Tag Archives: appraiser

How Big Data Can Transform Auto

Big data is everywhere and is becoming more powerful in every aspect of our daily lives. The hunger, and ability, to parse and analyze diverse data sets goes to the highest levels of our government, large corporations and even start-ups, which are finding ways to add immense value. Although we in the claims industry are not involved in international intrigue or attempting to create a surveillance network, we can harness data to effectively influence our decisions. This will ultimately achieve better outcomes by putting specific files in the most skilled hands, streamlining processes and eliminating unnecessary touch-points.

As technology continues to advance exponentially, the auto claims process can be radically improved. For many years, auto insurance claims departments squelched innovative thinking, in favor of tired cost-cutting measures. The departments would look at cycle time, average appraisal cost, repair cost, parts usage and total loss option documentation, but these data points are only a small portion of the picture and don’t fully address or reveal the root causes. To get to that, we need to dig a bit deeper.

Today, so much more data can be effectively captured and analyzed that a  claims manager could nearly predict outcomes and channel resources for the best results. Need more staffing in the field? What are the historical repair costs of a certain year, make and model with a matching impact location? Where are higher labor rates going to result in more total losses? Which companies allow their policyholders excessive rental on subrogation demands?

Here are a few examples of how auto claims technology and resulting data can be channeled to improve workflows, eliminate unnecessary touch points and create a more efficient process.

  1. Predictive Dispatching. Imagine putting the right claims into the right hands every time. Through predictive modeling based on a series of data points, the likely repairability of a vehicle can be ascertained to a solid degree from first notice of loss. Combine that with a robust dispatching solution, and the right field representative could be sourced based on factors such as; closest location, past performance, experience levels, historical cycle time results, CSI ratings, estimating software platform, workload volume, current volume for the day and comparisons with other representatives. Algorithms can instantly give the file to the person who is most likely to provide the best outcome. Should the file qualify for a self-service type claim or even trigger a potential total loss, the appropriate resources can be called into action, thus saving money and wasted time.
  1. Subrogation Demand Analysis. Why do some insurers focus intently on the front end of a claim to ensure accuracy yet will accept subrogation demands from carriers without the same scrutiny? Sure, much of the disconnect may be because of the compartmentalization between various departments within a claims organization, but, with data analysis, subrogation reviews can be parsed, reviewed and stored to track trends. Which companies overpay their insureds for rental when the repair is minor? Do a large number of your files end up in arbitration? If so, what are the triggers? Data can even catch potential fraud if, say, a VIN has been reported multiple times for the same damage.
  1. Where and when? For quite a while now, most digital cameras have had information embedded in each photograph. With the spread of smartphones and tablets, geocode location data can also be included. What does this mean? If detailed photo information is needed, oftentimes exchangeable image format (EXIF) data can document what brand of camera took the photo, the time it was taken and the exact coordinates. This means a field representative’s day can be reconstructed or a re-inspection date can be confirmed to ensure the condition of a vehicle at a specific point in time. While it’s never guaranteed that every phone or camera will provide the exact EXIF information, adjusters will find that, in most situations, a lot of valuable information can be gleaned.
  1. Claim delay analysis. In auto claims, the standard cycle time for a vehicle damage inspection is 48 hours. Can this always be achieved? If each step of the appraisal process is documented from assignment to completion, any issues and resulting data points along the way can lead to a treasure trove of information. You might discover that an incorrect phone number or vehicle location leads to 25% of all delayed files. This would be a valuable training tool to discuss with adjusters, stressing the importance of documenting accurate information before a dispatch. On the other hand, data may show that a certain percentage of files are delayed because an appraiser is overloaded. This could lead to an immediate focus on better allocating field resources. Capturing and recording specific data points along the way can serve as a tool to detect bottlenecks, inefficiencies and areas for process improvement.
  1. Location volume analysis. Do you need to increase your field staff? Just think if you could pull up a map at a moment’s notice and track volume in a certain location. You could track average repair costs in various zip codes, cities and states and break the information down to an even more granular level. Detailed data can be run over time and compared with newly written policies to predict staffing needs in certain areas before the losses even occur. Think about doing this in real time without needless Excel files and manual processes. This can help in forecasting and budgeting for future years, enabling efficient management and allocation of expenses.

Data, when simplified and made usable, is incredibly powerful. Nary a one of us leaves the house today without a smartphone in his pocket packed with valuable data: phone contacts, mapping directions, family photos, etc. In the claims industry, we must likewise surround ourselves with data, innovating and developing in ways that will let claims leaders manage from quantifiable data instead of basing decisions on emotion and misperceptions.

$1.2 Trillion Disruption in Personal Insurance

Most of us don't think much about insurance. That's by design, of course. Insurance is supposed to be a safety net that affords us the leisure of not thinking about it. Unless of course, we have to. That generally happens about once a year when we're reacquainted with our premium. Ouch. According to statisticians, most of us will also have to think about our insurance about once every seven to eight years when we'll encounter a loss of some sort. Another ouch.

My insurance is pretty confusing. I pay for coverage of my house – a fairly precise calculation based on its quality, size, age, materials, etc. I get a guarantee that, if I keep paying my premium, my home will be covered for its replacement costs. That's pretty reassuring. But then it gets a little weird. I get a “blanket” (insurance-speak is very comforting), which is really a formula that assumes that all the stuff I own is worth, um, somewhere around 50% to 70% of the value of my home. Huh? Maybe there's a bit of science to this, but surely there's a lot of guess…and, according to research, about 39% of the time the formula is just wrong. (As one insurance CEO recently confessed to me, most folks are probably 50% underinsured). The complications go on: If I own something really valuable, some bauble or collectible, well, that has to go on a list of things that are really valuable, and those things get their own coverage. Then, so my stuff continues to be well-protected, I have to re-estimate the value of those things from time to time, or employ an appraiser. What's more, if I buy something or donate something I own, or if any of my things goes down or up in value for whatever reason, my insurance doesn't change — because my provider doesn't know about these changes. And, if you've ever had a claim to file, the process starts with the assumption of fraud, with the burden of proof borne by the policyholder, because most people don't have an accurate accounting of their possessions and their value. Still another ouch.

So while I'm not supposed to be thinking about insurance, maybe I should be paying closer attention.  

Change is coming like a freight train, and its impact has the potential to shake one of the world's largest industries to its core. For a little perspective: The property and casualty insurance industry collected some $1.2 trillion (!) in premiums in 2012, (or about twice the annual GDP of Switzerland). 

At the core of the P/C insurance enterprise is (and I know I am simplifying here) the insurance-to-value ratio, which estimates whether there's enough capital reserved to insure the value of items insured —  if values go up, there'd better be enough money around in case of a loss. All good, right? Except that for as long as actuaries have been actuarying, the value side of that ratio has been a guess — especially for personal property (the stuff I own other than my home). So, if I forget to tell my insurer about something I bought, or if I no longer own that painting, watch, collectible, antique; or if the precious metal in my jewelry has increased…then what? Am I paying too much, or am I underinsured for the current value of the things I own? Of course, these massive companies make calculated allowances for the opacity…but these allowances also cost us policyholders indirectly in increased premiums, and the inefficiency costs the insurer in potential returns on capital. 

The coming changes can be summarized in terms of three trends. First is the expectation of the connected generations, now entering their most acquisitive years and set to inherit $30 trillion of personal wealth. Second is the connected availability of current data about the value of things. Third is the emergence of the personal digital locker for things.

Data, data! I want my data! — the expectation of the connected generations.

If they're anything, the connected generations are data-savvy and mobile. If you’ve shopped for just about anything with a Millennial recently, you’re familiar with their reliance on real-time data about products, local deals, on-line values and even local inventories. (I was with one of Google's brains, and he showed me how retailers are now sending Google local inventory data so now it can post availability and price of a searched-for item at a local store). Smartphone usage is nearly 90% for Gen Xers and Millennials, and data is mother's milk to the children of the connected generations who are being weaned on a diet rich with direct (disintermediated) access to comparisons, descriptions, opinions, crowd-sourced knowledge and even current values. The emerging generations rarely rely on the intermediation of experts (unless validated on a popular blog with a mass following) and are not likely to be satisfied with an indirect relationship with those affecting their financial health. Smartphones in hand, depending on data in the cloud, they will demand and receive visibility into the data shaping all their risk decisions.    

And here's where the insurance revolution will begin: A connected generation that is apt to disintermediate and has access to real-time info on just about any thing will demand that they insure only what they own (bye bye, blanket); that their insurance should track to real values, not formulaic guesses; and that they have the ability to reprice more frequently than once a year. 

The time is coming for variable-rate insurance that reflects changes in the values of items insured and is offered on a real-time basis for any item that the owner deems valuable. 

The price is wrong — the real-time valuation of everything.

Over the past few years, several data services have sprung up whose charters are similar: something like developing the world's largest collection of data about products — their descriptions, suggested retail price, current resale value, user manuals, photos and the like. No one has yet dominated, but it's early yet, and someone (or probably a few) will conquer the objective. Similarly, there are a few excellent companies that are collecting and indexing for speedy retrieval the information about every collectible that has been sold at auction for the past 15 years. I know something of these endeavors because our core product relies on the availability and accuracy of these data providers to collect the values (and other attributes) of the items people are putting into their Trovs (our moniker for the personal cloud for things). It is only a matter of time before we will be able to accurately assign a fair market value to most every thing — in real-time and without human intervention. This real-time value transparency will transform the way that insurance is priced, and how financial institutions view total wealth.

My stuff in the clouds — the automated collection and secure storage for the information about my things.

Within 12 to 24 months, connected consumers will embrace applications that will automatically (as much as possible) collect the information about all they own and store it in a secure, personal cloud-hosted locker. These “personal data lockers” will proliferate because of their convenience, because of real financial incentives from insurers and other service providers and because data-equipped consumers will have powerful new tools with which to drive bargains based on the data about everything they own. These new tools will pour fuel on the re-invention of insurance because all the information needed to provide new types of insurance products will be in the personal cloud-hosted data locker.

Progressively (pun noted, not intended) engineered insurance products that account for the connected generations' expectation of access to data, the abundance of data about products and collectibles and the active collection and accurate valuation of the things people own may turn the 300-year-old insurance industry on its head. Doubtless, the disruption will leave some carriers grappling for handholds and wondering how they could have insured against a different outcome.

This article first appeared in JetSet magazine.

A Technology Breakthrough for Valuing Tangible Assets

What are your clients’ tangible assets worth? If you are like most advisors, you don’t have a clear answer. Without that clarity, you are leaving yourself and your clients at risk. Tangible assets – valuables ranging from fine art and wine to classic cars and jewelry – make up an ever-increasing portion of household wealth. Yet there is little visibility into this asset class.

Why? Often, individuals find the process of documenting, tracking and managing the values of tangible assets to be tedious. Instead of producing a thorough inventory, the insured may opt for a blanket umbrella policy that covers general contents as a percentage of the home’s value. The individual may list certain items, but with inadequate documentation. Many times, both the insured and the insurer fail to keep up as the market value of collections changes.

Fortunately, technology has emerged that makes collecting and managing information about tangible assets significantly easier. Appraisers can collect detailed data and provenance on property and possessions and upload them to a personal, online digital locker, where the items are regularly valued, securely managed, and are accessible anytime. Individuals will soon be able to use their smartphones to take a picture of a valuable object and upload it directly to this locker. As items are added and values change, the owner is notified – and can choose to automatically alert his advisors, including insurers and wealth managers, to ensure the items are accounted for and adequately protected.

The continuous transparency that the locker provides into values can be eye-opening to users.  Case in point: A family in the Northeast has a large, valuable art collection. Thirty years ago, the family had the pieces insured, using estate values provided by auction houses. These values, as a rule, are much lower than retail replacement values, so the family’s collection was initially insured at about half of what it should have been. The collection had not been appraised since the early 1980s, and, when a wealth manager had it re-appraised in 2012, values had changed so substantially that a piece initially valued at several hundred thousand dollars now carries a fair market value of more than $50 million.

The consequences of this type of undervaluation are significant. Had the owner passed away before the revaluation, the estate could have suffered an immense tax bill. In the event of loss, theft, fire or water damage, the owner would have been severely underinsured and faced significant loss. In addition, had the owners known the higher value of the artwork, they could have sold or leveraged it.

The bottom line is: With more information about their valuables, individuals  – and their advisors – can make more informed decisions.

This ability to capture, securely store and provide real-time valuations is a momentous step forward in tangible wealth management, and has been made possible by several technological advancements:

1. Data About Prized Possessions
There is a massive amount of data now available on luxury items. Whether a person’s passion investment is wine, diamonds, classic automobiles or fine art, there is a database that captures the real-time value changes in the category. By using technology to process that data, individuals gain a better composite view of their wealth, a greater idea of potential liquidity options, and a more accurate way to assess risk.

2. Digital Collection — Onsite and at Retail
In the not-so-distant past, a person had to take pictures or videos and store them on a hard drive, keep receipts in a safe deposit box, and use a spreadsheet to capture information on valuables. Now that all communication and record keeping has gone digital, certified appraisers can use apps to capture all of this information on-site. Merchants can email electronic receipts. Individuals can snap a picture of any acquired item, add support information like a receipt, package art, or bar or QR-code and send it to their personal digital locker in real time. All of this information is securely accessible anytime, anywhere.

3. Cloud Storage and Connectivity
Once information is collected electronically, it can be safely and securely stored in a personal digital locker in the cloud. This eliminates the need for paper records or other media that can be lost, stolen, or destroyed.  In addition to storage, the cloud provides connectivity, creating a virtual ecosystem where individuals can privately view the value of their tangible assets and manage those assets. This new capability includes easy connections to on-line auction houses, dealers, insurers, wealth manager and the like to sell, insure, donate, or take other beneficial actions powered by information about everything a person owns.

Ultimately, data is currency, and new technology is helping individuals cash in on the data about their tangible wealth. The information about possessions has inherent value. By adopting emerging technologies to collect, value and connect the information about individuals’ personal property, individuals and their advisors can finally gain transparency into tangible assets – completing the total wealth picture.

What Happens When an Agency Owner Dies?

I have unfortunately worked with the families, estates and partners of several agency owners who have passed away.  Most of the deaths occurred unexpectedly.  In all cases, the person who passed left the family, estate and partners with far more problems than necessary.  So, my question to you is this: If you passed away tomorrow, what problems would you leave behind?

One situation I absolutely dread is when I have to tell a family the agency is not worth anything near what the recently passed relative (usually the father) said it was worth.  Agency values are not what they once were. So, you may be telling your partners and loved ones that the agency is worth more than it really is, a practice that, while possibly innocent, is still cruel.

Get your agency valued using real world values so everyone’s expectations are realistic.  Put yourself in your family’s and partners’ shoes.  The income from the agency will be eliminated upon the sale.  Will the agency’s sale be enough to support their standard of living? 

You will uncover problems such as bad debt.  I have seen a number of agency owners die with sizeable accounts receivable that were quite old and totally uncollectible.  These debts may total 20 percent, 25 percent, even 30 percent of the agency’s commissions.  Even if an agency is worth some high multiple, those bad debts have to be deducted.

You will also find issues that you can address, sometimes rather easily. It’s horrible when a widow learns that her husband did not really own all the business on the books.  He always meant to get around to fixing his producers’ contracts but died before he did. As you get your agency valued, however, you can confront the issue and correct it. There have also been situations where all the important accounts are written by the deceased, and there is no one in the agency to take over those accounts.  Those key accounts most likely will not stay with the agency, so its value is not going to be what the estate may have thought.

Another example: keeping lousy books.  It is not imperative for an owner to keep good books and good data.  It is smart, and it is a good business practice, but it is not imperative.  However, if a person dies and the books are poor, the agency is not going to sell for full price.  Who will pay full price for an agency for which no one knows the true income and the true state of its balance sheet? 

Getting a valuation will force you to look at issues such as contracts and books—in time to fix any problems.

I know many readers are thinking these things never happen, but they do. How do you know you do not have similar issues if you have not had your agency valued by a competent appraiser? 

Two other issues to focus on:

Agency Ownership

Do you really own your agency?  I have seen a number of situations where the agency’s contracts were so poorly written that the agency did not clearly own the business on its books.  Maybe the owner knew this at one time and had forgotten because nothing bad had happened.  On a day-to-day basis, it didn’t really matter. But when the agency is being valued, especially when it is being valued because the owner has died, it does matter, and that is not when anyone wants to discover the problem. As more and more clusters develop and even age, this is going to be a bigger and bigger problem.

Buy-Sell Agreements

What happens when a person dies with a bad buy-sell agreement with his partner?  Unless luck and goodwill are in plentiful supply, nothing good happens.  The partner may have been the greatest, most unselfish person on earth, but is his or her family just as unselfish?  This is important because, at least for a time, the dead partner’s family will be partners, too.

For example, what happens when the surviving partner realizes the buy-sell agreement poorly defines value?  This may leave the door open for the dead partner’s estate to claim any amount of value. I have seen, more than once, claims of two times premiums!  It is not always that the other side is greedy; often, they are just uneducated about the insurance world. Combine that with grief and a feeling of immense vulnerability, and they may not want to settle for a reasonable value.

Another great example is where the agency’s balance sheet is poor and the estate’s trusted advisor discovers some rule of thumb that agencies are worth some multiple of commissions, but fails to understand that balance sheet deficits, especially trust ratio deficits, must be deducted.  If you have ever tried to buy out a partner at full price while the agency has a trust ratio deficit, you will know how difficult it is to make payroll and other payments.

The readers of this article have the opportunity to fix a wrong before the wrong occurs.  The pain survivors feel when a loved one or partner dies is already immense.  Why exacerbate it by leaving them a business in a mess?