Canadian Underwriter

Loss in Translation

May 20, 2016   by Emily Atkins, Editor

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Curiosity is essential for good claims adjusting, says Andy Williams, one of the senior adjusters and a partner in AMG Claims Inc, based at the company’s main office in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Williams strongly believes that inquisitiveness is key to gaining satisfaction in claims adjusting. “The fun part of the job is going out and doing the adjusting,” he says. “You have to be naturally inquisitive, you have to want to understand what happened.”

Williams believes that’s what separates a really good adjuster from someone who is going through the motions, just doing the job. It’s this abiding sense of curiosity that underpins all the work done by his firm.

Left to Right: Mike Sieber, Greg Potten and Andy Williams, senior adjusters and partners, AMG Claims Inc.

Left to Right: Mike Sieber, Greg Potten and Andy Williams, senior adjusters and partners, AMG Claims Inc.

And once you understand the claim, Williams says, the satisfaction comes from communicating your findings successfully to the client.

“The hardest part is communicating the investigation-putting together all you’ve learned, what your gut feeling is, and what your recommendations are,” he says. And it’s rewarding when the report goes through and the feedback from the examiner is they enjoyed reading it-it answered the questions they had.”

Williams and partners Mike Sieber and Greg Potten founded AMG Claims five years ago. It now operates throughout the Maritimes, with licenses for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The three had worked together in the past, and were all working for larger firms when they decided it was time to try running their own shop.

Potten was in Fredericton, which allowed the team to start out with two offices-one in Fredericton and the other in Halifax. “It meant we could say we were in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick right off the bat,” Williams says.

Now the company has an office in Charlottetown, PEI as well, and has expanded to six adjusters.

Nick MacDonald joined the team in Halifax within the past three years as a senior loss adjuster. Having him aboard means a lot to Williams, as MacDonald was his first mentor in the adjusting business.

Gary Ellis, executive general adjuster, joined four years ago, opening the Charlottetown branch.

“Both Gary and Nick bring a lot of experience. They’ve both been in the industry for a number of years so it’s really nice to have their knowledge to go to and depend on,” Williams says.

Rounding out the team is Kelly Muise who joined as a loss adjuster in Fredericton in April 2015. She had previously worked with Potten and came to AMG from an insurer.

Despite being spread out across three provinces, the team comes together frequently with weekly or monthly meetings to keep up to date with the work they are all doing.

“We draw on each other’s resources as we need them to make sure we get claims done,” Williams said.

For example, during the bad winter of 2015 there were multiple property claims stemming from snow load and ice dams. Ellis came to Halifax from Charlottetown to help with that work, Williams explained.

“One of our approaches is to work together as teams, especially if we have a large or complex loss that needs more than one set of eyes,” he adds.

“We try to focus on complex losses,” Williams says. “We’re not set up to handle large volumes of claims. The lower claim count allows us to spend more time on each one.”

Each of the three principals has his own area of expertise. The overall focus is commercial, with the occasional personal loss, but these are claims Williams says they don’t seek out.

For Sieber the focus is on property, while Potten spends his time on construction and property claims. Williams specializes in aquaculture and aviation, and the former makes him almost unique in Canada.

“It’s a specialized field,” he explains. “There’s not an abundance of claims, so it doesn’t lend itself to lots of people getting involved.”

The aquaculture work always involves loss of fish stock, whether from storms, disease or predation by other animals. While it’s very similar to other livestock adjusting, the physical nature of the work can be demanding, involving travel by boat to offshore fish farms.

“I jump right in,” he jokes, adding in all seriousness that he really does wear a lifejacket, and now that he’s been adjusting these claims since 2000, he’s much better prepared for the inclement weather and cold, wet conditions that are frequently part of the job.

Beyond the challenges of his own specialty, Williams sees a serious bump in the road ahead for the claims industry. One of biggest hurdles is getting people involved to have enough adjusters to do the work in coming years. The challenge is having enough young people join the business, he says.

Certainly in Atlantic Canada, Williams sees that a lot of adjusters are senior people who are getting close to the end of their careers, rather than starting off, and this is going to cause a skills shortage.

“It’s going to take some commitment from firms like ours to train people. It will take time, resources and money to invest into people, and that’s for the insurers as well,” Williams asserts. “They’re in the same boat as the independents – they’re actively trying to source people, that takes time and money.”

Part of it is that not everybody’s cut out to be a loss adjuster. Williams points out that it’s not always easy to tell someone that there’s no coverage for their loss.

“And if there is coverage, you have to deal with the circumstances-it could be a tragedy-it’s people’s lives and livelihood.”

In any industry there’s a learning curve. It takes time to develop proper skills in dealing with the public and to learn the industry.

People in insurance but not in claims don’t understand how involved it gets, Williams says. “You could be doing a service station one day, and construction of a brand new building the next; you have to know a little bit about everything.”

That need to learn underpins the value of CIAA membership for Williams. The primary benefit he sees is the information the association disseminates to members about changes to policies and laws.

He also feels the association’s events and conferences offer a great opportunity for marketing as well as meeting clients, and talking to peers to stay current with industry trends.

The rest of the firm is clearly in agreement about the CIAA’s value; Potten is president of the New Brunswick and PEI region, while Ellis is second vice-president on the current national executive.

It all comes back to the natural curiosity that drives a good adjuster. It’s why AMG Claims prefers the complex claims that need them to dig deep to translate the facts of each loss into comprehensive information for their clients.


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