People across the country are trying to cope with the spread of COVID-19 and the far-reaching ramifications that it is bringing with it. Amidst the pandemic, all kind of industries have turned to the virtual world to cope. Doctors caring for patients, schools and universities, presidential campaigns, and every type of business imaginable are all being handled virtually. The insurance industry is no different as social distancing becomes the new normal and in-person interactions become too risky. All of the sudden, virtual claims handling has gone from “nice to have” to “need to have.”
Of course, virtual claims handling was on an upswing prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and is now being implemented full force. Carriers are trying to find a way to service their customers’ needs and stay in compliance while also doing their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The virtual claims professional is an experienced, licensed adjuster who can assess the policyholders’ damage while taking measurements, photo documentation, and videos with the help of the insured. The virtual claims professional then integrates the information gathered into the estimating platform, which is then easily integrated into the claims file. The process involves geotagging, a piece of data that is embedded in a digital file, to indicate the correct geographical location for the insured.
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What does this look like in the real world? Several industry professionals offer their insights and views on virtual claims handling and the challenges they expect to face.
“For some time now, companies like Plymouth Rock have been using technology and culture—a culture of transparency and generosity with information on how we are handling and thinking about claims—to get the interested parties involved in the process,” says Bill Martin, president and CEO of Plymouth Rock Home Assurance in Boston. “We use self-serve tools such as online or chat reporting; self-serve settlement for claims not requiring adjustment; livestream interactive appraisals; self-inspection picture and video apps; AI-driven analysis tools that produce hyper-accurate identification of damage and repair costs and needs; immediate online availability of documents/notes/exchanges/transactions involving a claim; and anytime service by any communications channel. If the current ban on in-person contact doesn’t already give companies like ours a leg up, then the advantage will soon be apparent when customers and partners realize how uncommonly human this technology can be when put in the hands of trained and dedicated claims employees.
“We now have the ability to offer virtual claims adjusting and allow for online reporting and chat along with other efficient, self-serve tools that make it a user-friendly process for insureds,” continues Martin. “The virtual process also makes the transmission of information and documentation to the claims file more efficient, speeding up the process so that the claim can be handled in a timelier manner.”
“In light of COVID-19, virtual adjusting is not only an alternative way to continue adjusting claims, but also could become the new norm,” says Jeffrey Wank, partner at Kelley Kronenberg in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Rather than putting off investigations for weeks, even months, carriers will continue to evaluate property damage losses through technology and interacting with consumers via video conferencing and other means. This process allows carriers and insureds to communicate effectively and efficiently during this uncertain time, and allows claims professionals to work with policyholders to process a large number of claims without leaving their desks or their homes.”
Virtual adjusting during this pandemic also includes professionals working from their homes, with most offices only allowing for skeleton crews of essential employees to be working in shifts in the building. With the ability to work from anywhere, the industry is widening its talent pool and giving claims professionals the opportunity to virtually handle claims anywhere in the U.S. from their homes. But what is the effect on litigation professionals?
“Working remotely is nothing new to the claims industry, nor is it new to some in the legal profession, but it is something that will test trial lawyers in the coming months,” says Joshua S. Davis, member attorney at Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC in St. Louis. “With many courts closed or limiting access, and in-person depositions, mediations, and arbitrations off the table, dealing with COVID-19 is adding an extra layer of challenges for attorneys thinking about pushing cases and, ultimately, addressing evidentiary issues.
“Just like most facets of claims handling and the necessary documentation surrounding the process, using a virtual adjuster and the technologies associated with such innovations will allow companies and their lawyers to continue to offer the same level of service to their policyholders, while continuing to adjust claims and properly collect the evidence necessary to defend or prosecute cases,” continues Davis. “We anticipate many clients turning to new and unique technology solutions to augment and strengthen their claims investigations and are excited for the prospects on the horizon. In the end, when the threats from COVID-19 have passed, we will likely be more efficient and more flexible claims professionals, which will serve our clients’ interests well into the future.”
Even those who had not implemented virtual adjusting processes prior to the COVID-19 crisis are now seeing the need is imminent in order to handle claims during these times.
“We considered virtual adjusting prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to fast track claims, but had not yet implemented a formal process,” says Denise Long, claims director for Cypress Property & Casualty Insurance Co. in Houston. “Today’s public health concerns present the opportunity and need for virtual adjusting. We have plans in place to utilize available technology to assist with the process for select claims, but we also have to consider the technological challenges that some customers may experience, which would hinder them from completing their part of the process. The reality, however, is that virtual adjusting may become a more prevalent part of the adjusting industry sooner than later.
“Virtual adjusting can not only be the solution for social distancing, but also for improving the customer experience and meeting or exceeding the expectations of policyholders and clients,” continues Long. “We still believe that there will always be the need for contact and interactions with a live person, but working a claim virtually can offer the means to do it all.”
Matt Anderson, chief executive officer for Field Pros Direct, says that long before COVID-19, virtual adjusting was already a valuable option for claims handling—but its value has increased during the pandemic.
“Many of our clients aim to control loss-adjusting expenses while providing the best possible experience to policyholders and ensuring accurate indemnity,” says Anderson. “One of the biggest challenges can be determining which claims are good candidates for virtual processing. Our dispatch platform algorithmically recommends the best path for each claim based on client preferences. As a result of COVID-19, we have seen clients adjust their preferences to increase the number of claims that qualify for virtual adjusting. The results have been so favorable that we believe there will be an increasing preference among policyholders and carriers for virtual adjusting solutions in the future.”