Canadian Underwriter

Sunshine Sketches

March 31, 2014   by Craig Harris

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For adjuster Mike Gojevic, a 23-year career in insurance has led him across the country – and back home. A native B.C. resident, Mike has worked in areas ranging from Red Deer, Alberta to Fort Frances, Ontario.

Born and bred in Vancouver, he always wanted to return to the West Coast. A chance conversation in early 2007 with the owner of a small one-man adjusting firm in Sechelt, B.C. provided just that opportunity.

“I had never met (Peninsula Adjusters Ltd.’s founder) Phil Thirwal and had never been to Sechelt, but I was interested in running my own business,” Gojevic says. “We discussed it, I looked at the financials (with the help of my brother) and by April 2007, I was adjusting claims on the Sunshine Coast. It was that fast.”

This area of B.C. is a stretch of the mainland coast north of Vancouver extending from Howe Sound in the south to Desolation Sound in the north, punctuated by deep sea inlets, coastal bays, rugged mountains and inter-connected lakes. The Sunshine Coast lies along the Georgia Strait across from Vancouver Island, and has several small towns including Sechelt, Powell River, Langdale (the terminal for ferries from Horseshoe Bay) and Halfmoon Bay, where Mike lives and runs his business.

With a total population hovering just above 50,000, the collection of communities is an eclectic mix of retirees, artisans and First Nations people, coupled with natural resource economic mainstays of forestry, pulp and paper, mining and fishing. Housing prices in the area are often less than half than those of the Lower Mainland.

When Gojevic took over Peninsula Adjusters (formed in 1994), he carried on its tradition of providing trusted, reliable service across all lines of business.

“When you’re a one-man show, you have to do everything,” he says. “Residential property claims form a big part of what we do here, especially water damage. We also do some commercial, motor cargo claims; there is a lot of logging in this area, pulp and paper mills and boating/marine.”

The different pace of life on the Sunshine Coast merits an approach that reflects the needs of local communities and businesses. “It’s a rural area, so you are dealing more with one-person construction and restoration firms,” Gojevic observes. “A lot of business is done on a handshake and a smile. It’s a different lifestyle than the mainland.”

Gojevic’s seven-year history as owner of Peninsula Adjusters caps an interesting career trajectory that saw him first get into insurance as a road adjuster with a major insurer in 1991 in Red Deer. From there, he moved to Thunder Bay as a property specialist and claims manager responsible for a large northern swath of Ontario. A stint as a claims manager with another major insurer in Mississauga convinced Mike that big-city life was not his calling.

In fact, it was then that he decided to move from working as an insurance company employee to become part of an independent adjusting firm. Mike was hired by a small adjuster in Fort Frances, and quickly became immersed in the life of an independent.

“It’s funny – you think you know what independent adjusters do when you are a claims examiner, but you really don’t understand exactly what is involved in the role until you do it,” Gojevic notes. “I found it invigorating; there is a lot of freedom, but you have to be self-reliant and you are very much accountable. Your paycheque depends on the work you do. It was a big change going from insurer to independent.”

It was in Fort Frances that Gojevic collaborated with Phil Thirwal of Peninsula Adjusters on a few claims for a major insurance company. After Phil , who was approaching retirement, asked him about his interest in returning to the West Coast, the die was cast. Mike was ready to move his wife and three daughters to the Sunshine Coast.

“Coming out to B.C., I was confident about the business, but there was a bit of worry about moving your family to a new community,” he recalls. “Almost as soon as I got here, I realized it was an excellent fit. It is a beautiful area, the people are great and the community is welcoming and supportive. It has worked out well.”

That sense of tight-knit community support was put to the test when Mike suffered a serious illness in 2012. He was aboard an airplane en route to Las Vegas for a vacation, when he experienced difficulty breathing. It got worse and he required oxygen on the plane. Once landed, he was rushed to a Las Vegas hospital and then transported back to a Vancouver hospital. The diagnosis: pulmonary fibrosis. Tests showed that he needed a double lung transplant.

Mike received the life-saving operation in February 2013, and, after a lengthy recovery, slowly started back to work in the summer of 2013. Today, a little more than one year after his surgery, he is healthy and amazed that he can go for a morning 5 km run – especially given that the process of just sitting in a chair and trying to breathe on his own was a major feat in 2012.

One thing that stands out in his mind was how the community pulled together to help him and his family when he could not work. “The community held several fundraisers to help support us through a challenging time,” says Gojevic, who adds that he has always been a major supporter of organ donation. “It was amazing the outpouring of generosity. People who didn’t know me from Adam, but were aware of the situation, helped out. It was just awe inspiring how people came together as part of the community.”

Another part of the recovery process for Gojevic was re-connecting to his insurance company customers. “I have some excellent clients – they understood the situation, had a lot of belief in me and allowed me to ease back into handling claims,” he notes.

Developing solid relationships with insurer is vital to any independent adjusting firm, according to Gojevic. “It is not just a matter of having your name out there,” he says. “Claims managers need to be able to trust you in handling every aspect of a claim. That is even more the cases in rural areas where we have independently owned contractors. Insurance companies rely on you even more to oversee the claim.”

Gojevic notes that in catastrophic loss situations, such as a potential earthquake, insurers rely even more on independent adjusters. He cites the recent report of the B.C. auditor general that concluded the province is not fully prepared to deal with a big earthquake.

“I have been to a lot of EQ seminars over the past several years and there is an awful lot of talk, but I don’t see as much action when it comes to preparedness,” Gojevic observes. “The practical work of getting prepared differs greatly among insurance companies.”

“From an independent standpoint, it is an opportunity for me to make sure I have a good CAT plan in place, so when that large event does occur, I will be prepared to help out the insurance companies.”

For Gojevic, the independent adjuster can fill in the gaps for insurers and provide the services they need in sometimes challenging large-scale loss events. He is confident that, despite the cyclical ups and downs of the insurance industry and fluctuating revenue levels for adjusters, there will always be a need for trusted independent claims professionals.

“When you look around at the merger and acquisition activity, you sometimes get the sense that the smaller independent is a dying breed,” Mike concludes. “However, I believe if you do your job well, you will always get the work.”

“When I am ready to retire, I want to do the same thing as my predecessor and pass the firm along to an independent adjuster looking for a great opportunity.”