Canadian Underwriter

Sun, Sea and Cliffs

September 30, 2010   by Laura Kupcis

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In a search for change and a desire for new challenges, Daniel Laforest took the ultimate leap — leaving his job of 15 years with an international adjusting firm — launching his own adjusting firm.

And the leap paid off.

East Coast Claim Services Inc. (ECCS) was founded on May 1, 2001 when Laforest stepped into the Service New Brunswick’s registry office in Moncton. Two weeks after inquiring about the process involved in started a new company, ECCS was formally incorporated. When it came to choosing a name, Laforest went to the source that knows him best — his wife. Together, the two of them came up with the company name. He didn’t look much further to find a couple of designers for his logo — his son and daughter were the inspiration. The yellow sun represents New Brunswick, the brown cliff adjacent the sea is reflective of Prince Edward Island, while the blue sea relates to Nova Scotia — the trio culminating to represent the East Coast.

In the beginning, there were two — Laforest and his secretary. Within half a year, a second adjuster, Serge Goguen, had come on board and the company remained a three-person operation for almost eight years, until a third adjuster was brought on board in May of 2009. Susie Laforest joined the company in 2002, taking over all administrative requirements of East Coast Claim Services, while Goguen left in early 2003 for a new career in the agency field, opening the door for Roger Frenette to come on board. In early 2009, a third adjuster, Monique Chamberlain, joined the firm. As Roger Frenette, adjuster, moves into retirement, the office is back to being a two-adjuster firm.

“Working with an experienced adjuster such as Roger provided me with the opportunity to learn more about adjusting and the insurance industry while also establishing a good friendship,” Laforest said. “The door at ECCS has always remained open for Roger and Serge should they ever contemplate a return to the claims field again.”

Changing faces of the industry

Not only have there been staffing changes, but Laforest has also seen and experienced the changes in the way clients needs have evolved — especially as it relates to their claims handling requirements. “In 2001, when East Coast Claim Services first started, the bulk of the files were assigned to the independent claims adjuster with the mandate to handle all aspects of the particular loss,” Laforest. “The process has since transitioned to the point where many assignments are now specific to a task.”

But what contributed to this change? In part, according to Laforest, it was the changes in law, the creation of the Privacy Act, and the shortage of adjusters entering into the industry. Combine these with the preferred vendors programs both for property and automobile losses and you’ve got just a few of the factors that have changed the profession and altered the field of work, Laforest said.

“Some independents have since elected to specialize in certain fields as opposed to maintaining the broad handling of all lines, which has prevailed here at East Coast Claim Services since we first opened shop,” he said. This means that ECCS has become recognized as a small boutique within the industry. Being a small firm with experience in virtually all lines, ECCS has become a go-to firm when dealing with large, difficult and complex losses, in addition to being capable of handling routine claim or task assignments.

But this doesn’t mean that being a small, all lines firm in the ever-changing world of independent adjusting is not without its challenges. Not only is there a move to more in-house handling of claims, but there remains the harsh reality that if insurance companies continue to keep most claims inhouse, the opportunity to reach out to independents will be gone.

“One of the most challenging areas of concern over the first years of operation was to maintain focus [in the face of] the ever-looming reality that the industry was leaning towards in-house handling of their claims,” Laforest said, adding that this led to a reduction of overall files that were handled externally. “Five or six years ago, I recall some industry people alluding to the potential extinction of the independent adjuster.”

The loss of experienced adjusters to retirement — with many more to come — coupled with the lack of newcomers to the industry as a whole, has brought with it the realization and recognition regarding the value of independents.

“This change of focus is a breath of fresh air, which I firmly believe is serving to regenerate our profession,” Laforest said.

Working towards the future

Furthermore, there are strong signs pointing towards not only maintaining the profession of independent adjusting, but, in fact, supporting ways to replenish the lost manpower. “This cyclical change is very comforting at this stage as East Coast Claim Service is entering its tenth year,” Laforest said. “Our goals over the years ahead are to increase staff in our Moncton office, with the prospect of opening branch offices elsewhere.”

There are benefits to being a small firm, despite the pressures facing the industry. For Laforest, the biggest benefit is the ability to be able to respond quickly when implementing positive ideas. The motto at ECCS? Work hard, play hard, and have fun in the process.

To ensure optimal success in the current office, Laforest makes certain that ECCS keeps up with any technological advances that are available to them, including computers with continuously updated software, email and BlackBerry communication. Additionally, the company has improved both the speed and accuracy in audio-recorded interviews, which allows more time for claimant and witness interviews. Furthermore, the company is fully bilingual — a feat it has maintained since its inception.

ECCS prides itself on hard work and being team-oriented. All staff members are invited and welcomed to provide their input on all aspects of the day-today operations, Laforest said. “We are very family-oriented, both at work and at home,” Laforest said of his company and staff.

Being a member of the Canadian Independent Adjusters’ Association (CIAA) provides increased support for the company with respect to improved access to people, the opportunity to assist in disaster claims, in addition to being a source of information with respect to claims handling, ongoing education and licensing requirements. For this reason, among a plethora of others, ECCS has been a member of the CIAA since its inception.

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