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The Changing Face of Claims

Why greater diversity is necessary in the insurance industry.

February 22, 2019 Photo

During my years in the insurance industry, I have been blessed to work with some dynamic, engaging, and brilliant professionals. I have also worked with others who were difficult and unprofessional—and, sad but true, some who were outright bigots.

What I gained over the years from those polar opposite experiences is that each was an opportunity to learn and grow, both personally and professionally.

My route to working in insurance claims is less conventional than most. I started out as a legal assistant in a plaintiff’s personal injury law firm while in college, an experience that was important in terms of both gaining maturity and developing a skillset. Those skills proved to be extremely helpful as I transitioned into claims.

One of my most vivid memories of those early years working in personal injury was a discussion with a trial attorney who, fresh off a verdict in Supreme Court, Queens County, was dismayed with the amount awarded by the jury. In discussion with the jurors afterward, one older woman who was on the panel made it quite clear to the attorney that, while she agreed that there was a loss with quantifiable damages and that the defendant bore the brunt of responsibility, she “could not see herself giving a n----- that kind of money.”

The trial attorney was understandably upset, and while I don’t know if or how far he pursued the matter after that comment, I am fairly certain that particular experience did not resonate with him as profoundly as it did with me. While that older female juror represents an exception in her actions, can one really conclude that her feelings are not shared by many like her who sit in judgment on trials every day?

It was, for me, an early education about the bias that creeps into our daily lives.

My experiences in the insurance industry after those early years have been interesting. I have always had a desire to gain as much knowledge as I can about the industry as a whole, and, as such, I have worked with TPAs, carriers, and self-insurers, becoming a sponge for information and gaining as much experience as possible on my way to running my own claims-adjusting company. I have managed claims teams and entire departments, worked a desk, and deployed to the field.

This journey has given me a perspective on how the industry operates from the mailroom to the C-suite, and also made me acutely aware of two glaring issues: the rapid graying of the insurance industry workforce that is currently at a crisis point; and the lack of diversity at all levels of the industry.

The aging workforce has been well documented and discussed in industry publications for the last few years; by all accounts, there is a shortfall of new professionals entering the industry. The number of positions that need to be filled ranges from 300,000 to 600,000. That range represents no fewer than 20 percent of the total jobs in the industry today.

The number of people aging out presents a major problem, but also a significant opportunity. This is why the second issue concerning the lack of diversity is so important: Now is the time for a paradigm shift within insurance—a shift to fully embrace diversity and lead the way with an inclusion strategy that can be the standard for all industries.

Every area of insurance deals with issues that affect our country and world. Language obstacles may be the most obvious hurdle, and those can be challenging in situations such as obtaining details from a witness related to a claim or formulating an effective medical treatment plan for injured workers who are non-English speakers.

Cultural variances also create complications. An example of this can be seen in a claim handled at my company a few years ago. An insurance carrier requested an investigation of a theft claim reported by an insured. The insured reported what the company thought was a highly unusual amount of gold jewelry. After conducting an investigation that included a statement from the named insured, it was determined with a high degree of likelihood that the claimed losses were legitimate. The insured’s (large) family was of Indian/Guyanese descent; part of their customs on children’s birthdays is giving gold trinkets and jewelry as gifts. Having interacted over the years with many people from that community, we were aware of those customs and able to relay the legitimacy of this to our client. The insured was also able to show photographic and video evidence of one of the celebrations, something that went a long way toward closing out the investigation and favorably resolving the claim.

That one instance could have taken several routes to a conclusion, many of them acrimonious. Our knowledge of the cultural traditions particular to that community—one of the fastest growing in New York City—helped wrap it up quickly.

The demographics of the United States are rapidly changing. Recent national forecasts, supported by readily available data, shows that immigrants and children of immigrants are considerably more likely to start businesses, be college educated, and purchase homes than the general population at large, of any race. More than a third of the 500 largest businesses in the country were started by immigrants or children of immigrants, and in the tech field—an area the insurance industry is rapidly embracing—the percentage is higher. It would be naïve for any business or industry to overlook these facts and not make an attempt to cater to the specific needs of these groups.

I previously described the aging of the insurance workforce as a crisis. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was a dire warning to the entire industry about the paucity of new claims professionals coming into the industry. Four hurricanes within a six-week period across several states and territories stretched the abilities of third-party administrators and carriers to effectively staff up and respond to policyholders’ needs. I can personally attest that people with little-to-no knowledge of claims—much less catastrophic property losses such as those seen from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma—were being rushed into duty to handle claims due to the sheer amount of damage and not enough qualified claims professionals.

I have talked for many years to college students about the insurance industry and found an overall lack of knowledge from them on the range of opportunities that exist. That being said, while most people suggest the biggest challenge is the industry’s inability to market itself as a steady and viable career destination, I believe the bigger hurdle is recruiters who are not looking outside the traditional avenues for new talent.

Many people within the industry still see diversity and inclusion as them being replaced by someone (fill in the blanks—black, brown, female, younger, etc.) Others see it as a box to check while seeking their ideal “unicorn candidate.”

The numbers obviously don’t support either of these concerns, as there is clearly a need and it currently is not being met—and has not been met for some time. The situation, at present, is less about replacing individuals and more about filling openings, and diversity and inclusion needs to be a necessity and not a routine line item.

That means recruiters must connect with undergraduate programs in places where “non-traditional” candidates may be and invest in high school, community college, and baccalaureate programs to bring greater awareness of the insurance industry and all that it can offer. I have interacted professionally with people who were art history, mathematics, biology, and English majors before they began working in claims. I have also worked with attorneys, medical school graduates, police officers, and educators who transitioned into this amazing field. As hip-hop philosopher Rakim once said, “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.” All different backgrounds, working together.

The U.S. is still graduating millions of students from four-year colleges every year, so I posit that the issue may be more a case of where the industry is looking and less a case of not enough potential candidates.

I will end with this: The most encouraging thing I encountered last year during deployment on Hurricane Irma was sitting in an orientation session and seeing approximately a dozen claims professionals—half of them women—who were either Black or Hispanic in a room of approximately 100. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged. On my first catastrophe deployment a decade earlier, I sat in a similar room and counted two, including myself, and no women. The other notable fact is that on that first catastrophe deployment, I was the youngest person in the room by several years. This time around, of the dozen previously mentioned, I was the only one with gray hairs.

A long way to go, yes, but an improvement.

About The Authors
Dwight Geddes

Dwight Geddes is the head of Metro Claims Mgmt NYC Inc. dwight@metroclaimsnyc.com

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