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Replacing the Irreplaceable

Steps for claims professionals when fine art, historical architecture is damaged.

May 07, 2019 Photo

When assessing any insurance claim, the first thing a claims professional should do is look at the value of the various items in question. But when some of those items are priceless, the process becomes more complicated.

Assessing fine art and other often-irreplaceable items that have values more complicated than a price tag is a complex part of the insurance claims business. Fine-art claims professionals are also dealing with objects that have more than a monetary value—these items often have sentimental value to the owners or deep historical significance.

Given the subjective nature of the business, what are some of the ways fine-art claims professionals can be successful? Let’s take a look.

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Fine-art claims professionals are often in the unique position of assessing items with no set worth, and they have to use their expertise and passion for fine art to make informed decisions about claims. To perform the role properly, claims professionals must understand the value of the art by consistently researching art, its history or background, and what it takes for different pieces to be constructed.

While claims professionals should always reassess their own knowledge on subjects relevant to their sectors, it is also necessary to assemble a team of specialists to fully understand a claim. When evaluating items that can be hundreds of years old or more, it is crucial that preexisting issues be identified before any evaluation is made. Claims professionals should work with experts in sculpture, art techniques from different centuries, stained glass, fabrics, painting, frames, ancient instruments, and more to identify these pre-existing issues, as well as to help assess the value of the items.

Working with these professionals can give a claims professional much more insight into a specific art sector than the claims professional could gain on his own. This also will allow claims professionals to evaluate a claim more effectively with distinctive precision and accuracy.

Focus on Restoration and Recovery

While in other claims the client is sometimes okay with with losing the item or items in question and simply recouping the monetary value, that is not the case with fine arts. Because these items have such high worth, sentimental value, and deep historical significance, restoration and recovery take top priority. This is especially important when considering the evaluation methods and processes that an undertaking of this level goes through when it comes to restoration.

Claims professionals need to be prepared to offer a range of restoration options to refurbish the assets and revive the item. As with assessing the value, relying on experts in the restoration of specific objects is crucial to successfully repairing the item in question. Often, a piece cannot be removed from the damaged area for various reasons, so swift action must be taken to preserve the remaining art—keeping the piece fully intact and ensuring its value remains the same.

Restoration of fine art is a complex process, requiring extreme care and patience. Specialists often use a combination of meticulous manual repair techniques and cutting-edge technological methods. The end goal is to keep the piece as close to its original form as possible, which is ultimately the most important task for the insurer.

Architecture as Art

When disaster strikes a building that houses fine art, the steps are clear when it comes to the claims process: remove the items from the compromised area as quickly as possible and get them to a safe place where they can be evaluated and repaired as needed. But what is a claims professional to do when the entire building itself is considered art?

In these cases, different steps must be taken. The cause of the damage needs to be stopped and, ideally, it must be done with limited additional damage to the building and its precious contents.

Restoration can also be much more complicated. If the building is extremely old, the number of craftsmen who are skilled in the techniques used to construct it may be very limited. This can cause issues in restoring the building to its original state, and these skills may need to be relearned in a short time in order to make proper repairs. While this can complicate claims matters, the insurer must act swiftly in order to make sure all measures are taken to protect the overall architectural value of the building itself.

Remain Sensitive to Sentimental Value

Although the job of a claims professional is ultimately to gather information and details to assess the validity of a claim and find a fair settlement price, emotions can run high when dealing with items that have sentimental, historical, spiritual, or some other special value to either the owner or the public. In the public eye, every decision could be scrutinized, so it is important that, when detailing the steps taken, all information passed along is accurate. The media and the public have the ability to heighten a claim’s situation, so the insurer needs to be confident in its approach, language, and demeanor when taking on these types of high-profile cases.

Claims professionals must also remain sensitive to these feelings when assessing value and communicating final recommendations. Sentimental value sometimes must be taken into consideration when evaluating a claim. The most important thing to do is to communicate with the claimants effectively and sensitively. While the process itself is ultimately about money, making clients feel comfortable and listened to can go a long way.

Keep Up With the Latest Technology

The fine-arts claims business is different now than it was a number of years ago. New techniques and technologies are introduced every day, and the rise of information available on the internet makes conducting research and evaluating claims a much smoother process today.

Technology has a way of simplifying the more menial tasks in the claims process, allowing the claims specialist to concentrate on more pertinent matters. Instead of having to rely on books and disparate reports, claims professionals have access to databases now that consolidate mass amounts of information in one conveniently searchable place.

As technology continues to advance, the claims business will become even more efficient. Fine-art loss resolution requires the ability to adapt to the environment and always stay updated on the latest practices and methods for accurate adjusting, and that is even more apparent in the technological age. Claims specialists should use their resources and embrace the technologies that simplify the process.

Fine-art loss adjustment is not a simple business. Assessing the value of priceless items requires specific expertise and a dedication to the subject matter, with many outside factors coming into play. However, if claims professionals are passionate about the field and take the above pieces of advice into account, they can be successful in this extremely interesting and satisfying field.


About The Authors
Michel Honoré

Michel Honoré is director of fine arts at Sedgwick France.  michel.honore@fr.sedgwick.com

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