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In the C-Suite: Fausto Martin

We chat with Auto Club Group’s vice president and chief claims officer.

October 09, 2013 Photo

Tell my about your childhood.

I was born in Cuba. In 1967, my family and I went to Spain on vacation and never returned. Very soon afterwards, we moved to New York. My dad worked for a subsidiary of a company that, back then, was known as ITT, and that’s how we ended up in New Jersey. About three months after we moved to New Jersey, we went on a family vacation to Miami and my parents liked Miami so much that we ultimately bought a house there and relocated.

Describe what it was like to leave Cuba so abruptly?

We got out with what we could. We literally carried all of the possessions that we left with. I was very young, of course, but I do remember being in shorts and absolutely freezing when we first landed in New York. We were like many others who left Cuba at that time in search of a better situation.

What were your career aspirations growing up?

I wanted to be a house painter. My parents made me paint the outside of our house every other year. I knew what professional painters were charging, and I thought that was pretty cool. One of the jobs I had in high school was working in the tool department at Sears. I had visions of being Bob Vila from This Old House before he was “Bob Vila.” You may not know, but he is a Cuban-American too.

Where did you go to college?

I attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C. At that time, I had a real interest in politics and the political process. I had done some work with local legislators in high school. My idea was that when I got to D.C., I would go to college and get an internship on the Hill, and, in fact, I became a congressional intern. My ultimate goal was to graduate from college and be a legislative aide. I was fascinated by the compromise, deal making, and committee system of Congress. In the end though, I eventually concluded that legislative aides were working 80 hours a week for not much money, and that some of the idealistic views I had about what happens on the Hill did not reflect reality. 

Do you see parallels between the skill sets of legislators and claims professionals?

Absolutely. The ability to communicate, knowing you have to compromise, understanding that not everything is black and white, and being a great listener are just a few of the skills that are applicable in both politics and claims.

Where was your first claims job?

I worked at GEICO. The job schedule was from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., which was a primary draw for the job. Being a recent college graduate, I appreciated the opportunity to sleep in since I also was a bartender two nights a week. And, frankly, the bartending job paid better than the claims job!

How did you get your first job?

I actually went to GEICO to interview for a job with their food management company, ARA, because I had worked for them when I was in college. While I was sitting there waiting for my interview, I started chatting with one of the GEICO HR people. She said, “If the food management job doesn’t work out, come see me.” The ARA job started at 6 a.m., so I was instantly more interested in a job that didn’t start until 11 a.m. It sounded like an interesting opportunity to try something different. Also, the opportunity to manage homeowners’ claims tied back to my interest in being just like Bob Vila, so it was attractive to me.

Did GEICO have an extensive training program?

Less so with homeowners, which is where I started. At the time, GEICO had a much more rigid training program for auto. In homeowners, though, we did train for a few weeks on the policy and about procedures. Then, we sat at a desk. Ultimately, when we were sent out in the field, we went to construction school first.

When did you first move into management?

I was at GEICO for about five years when I left to become an independent adjuster due to the fact that I wanted to handle a broader range of claims. After about two years, I went back to GEICO to take a home office job of compiling training manuals and reporting on reinsurance claims. About a year into that job, I applied for a claims supervisor job and then, roughly two years later, I became a claims manager where I had supervisors reporting to me.

Do organizations provide less formal training today?

Yes, but it varies by line. For example, in our current environment, we focus our intensive training on our personal injury protection (PIP) adjusters. Because that can be such a complex and regulated field, we focus on getting our PIP claims absolutely correct. We also want to grow our own talent in that area because it is a critical line of business for us.

Do you prefer to hire adjusters and managers with deep experience in one area or a broad range of experiences?

I’ve actually taken managers from one line and put them in a different line. I look for good leaders and strong communication skills. I don’t need a line leader to be the best adjuster in that area. I need him or her to understand the business and the balancing act between the loss costs, customer service, and the employee experience. Sometimes deeply technical people cannot get past the loss cost, so the management experience or potential can be crucial.

Tell me about your approach to customer service.

It’s one of our key objectives. We measure it at the highest level through a net promoter score. We also have net promoter scores by departments and lines. We have subset measurements that involve cycle time and other survey responses. It is one of our critical measurements for success. To us, this objective can be as important as loss cost management.

Are frontline adjusters asked to be aware of those net promoter scores?

We share feedback that relates directly to an adjuster, and we provide a higher-level overview on things like timing on returning phone calls. We’re constantly looking to see what drives our customers’ expectations. I built a unit two years ago called the Customer Experience Business Unit. They go through information to see what customers are saying. We use that information to continually improve our customer service. Again, the customer experience is crucial for us.

How have customer expectations changed?

The amount of information on insurance that a customer has available to them today is incredible. They know more about buying insurance, settling claims, and values than ever before. Much of this information can be retrieved on the Internet, and it makes our job both more challenging and rewarding. Because our customers today are much more informed, the advice and information we give them has to be fair, honest, and straightforward because they will look it up and challenge you if you are wrong. That requires the right type of claims person who doesn’t take it personally when they are challenged but, on the other hand, can explain when the customer’s information may be wrong.

Is it harder to be a claims adjuster today?

Absolutely. If you don’t have the ability to listen, you won’t be successful. You need to listen to the facts, the expectations, and the customer’s knowledge. Years ago, it was about processing claims quickly. Now you have to listen to the customer very carefully. If you don’t do that, you are not going to have a successful customer experience. Of course, good listening skills also provide an advantage to young professionals who want to move ahead in their career.

As a chief claims officer, what kinds of things keep you up at night?

Making sure that my people are prepared and ready to do their jobs. Most complaints and problems happen when someone is not prepared. As our business changes and processes change, I want to make sure our folks are ready for what faces them today and also down the road.

What is the role of the chief claims officer in an insurance company?

Our role can be one of the toughest in the industry, mostly because we pay out the money. It’s critical that the leadership team has confidence that we are managing the dollar and the loss costs appropriately. We have to balance all of that while excelling at customer service. Bad customer service will drive clients away, but good customer service will keep them. As a company, what we’re really selling is a great claims staff, and we need to fulfill that promise to our customers. We want to be fast, fair, and easy.

Tell me about your family.

I’ve been married to the same wonderful woman since 1989. We met on a volleyball court at GEICO. She was working there during the summer of her senior year in college. We have four children—all adopted from China—and they range in age from 11 to 15. Two girls and two boys. The only person in my house without a green card is my wife.

Do you have any hobbies?

I love to cook, and my kids are my sous chefs. Cooking helps me relax, and I love experimenting. I cook all types of food, including traditional Cuban food and my own version of Chinese dishes.

Do you have any interest in visiting Cuba?

I do have an interest in seeing some relatives who are still there. I also understand that it’s a fascinating place to visit, almost as if time stood still since the moment we left. It would be interesting to see.

Do you have any other passions?

We spend a lot of time volunteering as a family. This is very important to us and to the kids, too, which we like. Many Saturday mornings we’ll get up early and volunteer because we strongly believe in giving back. We like to work with the different food banks. I want my kids to understand the value of giving time, talent, and treasure. Sometimes it’s easy to give money, which is important, but also we think it’s important to give our time and talent. Sometimes that can be a little harder.

I’m also a lifelong Cubs fan. In the summer of 1969, I went to a Cubs/Mets game in New York. My dad had great field-level seats. Mr. Met came to visit the fans, and he scared me with his huge baseball head. At the same game, I got a Ron Santo autographed baseball, and ever since, I’ve been a long-suffering fan. My staff always accuses me of planning visits to Chicago around the Cubs schedule. They may be right!  

About The Authors
Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith is president of Suite 200 Solutions.  taylor.smith@suite200solutions.com

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