Canadian Underwriter


February 1, 2001   by Larry Snipes, director of product development and general insura

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The brave new world of the Internet brought a scope of accessibility never before experienced. And, just as insurers are beginning to grasp all that the Internet has to offer, the digital world is opening even more doorways with the advent of wireless technology. As companies push customer service as a marketplace “differentiator”, the use of wireless technology offers interesting potential to transform the claims handling process.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears, does it make a sound? What if that tree happens to fall on your car? Would anyone hear it then? In the first few minutes after an accident occurs, very few of us feel that anyone hears us, whether we are alone in a forest or in the middle of rush hour. And at some point in our driving lives, almost all of us are involved in an automobile accident.

Insurance companies recognize that accidents and other losses, and the claims process that follows, can make or break the relationship between the insured and the insurance company. Most companies also recognize that, in addition to providing good customer service, good claims processes applied quickly after a claim event can limit the ultimate cost of a claim.

But the claims process is subject to human error, not to mention being labour intensive. Insurers need to address how to get involved quickly, efficiently and appropriately, best utilizing the members of their teams. With the help of real-time integration capabilities, emerging mobile and wireless technology is solving many of these important service issues by extending the claim process and customer service directly to the point of need. By automating many of the processes associated with all points of an automobile accident, these technologies can act as both a guardian angel, and an efficient claims processor.

For example, let us say that rather than a tree hitting your car, it was another vehicle – and hard enough to deploy the airbags! Now your car’s computer activates its cellular connection to call your emergency services provider. An operator calls you on your wireless phone to ensure that you are not seriously injured and asks if you need police or other emergency assistance. Now that concerns for primary personal safety have been addressed, the emergency services operator asks if you want your insurance company notified. You do. At this point, the operator has some choices, call your carrier’s toll-free number to report the claim, or use the Internet to file a first report. The operator decides to keep it personal and calls the claim in directly. The insurance company has been notified that you were involved in an accident less than 5 minutes after it occurred.

Next, as part of the insurance company’s claims registration process, the claim-taker searches for the most appropriate resource to assign, whether the closest or the most specialized adjuster. The “global positioning satellite” (GPS) adjuster locator identifies an automobile lines adjuster who is just miles away from the accident scene and is finishing up a visit to a repair shop. While the operator is still talking to the claim-taker, an e-mail or text page is sent advising the adjuster that a claim has just been reported and that they are to proceed to the site.

En route and using a wireless handheld device, the adjuster accesses a workbasket of new assignments, identifies the claim in question and is presented with relevant driver, vehicle, and coverage information provided via the Internet from the company’s policy and claims administration systems. On arriving at the accident site, about the time that the police arrive, the adjuster is knowledgeable of the insured’s policy and is prepared to address the claim as a customer service event.

Again using the wireless handheld device, the adjuster confirms that a rental car is needed and schedules delivery directly with the agency. The adjuster then identifies a preferred repair shop and, once confirming with the insured, gives the tow-truck operator instructions to transport the damaged vehicle. Finally, the adjuster prints an acknowledgement of the report of loss, which includes all claims file numbers and contact information and gives it to the insured.

About this time, the insured’s agent shows up. How did he know about the accident? Part of the company’s process included sending agents an e-mail alerting them that a client has filed a new claim. Since the agent was out on calls, they decided to stop by and see if they could help. Elapsed time from first call to the adjuster’s arrival is twenty minutes, give or take a few.

Given the quick rate of adoption of technologies – the Internet being the best example – this scenario will soon be the viable extension of claims service for insurers. Today’s wireless technology providers already offer a number of solution components that fit into the scenario. Take, for example, General Motor’s OnStar service, available on most of the manufacturer’s car and truck lines. One of the features of OnStar service is “airbag deployment notification”. In the event that the vehicle’s front airbags deploy, an OnStar-equipped vehicle sends a signal and GPS location to the OnStar center. An advisor will attempt to contact the driver to inquire whether assistance is required. Even if the driver is unable to answer, OnStar will contact emergency help and provide them with the exact location of the vehicle.

Through another feature “Accident Assist”, OnStar provides step-by-step guidance about what to do after an accident. Working with leading insurance companies, they have developed a “best practices” list to assist their customers through most accident situations. In turn, OnStar will contact the insurance company, police and other emergency services if requested. And they can also notify a family member or friend if requested.

Ford’s RESCU offers a similar service in its Lincoln line of cars and other vendors are also entering the market with technology such as one-button, hand-held, portable security systems designed for any model of car. One such vendor, Chapman Technolgies, offers the “Personal Safeguard Companion” (PSC), which combines a GPS system with cellular communications. Once the insurance company has been notified of a claim and has decided which resource(s) to assign there are many wireless options available to support outbound communications. Wireless phones with Internet messaging, two-way text paging systems, wireless e-mail or even smaller laptops with wireless modems could be supported to provide access to policy and claims information in a disconnected environment.

In the end, it does not matter whether the falling tree makes a sound. The use of wireless technology is about to boom and in the claims processing field, the noise will be resounding.

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