September 30, 2015 by Craig Harris, Freelance Writer
A quote from the recently passed Yogi Berra seems to sum up Fred Plant’s newly minted role as CIAA president: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Leave it to the late N.Y. Yankee catcher to throw in a redundant witticism or two when needed (especially for Plant, a die-hard Red Sox fan).
Plant, who previously served as president of the organization in 2008, takes the reins of the CIAA at an interesting juncture in independent adjusting. While he was president of Plant Hope Adjusters back then, Plant is currently senior vice president, Atlantic region of ClaimsPro.
Since that time, things have both changed – and stayed the same. One of the major short-term developments, of course, is ClaimsPro’s decision to join the CIAA and bolster membership.
“I am happy to get those boots on the ground; this is a tremendous injection of people, expertise and experience into the organization” says Plant, who became president at the CIAA’s annual general meeting in August. “We have a whole lot more soldiers to carry the load – and many hands make light, or at least lighter, work. So we have all these people joining the organization, bringing fresh ideas and new perspectives. That is exciting.”
Plant notes that the addition of ClaimsPro to CIAA may also be a case of déjà vu for their employees – many of the independent adjusting firms acquired by ClaimsPro were formerly CIAA members.
“There are a lot of adjusters who are familiar with CIAA, many of whom have participated in the past on various committees in different regions across the country,” he says. “They understand the association’s importance in the promotion and development of independent adjusting in the country.”
For Plant, representation of independent adjusters across Canada is an ongoing and moving target for CIAA. He notes, for example, that there are more than 70 small adjuster firms in Alberta, not all of which are members.
“We would very much like to have every independent loss adjuster in this country as an active and participating member in the organization,” he says. “Although CIAA represents the vast majority of adjusters today, we want to be the ‘big voice’ of all independents in Canada.”
Plant observes that adjusters can’t strictly reap benefits from the profession without returning the favour.
“My father had a saying: ‘a career is like a bank account. You can’t keep drawing from it; you have to put something back in,'” he comments. “This is true for adjusters, just as it is with other professionals. Would you want to hire an accountant who graduated 30 years ago and has not taken any professional development or tax courses since then?”
Continuing education and the umbrella of professional development is a steady theme that has characterized the work of CIAA presidents and committee volunteers – one of the items that hasn’t changed. Plant says this will continue to be a key area of focus for this year and beyond.
“Within CIAA, we have the capability and numbers to create and sustain ongoing education,” he notes. “We developed professional designations, such as the Chartered Loss Adjuster (CLA), so that people know they are dealing with adjusters who are at the next level.”
Plant asserts that the CIAA should strive to maintain its position as the go-to hub for continuing education opportunities for independent adjusters.
“We need to give our professional loss adjusters the tools to constantly stay on top of their game,” he says. “We want adjusters to have a base level of education and then specialize in certain directions or lines of business. By creating the right education programs and making courses available we will have more opportunity to develop professional loss adjusters.”
The CIAA’s role of acting as the benchmark for professional development should result in a spillover effect of attracting new members to the adjuster ranks -long a concern of the organization and its aging demographic, according to Plant.
“Like many professional services, attracting people into our business is a challenge,” he says. “It is not for everyone – it’s 24/7 in a high pressure environment; you have to be a certain type of person. If we can attract a better bevy of trainees with a facility for those people to be well educated, we can greatly enhance the quality of the important service we provide.”
Another longstanding issue is harmonized cross-provincial licensing, which, despite the hard work of CIAA members like Miles Barber, is moving at a glacial pace of regulatory change.
“We have some degree of licence recognition from one jurisdiction to the next, but it’s not enough,” Plant argues. “For example, I have a licence in the State of Maine, but I can’t get one in Quebec – what does that tell you? If a disaster takes place in Quebec and I was the best adjuster in Canada, I couldn’t go there and use my skills to help just because I crossed a political boundary in my country. That doesn’t make sense.”
“The portability of licensing is an issue we have to work on,” he adds. “As an adjuster, it’s not like you are splitting atoms in Alberta and doing brain surgery in Nova Scotia. What professional loss adjusters do at home is fundamentally and most often the same work that is required right across the country.”
Plant notes there is a double standard at play when it comes to licensing mobility.
“Adjusters directly employed by insurance companies are often free to roam the country unhampered by licencing regulation,” he says. “Yet an independent adjuster who is well qualified and has met the rigor of his or her home licencing requirements is handcuffed by regulation that delays and adds cost to getting the job done. That is not in the best interests of the public.”
Rather than an agenda with checklists and tick-boxes for this year as CIAA president, Plant says there are big-picture issues he wants to examine with members and industry partners. One of those items is improved communications with their core clients – insurance companies.
“Our interests are, or should be, totally aligned. Based on my conversations with independent adjusters from every region of Canada, I sense we are actually out of alignment,” he says.
“My career has spanned nearly four decades. During that period, rates paid to independents have dropped in real dollars by more than 50 per cent,” Plant observes. “I believe that insurance companies would be happy to pay us more if they believed they were getting more from us – it is our responsibility to demonstrate to them the value we bring to the table. We can’t just stand up and say we’re better; we have to show that.”
This new direction needs to move away from what many adjusters describe as an “adversarial relationship” that has characterized adjuster-insurer interactions in recent years, according to Plant.
“We have to understand where the insurance companies are coming from, their opinion of us, how the service model has changed,” he notes.
For Plant, this communication should lead to some pertinent questions: “Are insurers clear in telling us what they need? Are adjusters meeting that need? Are there more efficient ways of providing those services without compromising fundamental aspects of loss investigation and settlement?”
“Independent adjusters will always be around, but in what capacity? Plant asks. “We need to engage insurers on a day-to-day basis so we build a collaborative model. The feedback I get from some adjusters is that this two-way conversation is long overdue and needs to replace the fractured individual discussions between adjusters and insurers.”
“We need a deeper level of conversation than in the past. And it should involve a lot of the rank-and-file adjusters who, from my frank discussions with people in the field, feel underappreciated and marginalized by their customers with respect to their abilities and the value of their service,” Plant says.
For Plant, this year represents an opportunity for the CIAA to chart a path forward during a period of change and renewal. He wants to capitalize on the momentum of a broad foundation of membership, fresh perspectives and a bigger voice for the organization.
“There’s a lot to do this year, but we have more members to get our messages across,” Plant concludes. “We want to develop relationships with insurers that allow both parties to be sustainable for one common goal – providing outstanding claims service to the insured customer. If we can do that, everyone wins.”