July 31, 2015 by Craig Harris, Freelance Writer
Winnipeg native Miles Barber has a term he likes to use – the “ten per centers.” What does it mean? “If you go into any industry or community, there is ten per cent of the population who will step up and volunteer,” he says. “The other 90 per cent will applaud them, support them, but more or less stay in the shadows.”
Why is that relevant? As the owner and principal adjuster of Network Adjusters Ltd., Barber notes: “We look at ourselves as leaders who get involved in our profession and in our local communities; we want to be that ten per cent.”
The proof is in the commitment pudding. And for the three senior adjusters and two full-time support staff who comprise the firm, there is a lot in the mix.
In addition to Barber, Network Adjusters is home to well-known veteran adjuster Craig Shanks, who is regional president of CIAA’s Manitoba chapter, as well as Jim Magnan, a seasoned adjuster who has been an active member of the Manitoba and Ontario Insurance Adjusters’ Associations. The three represent a lifetime of volunteerism and giving back to their industry.
Barber’s passion for insurance adjusting started straight from graduating in 1985 from the University of Manitoba with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree, when he spotted an ad for an adjuster trainee in the newspaper.
“I didn’t know what an adjuster did, so I asked my father, who ran a local insurance agency in Winnipeg,” he recalls. “He gave me the basics on what adjusters do and told me that the p&c insurance industry was an honourable choice as a career investment. So I applied and got the job.”
The “job” was with a smaller local independent adjusting firm. Barber learned the ropes and found himself gravitating to liability claims as an area of interest. “If you look at the resident licensed adjusters in Manitoba, there are not a lot of adjusters specializing in casualty claims” he says. “It’s an interesting area; no two claims are exactly the same. There are always different loss scenarios involved.”
The small local adjusting company where Barber got his start was bought by a large national firm in the late 1980s, and Barber continued his career as a liability claims specialist in that environment.
His career took a new turn when he became national president of the CIAA for the 2006-2007 term.
“That experience was invaluable; I am very grateful to the CIAA for having been able to serve as president,” he observes. “In that role you see different adjusters – from national to regional firms to Mom and Pop shops and what they are experiencing in every region. When I look back it really gave me a lot of insight and perspective on the issues facing all adjusters.”
It also prompted Barber to pursue a dream he had for several years: starting his own independent adjusting firm. “It really lit the fire,” he recalls. “The timing was right.”
With the support of his wife Valerie, also an insurance and risk management professional, and their three sons, Barber started Network Adjusters in the fall of 2007. Shanks left a national adjusting firm and signed on with Network in 2011; Magnan came out of retirement after a long career to join in 2014.
Network Adjusters has two offices in Manitoba: Winnipeg and Brandon. It is an all-lines adjusting firm that serves customers in a broad geographical area spanning Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northwestern Ontario.
“It is not uncommon for us to boat or fly into certain locations,” Barber remarks. “Our adjusters can be on site for days. It depends on what the client wants.”
For Barber, the transition from employee to owner was a positive adjustment.
“Either way – employee or owner, you have your clients, but when you have your own firm, that’s where the business starts and stops,” he observes. “With your own firm, you are more flexible (than with a larger adjusting firm) and can tailor your services more directly to what the client wants. You can also offer a quicker response – you are not checking with the regional VP or head office manager. You make a promise, you deliver on it and you are accountable for it; there is no intermediary.”
Of course, going out on your own also means facing competitive pressure from larger or regional firms. It’s a sink or swim environment, but Barber notes there are coping strategies for smaller adjusting firms.
“I would say that technology is the great leveler,” he observes. “If you have the resources, any size of firm can offer online file and time management services, which is what clients are looking for. Because of the progress in technology, there is a much more level playing field today.”
Barber explains that Network Adjusters pursues other points of differentiation in the marketplace.
“You have to look at it from the main business cornerstones – the quality of service, the cost of service, field investigation experience, communication skills and intellectual abilities in terms of technical policy knowledge,” he says. “In regards to your clients, can you sit down and knowledgeably discuss the results of the loss investigation, policy interpretation – coverage issues, and quantum of damages? In regards to claimants and plaintiff’s legal counsel, can you represent your client’s position in a clear – articulate manner?”
The “quantum of experience” that Network Adjusters holds amongst its three veteran adjusters is impressive, with more than 90 collective years of service. “Our clients come to us for our experience and expertise. We know how to conduct a thorough investigation, review coverage, report clearly and provide quality recommendations on the loss being adjusted,” notes Barber.
“We have made this profession our lives, and we communicate effectively with our clients, insureds, brokers, claimants, and lawyers,” he adds. “You have to use your field experience, your technical knowledge, policy understanding and take that and apply it to the situation at hand, and then communicate clearly to all of the parties involved. I think those are but two of the many attributes that differentiate us at Network Adjusters; our knowledge base and that we communicate effectively.”
In an age when the focus is on efficiency, cost control and flat-fee adjusting, Barber and his firm represent a contrarian approach.
“We don’t treat our loss adjusting files as commodities – there are a lot of adjusting firms and insurance companies that take a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach,” he observes. “There are factors and nuances to every claim; we take the time to meet with the insured and conduct a thorough field investigation. By using the commodity approach, the insurer may save money on the expense side of the file but they will likely incur higher costs on the indemnity side of the file; a one-size-fits-all approach does not work on all files.”
With his varied experience in working for different types of clients that range from insurers to SIR’s and T/P Administrators, and his role as a former CIAA president, Barber also maintains perspective on the evolving nature of the loss adjusting profession.
“When I think back eight years ago to my time with the CIAA executive team, it is still etched indelibly on my mind that no matter which corporate flag was flying in the wind behind each executive committee member, we tried to find common ground solutions that would benefit all adjusters,” he says. “We looked for the high water mark for all adjusters, whether that was continuing education, expedited disaster response at the provincial level, licensing, advocacy or professional development.”
Now as an adjuster principal, Barber still finds ways to give back to the profession and sets a high water mark for himself and his firm. He just represented CIAA as a panel speaker at a workshop held by the Manitoba government on climate change, infrastructure preparedness and disaster response. This fall, he will be teaching the Risk Management Principles and Practices course through the University of Winnipeg in collaboration with the Manitoba Chapter of RIMS, as well as presenting the CIP Society Pro-edge “Ethics is Good Business” seminar in Winnipeg.
Whether the organization in need is the regional CIAA chapter, the Insurance Institute, the Loyal Order of Blue Goose or a community group, stepping up to volunteer is what makes Network Adjusters tick, according to Barber.
“When we are asked to do a seminar on a certain topic or volunteer for our industry, we can take the time to accept the request.” Barber concludes. “If you don’t give back to the profession and to your community, then progress does not occur. It means a lot to us – you have to give back.”
Spoken like a true ten per center.