, a stated attendance time. We try very hard to meet those standards and we are able to deliver on those the vast majority of times. We are taking money from insurers to provide a service, and they expect those service standards to be met. Our philosophy is to give the insurer the service they expect and are paying for and give the clients the service they deserve.”
Wherever possible, Wright says he tries to infuse that business approach with respect and consideration to the community in which he is working.
“We always try to make an effort to include and use small town vendors in our process,” Wright observes. “If I go to a small town and there is a local contractor, we will attempt to use that contractor if we can. We are fully functional with Xactimate in our office and we run the scopes – if the local contractor is competitive, then we will make the recommendation to the insurers. It helps keep the community alive. Maybe that idea is wrong or misplaced, but if you don’t support your local communities, they die.”
For Wright, it is that community-based spirit that defines rural Saskatchewan. “They all put something into the pot, that is just the way we are here,” he says. “It is about community. You are assigned a job, you do it the best of your ability, but you also have to have some conscience about the communities you are working in.”
Another key aspect of his business philosophy is taking the time to actually listen to and relate to clients. “One of the things that has been lost in our industry is the ability to listen,” he notes. “A lot of IAs will sit down with clients and only hear what they want to hear; they are not interested in the overall story. However, that story will tell you what you are dealing with. It will give you some context about the loss. You can talk about the person’s situation. In farming, that is easy – you can ask about bushels per acre, what kind of year it was. You are personalizing the situation and taking a lot of the antagonism out of the insurance process.”
The ability to appraise a situation, listen to clients and handle a manageable amount of claims files may be a lost art in the era of national flat fee contracts. But Wright says the smaller adjuster can survive quite well with the right business mindset.
“I think the small operator, if he or she does it smart and sets down some guidelines, will survive and keep thriving,” he notes. “The big guys work and rely on volume. When you do that, you make a lot of money, but you don’t always have the time to service what you’re selling. We manage our files on a reasonable basis; that is why we are able to do what we do.”
One of the crucial things Wright has taken away from his years of experience is the importance of finding the right harmony between service and volume.
“After many years in this business, I have learned that you have to balance your level of service with what you take on,” he says.
“If you take on too many files per month, I believe you are setting yourself up for failure. It gets to a point where you have to be able to sustain and fulfill the contracts you make.”
With that said, Wright is a firm believer that the property and casualty insurance industry is bigger than any one adjuster firm. In other words, it takes all types to make the claims world go around.
“The thing I want to impress upon people: there is a place for everyone in this industry and there is more than enough work to go around,” Wright concludes. “The small guys dig just as hard as the big guys, and we let the chips fall where they may. I think we belong to a great industry. We have to maintain our integrity and maintain our respect for each other and for what we do.”