Canadian Underwriter

Go the Extra Mile

August 1, 2007   by Laura Kupcis

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Independent adjusters have to put value on the service they provide to make sure that they are, in every case they are given, doing something the insurer cannot do themselves or over the phone.

“If they can just do it over the telephone they should just do it over the telephone,” Fred Plant, incoming president of the Canadian Independent Adjusters’ Association (CIAA), says. “So, when it’s given to us, we have to go that extra mile, ask those extra questions, look into the client’s eyes, get a feel for what we’re dealing with, lift the rug to see what’s beneath it — don’t just assume.”

Plant says the most significant thing that is happening to independent loss adjusters today is that a number of insurers have been innovative in developing new ways to deal with smaller property claims (less than $50,000), particularly personal lines claims. Typically, he notes, that type of claim was the training ground for independent loss adjusters. With those claims not being as common an assignment for independent loss adjusters, there’s less opportunity for companies to bring people in who have good academics and the right kind of personality and train them to someday become the independent adjusters who can deal with the large complicated commercial losses.

Insurers exist in a very competitive marketplace, Plant comments, they will develop strategies they believe are going to put them ahead in the marketplace, and they are going to implement a processes they believe will allow them to cut their costs.

“Our challenge as a profession is to continue to find ways to augment and add value to whatever claims process any insurer decides to pursue, while at the same time continuing to develop adjusters in the field who will be able to deal with more complicated claims down the road,” Plant says. “In 15 years, those of us that have been around for the last 25 to 30 years will be done — will have moved on — and without there being a significant number of people to come into the business behind us in the field of independent adjusters, I can’t help but wonder, in 15 years time, where are the insurers, who today employ independent adjusters as a part of their claims strategy . . . going to find the people to get the job done?”

Insurers should take a look today at determining where they are going to find the ability in the field tomorrow. Plant recommends insurers consider retaining independent adjusters on a certain portion of claims as an investment to ensure a bevy of adjusters in the field down the road. Not only is it is a real-time benefit today, but an investment in the future as well.

“The challenge today is to find out where our services can fit into the current equation to give it balance,” Plant says. “It may not be in the traditional role that we did before of going into the flooded basement, finding the broken pipe, determining the cause of the break, assessing the amount of damage, seeing that the damages are rectified efficiently and to ensure that the claims submitted in relation to that are appropriate and to pursue any recovery or subrogation that might exist.”

Plant says he believes one of the first things that has to be done is to engage insurers in dialogue to better understand their needs in order to determine what other services can be provided. There might be something else insurers need that can be done that’s different from the traditional role of independent adjusters.

“What does our profession need to do to provide more — to provide a lot more?” Plant asks, noting that this might help to deter insurers from aligning with third party agencies to settle claims. “Find out where we can fit and add more value to what we’re doing.”

As president of the CIAA, Plant has both idealistic and practical goals and while he’s “nervous as hell” about being president, he is bound and determined to ensure that there is an industry for future generations to work in.

“My loftiest goal is to have professional loss adjusters in this country be interested in becoming more professional and to come into and participate actively in their nation-wide independent adjusting association, so that they can give back something to their industry, to their profession . . . (and to) reap the benefits of on-going professional education,” Plant says.

He will be working to get independent adjusters more involved in CIAA, both current members and those who have elected to date to not be part of the association.

Finally, a practical goal, and a priority for Plant is to open the lines of communication with insurers.

“We look to find a way this year to open the door a little wider for valuable exchange between insurers and independent adjusters on what we can do to meet their needs today and what combined we can do to ensure our profession exists for them in the future,” Plant says.

Everyone is Equal at Plant Hope Adjusters

When the going gets tough, you dig deep and you find a way to get through it. This is how Plant Hope Adjusters made it through a time, recently, where it lost 50 per cent of its business when changes in auto legislation were implemented in New Brunswick.

The company has been through three very difficult years since the changes in auto regulations came into effect. Plant Hope Adjusters had 52 people on staff and when the legislation passed, half the business disappeared within seven months.

Plant, president, Plant Hope Adjusters, relates the experience to an anecdote Al Gore mentions in his documentary: If you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will just sit there, but if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water the frog will hop out.

“Well, we were the frog sitting in the pot and gradually the heat got turned up and if we had seen what was coming, we probably would have been scared and might have bailed out early,” Plant says, adding that the company had to move six of its seven offices and lay off staff. “Up to that point in my career, we had hired people; we never let people go. And it was a very very difficult time for everyone in our company as to how we were going to deal with that.”

Roughly a year and a half to two years in, Plant notes it came a point where the company should have probably closed three offices. But, the people employed in those offices had worked hard to make the company successful prior to changes in the auto legislation and just like one does not turn their back on family and friends when the going gets tough, Plant could not turn his back on the employees of the company.

The company did lose quite a few staff either through having to lay them off or staff leaving because they had no choice, they were able to keep on 33 employees despite the drastic cut in business.

“And all of that made for a very difficult time, but we hung in there so today we still have all the best people . . . and we’re back on track to hopefully some day being profitable again.” Plant says.

Plant attributes the ability and the desire to get through the tough period to the encouragement and support he received from employees at the company. They never questioned his choices and supported him in the job he had to do, just as he supports them in their day-to-day tasks.

And that support might just be the winning ticket to not only Plant Hope Adjusters’ ability to get through the tough times, but the daily tasks as well.

“We have maximum faith in our people to get out there and do the work that needs to be done without somebody babysitting them all the time,” Plant says. “We’re all mature adults and if we don’t have faith that the people who work with this company are capable of going out and doing the job without somebody looking over their shoulder all the time they shouldn’t be here.”

For Plant Hope Adjusters, the key is to getting the job done and having fun while doing it.

“We don’t take ourselves very seriously, but we take our work very seriously,” Plant says, but everyone is committed to getting the job done.

haps it has something to do with the fact that 12 out of 33 employees are shareholders in the company.

Plant Hope Adjusters is an employee owned business and while currently there are 12 shareholders, Plant notes that as the company grows, it will look to expand to include other employees as well.

“You can’t own shares in our company unless you are an employee, Plant says. “If you were ever to leave, you can’t keep your shares and no one can come in and buy shares in our company and not be an employee and that’s real important to us.”

The company is looking for people who are committed to their profession and to the company. The idea is that people who have a stake in the company, a sense of ownership, are going to have a higher level of dedication and desire to perform than they would if they were just another employee in a large corporation.

“We feel that it makes people closer to their work it makes them more responsible to their coworkers and themselves for the work that they do,” Plant says. “Should the day ever come that we’re profitable again, they’ll share in that, as they should.”

Plant is quick to note this does not mean that people who don’t hold shares in Plant Hope Adjusters are not as dedicated to the company, because there are a number of employees who are not shareholders and are just as valuable and just as dedicated to the organization.

Everyone is responsible to each other and to the success of the company. Nobody else is going to pave the way for Plant Hope Adjusters and so going the extra mile is key.

“And really that’s what it comes down to for us in all respects is going the extra mile, doing the extra things to help make insurers look good, to give them the best product,” Plant says. “When we’re given an assignment by any insurer we go out there with their brand stamped on our forehead.”

Plant Hope Adjusters strives to provide the best product to the customer and to the insureds.

“Our customers work in a very competitive marketplace and we take very seriously everybody’s brand and the responsibility that they give with us every time they give us a claim,” Plant says.

And each and every person at the company is responsible for ensuring that the customers of Plant Hope Adjusters are getting the best service possible. And each and every person involved is an equal.

There are not multiple layers, there is not upper management and even Plant, who holds the position of president, does so very conservatively and very reluctantly and only because someone has to hold the title in instance such as signing at the bank.

“As far as operations of our company go, we’re all on the same level,” Plant says. “There is not one person here that is subordinate to anyone else.”

Every single person involved in a claim is responsible for the quality of the product that goes out the door: from the person who first takes that information in and puts it into the information system, to the person who goes out in the field to do the claim, to the person who might transcribe a report or prepare a communication with an insurer, to the person who prepares the final invoice that goes out the door.

“No one can do anything without the other person or people there doing their thing and that’s how we think here,” Plant says, adding that instructions relating to a claim or a project are given to everybody in the company so that everybody is in the loop and is able to do their job to the best of their ability.

That commitment to equality might just be what propels Plant Hope Adjusters into fulfilling their goal of being the premier choice of insurers in Atlantic Canada.

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