When the mayor tells you, “if you’re going to stay here, write your name and Social Security number on your arm with a sharpie pen,” it’s time to get out of there. But, whether residents stay or leave, physical structures don’t have that luxury. So, we are about to see round one of an enormous claims process because of Hurricane Harvey.
Disaster mitigation and restoration services are critical after property damage, but how you manage these services may have an impact on the outcome of your claim. Though there are many capable firms that specialize in property damage clean-up and restoration, there are some that will make mistakes, and others may even take advantage of the situation. When it comes to recovering the cost of mitigation and restoration services for an insurance claim, any mishaps can create big problems that may leave you stuck with the bill.
In the best of situations, you’d vet your emergency team before a loss. You cannot be too prepared. Recovery service providers should be identified and interviewed. Make sure the company you choose will be able to handle your potential issues. Involve your insurer during vetting. There are “approved” vendors that insurance companies recommend; however, just because they are “approved” does not mean there will not problems. Notify the insurance company of who you plan to use.
With Harvey, the losses are already upon us, but here are some techniques you can still use to prevent problems:
Clarify and document scope of work – Be clear on scope of work with the recovery firm, and make the adjuster part of that conversation. Often, emergency response does not follow the normal protocols of a typical project. There likely won’t be time for detailed estimates, so try to get the adjuster to approve work in real time to avoid second guessing.
Take a hands-on approach – Your property may still be underwater, but, once access is granted, you must be hands-on. No one should have access to your facility without the presence of a company representative. Assign a property supervisor to the affected site to keep track of who is there and what they are doing. It’s your property and your responsibility. The bigger the loss, the more people coming in and going out, so it is vital to have a company representative onsite to observe and answer questions.
Audit contractor charges before approving – The first weeks after a loss are chaotic. It’s important for policyholders to put controls in place to monitor activity and to verify that work has been completed to specifications and according to the terms of the agreement. Reimbursable insurance expenses should be separated and audited prior to payment for proper detail and accuracy. This needs to be done efficiently in real time. If you don’t have the resources, this step can be completed by your claim preparation accountants i.e. forensic accountants. Having forensic accountants on your team, along with your technical experts, can let you process this information in the context of insurance recovery. Don’t assume your forensic accountants will automatically audit invoices. Identifying errors or, worse, fraud is critical to avoid delays in payment or project completion.
Address issues immediately – When the first invoice arrives, insurance companies may act surprised and even deny coverage, especially if the steps above have not been followed. Make sure to get the parties together to discuss the issues. Don’t procrastinate and don’t assume. It is important to be active with any potential discrepancies. The policyholder is responsible if there are unresolved differences. If the adjuster disagrees with the work performed and the invoices are paid, it may be difficult to recover all your expenses. The immediate aftermath of a disaster is stressful and hectic. Preparation and communication can help you weather the storm and minimize unwanted surprises when you’re looking for claim payment.
Once disaster strikes, the first priorities are always safety and preservation of property, but there are priorities to consider ahead of a loss to avoid unexpected surprises. Disaster mitigation and restoration is a critical service after property damage, and how you manage it may affect the outcome of your claim. Though there are many capable firms that specialize in property damage clean-up and restoration, there are some that will make mistakes, and others may even take advantage of the situation. When it comes to recovering the cost of mitigation and restoration services for an insurance claim, any mishaps can create big problems that may leave you stuck with the bill.
Here are five techniques to prevent potential problems before they arise:
Vet your emergency response team prior to loss — Preparation is the key in any endeavor, and with property damage claims you cannot be too prepared. Recovery service providers should be identified and interviewed. Make sure the company you choose will be able to handle your potential issues. Involve your insurer during vetting. There are “approved” vendors that insurance companies recommend; however, just because they are “approved” does not mean there will not problems. Notify the insurance company of who you plan to use, as well.
Clarify and document scope of work — Be clear on scope of work with the recovery firm and make the adjuster part of that conversation. Often, emergency response does not follow the normal protocols of a typical project. There likely won’t be time for detailed estimates, so try to get the adjuster to approve work in real-time to avoid second guessing.
Take a hands-on approach — Your property may still be underwater, but once access is granted you must be hands-on. No one should have access to your facility without the presence of a company representative. Assign a property supervisor to the affected site to keep track of who is there and what they are doing. It’s your property and your responsibility. The bigger the loss, the more people there will be coming in and going out, so it is vital to have a company representative onsite to observe and answer questions.
Audit contractor charges before approving — The first weeks after a loss are chaotic. It’s important for policyholders to put controls in place to monitor activity and to verify that work has been completed to specifications and according to the terms of the agreement. Reimbursable insurance expenses should be separated and audited prior to payment for proper detail and accuracy. This needs to be done efficiently in real-time. If you don’t have the resources, this step can be completed by your claim preparation accountants, i.e. forensic accountants. Having forensic accountants on your team, along with your technical experts, can let you process this information in the context of insurance recovery. Don’t assume your forensic accountants will automatically audit invoices. Identifying errors or, worse, fraud is critical to avoid delays in payment or project completion.
Address issues immediately — When the first invoice arrives, insurance companies may act surprised and even deny coverage, especially if the steps above have not been followed. Make sure to get the parties together to discuss the issues. Don’t procrastinate and don’t assume. It is important to be proactive with any potential discrepancies. The policyholder is responsible if there are unresolved differences. If the adjuster disagrees with the work performed and the invoices are paid, it may be difficult to recover all your expenses.
The immediate aftermath of a disaster is stressful and hectic. Preparation and communication can help you weather the storm and minimize unwanted surprises when you’re looking for claim payment. Having an experienced and independent forensic accounting team will reduce the stress, the workload and reimbursement issues. Per the tagline for one of the largest restoration firms, in the end you want it to be “Like it never even happened.”
With our past few posts on ITL, we have been exploring how insurers can continue to bring more private capacity to U.S. flood (Note: Everything we talk about for U.S. flood is also relevant for Canada flood). We have explored here how technology, data and analytics exist to handle flood in an adequately sophisticated manner, and we have described here the market opportunity that exists. Now, it’s worth a look to explore how a flood program could be introduced, starting from scratch through cherry-picking mischaracterized risks and then to a full, mass-market solution.
What’s a FIRM? It’s not what you think
First, let’s take a quick look at how National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) rates are determined: the Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or FIRMs. For the NFIP, FIRMs solve two core problems – identifying which properties must have flood insurance and how much to charge for it. The first function is for banks, giving them an easy answer for whether a property to be lent against requires flood insurance – this is what the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) is for. Anything within the SFHA is deemed to be in a 100-year flood zone (basically, A and V zones), and requires flood insurance for a mortgage. The second function sets the pricing and conditions for the NFIP to sell the actual policies. The complexity of solving these two problems should not be underestimated for a country of this size. But it must be remembered that a FIRM is a marketing device and not a risk model.
Considering that FIRMs are a marketing device built on a huge scale, it makes perfect sense that some generalizations needed to be made on the delineation of the various flood zones. The banks needed a general guideline to know when flood insurance was needed, and the NFIP needed rates to be distributed in a way that could result in a broad enough risk pool to generate enough premium to be solvent. While the SFHA has served the banks well enough over the years, the rating of properties has not been so successful. There are plenty of reasons the NFIP is deep in debt (see page 6 of this report); suffice it to say that the rates set by FIRMs do not result in a solvent NFIP.
The fact that the FIRMs are a flawed rating device based on geographical generalizations means there are cherries to be picked. By applying location-based flood risk analytics to properties in the SFHA, a carrier can begin to find where the NFIP has overrated the risk. Using risk assessments based on geospatial analysis (such as measurements to water) and their own data (such as NFIP claims history), a carrier can undercut the NFIP on specific properties where the risk fits their own appetite. Note to cherry-pickers: Ensure you account for the height above ground of the building, because you won’t need elevation certificates for this type of underwriting. So far, cherry-picking has been focused on the SFHA for a couple reasons – homeowners need to have coverage, and the NFIP rates are the highest. There is no reason, though, that cherry picking can’t be done effectively in X zones and beyond.
The same data and analytics used for cherry-picking can be used more broadly to create a mass-market solution. By adjusting the dials on the flood risk analytics – and flood risk analytics really should be configurable – you can calibrate to calculate the flood risk at low-risk locations. In other words, flood risk can be parsed into however many bins are needed to underwrite flood risk on any property in the country. With the risk segmented, rates can be defined that can (and should) be applied as a standard peril on all homeowner policies. Flood risk can be underwritten like fire risk.
Insurers have traditionally been confident underwriting fire risk. But consider this: While fire is based on construction type, distance to fire hydrants and distance to fire station, flood risk can be assessed with parameters that can be measured with similar confidence but with greater correlation to a potential loss.
Flood will be the new fire
Insurers have been satisfied to leave flood risk to the Feds, and that was prudent for generations. But technology has evolved, and enterprising carriers can now craft an underwriting strategy to put flood risk on their books. Fire was once considered too high-risk to underwrite consistently, but as confidence grew on how to manage the risk it became a staple product of property insurers. Now, insurers are dipping their toes into flood risk. As others follow, confidence will grow, and flood will become the new fire.
For the past two weeks, the disaster movie “San Andreas” has topped the box office, taking in more than $200 million worldwide. The film stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays a helicopter rescue pilot who, after a series of cataclysmic earthquakes on the San Andreas fault in California, uses his piloting skills to save members of his family. It’s an action-packed plot sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
As insurance professionals who specialize in quantifying catastrophic loss, we can’t help but think of the true disaster that awaits California and other regions in the U.S. when “the big one” actually does occur.
The real horror starts with the fact that 90% of California residents DO NOT maintain earthquake insurance. The “big one” is likely to produce economic losses in either the San Francisco or Los Angeles metropolitan areas in excess of $400 billion. With so little of this potential damage insured, thousands of families will become homeless, and countless businesses will be affected – many permanently. The cost burden for the cleanup, rescue, care and rebuilding will likely be borne by the U.S. taxpayer. The images of the carnage will make the human desperation we saw in both Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy pale by comparison.
The reasons given for such low take-up of earthquake insurance generally fall into two categories: (1) Earthquake risk is too volatile, too difficult to insure and, as a result, (2) is too expensive for most homeowners.
Is California earthquake risk too volatile to insure?
The earthquake faults in California, including the Hayward, the Calaveras and the San Andreas faults. are the most studied and understood fault systems in the world. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) publishes updated frequency and severity likelihood every six years for the entire U.S. This means that estimation of potential earthquake losses, while not fully certain, can be reasonably achieved in the same manner that we can currently estimate potential losses from perils such as tornados and hurricanes. In fact, the catastrophe (CAT) models agree that it’s likely that on a dollar-for-dollar exposure basis, losses from Florida hurricanes that make landfall are more severe and more frequent over time than California earthquakes, yet nearly 100% of Florida homeowners actually maintain windstorm insurance. If hurricane risk in Florida isn’t too volatile for insurers to cover, then earthquake risk in California should follow that same path.
Isn‘t earthquake coverage expensive?
Again, the answer is a resounding no.
The California Earthquake Authority (CEA), the largest writer of earthquake insurance in the U.S., has a premium calculator that quotes mobile homes, condos, renters and homeowners insurance. For example, a $500,000 single-family home in Orange County, CA, can be insured for about $800 a year, or roughly the same price as a traditional fire insurance policy. To protect a $500,000 home, an $800 investment is hardly considered expensive.
The real question should be: Are California homeowners getting good value? CEA policies carry very high deductibles — typically in the 10% to 15% range — and the price is “expensive” when the high deductibles are considered. As one actuary once explained it to us, “With that kind of deductible, I’ll likely never use the coverage, so like everyone else I’ll cross my fingers and hope the ‘big one’ doesn’t happen in my lifetime.”
It’s this lack of value that’s the single biggest impediment preventing millions of California homeowners from purchasing earthquake insurance. It’s also an area that has much room for improvement.
How can we as an industry raise the value proposition of earthquake coverage? Consider the following:
The industry can make better use of technology, especially the CAT models. California is earthquake country, but it’s also a massive state. This map shows that the high-risk areas mostly follow the San Andreas fault and the branches off that fault. There are many lower-risk areas in California, and the CAT models can be used to distinguish the high risk from the low risk. Low risk exposures should demand lower premiums. Even high-risk exposures can be controlled by using the CAT models to manage aggregates and identify the low-risk exposure within the high-risk pools. We expect that CAT models will help us get back to Insurance 101 by helping the industry to better understand exposure to loss, segment risks, correct pricing, manage aggregates and create profitable pools of exposure.
The industry can bundle earthquake risks with other risks to reduce volatility. Earthquake-only writers (and flood as well) are essentially “all in” on one type of risk, to steal a common poker term. Those writers will fluctuate year to year; there will be years with little or no losses, then years with substantial losses. That volatility affects retained losses and also affects reinsurance prices. Having one source of premium means constantly conducting business on the edge of insolvency. Bundling earthquake risks geographically and with other perils reduces volatility. The Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii and even areas in the Midwest and the Carolinas are all known to be seismically active. In fact, Oklahoma and Texas are now the new hotbed regions of earthquake activity. Demand in those areas exist, so why not package that risk? Reducing volatility will reduce prices and help stabilize the market. We estimate that in parts of California, volatility is the cause of as much as 50% of the CEA premium.
Hollywood has produced yet another action-packed film. But to add a touch of realism, Hollywood screenwriters should consider making the leading actor, The Rock, a true hero – an “insurance super hero” who sells affordable earthquake insurance.
As a claims advisor, I specialize in helping to optimize property casualty claims management operations, so I spend a lot of time thinking about claims business processes, activities, dependencies and the value chains that are commonly used to structure and refine them. Lately, I have been focusing on the claims management supply chain — the vendors who provide products and perform services that are critical inputs into the claims management and fulfillment process.
In a traditional manufacturing model, the supply chain and the value chain are typically separate and — the supply chain provides raw materials, and the value chain connects activities that transform the raw materials into something valuable to customers. In a claims service delivery model, the value chain and the supply chain are increasingly overlapping, to the point where it is becoming hard to argue that any component of the claims value chain couldn’t be handled directly by the supply chain network.
Which creates an intriguing possibility for an insurance company — an alternative to bricks and mortar and company cars and salaries, a virtual claims operation! Of course, there are third-party administrators (TPAs) that are large and well-developed enough to offer complete, end-to-end claims management and fulfillment services to an insurance company through an outsourced arrangement. That would be the one-stop shopping solution: hiring a TPA to replace your claims operation. But try to envision an end-to-end process in which you invite vendors/partners/service providers to compete to handle each component in your claims value chain (including processing handoffs to each other.) You select the best, negotiate attractive rates, lock in service guarantees and manage the whole process simply by monitoring a performance dashboard that displays real time data on effectiveness, efficiency, data quality, regulatory compliance and customer satisfaction.
You would need a system to integrate the inputs from the different suppliers to feed the dashboard, and you would also need to make certain the suppliers all worked together well enough to provide the ultimate customer with a seamless, pain free experience, but you are probably already doing some of that if you use vendors. You would still want to do quality and compliance and leakage audits, of course, but you could always hire a different vendor to do that for you or keep a small team to do it yourself.
Your unallocated loss adjustment expenses (ULAE) would become variable, tied directly to claim volume, and your main operating challenge would be to manage your supply/value chain to produce the most desirable cost and experience outcomes. Improved cycle time, efficiency, effectiveness, data accuracy and the quality of the customer experience would be your value propositions. You could even monitor the dashboard from your beach house or boat — no more staff meetings, performance reviews, training sessions — and intervene only when needed in response to pre-defined operational exceptions.
Sounds like a no-brainer. Insurance companies have been outsourcing portions of their value chain to vendors for years, so why haven’t they made their claims operations virtual?
If you are running an insurance company claims operation, you probably know why. Many (probably most) claims executives are proud of and comfortable with their claims operations just the way they are. They believe they are performing their value chain processes more effectively than anyone else could, or that their processes are “core” (so critical or so closely related to their value proposition they cannot be performed by anyone else) and thus sacrosanct, or that they have already achieved an optimal balance between in-house and outsourced services so they don’t need to push it any further. Others don’t like the loss of control associated with outsourcing, or they don’t want to consider disruptive change. Still others think it might be worth exploring, but they don’t believe they can make a successful business case for the investment in systems and change costs. Unfortunately, this may help explain why claims executives are often accused of being stubbornly change averse and overly comfortable with the status quo, but I think it is a bit more complicated than that — it all begins with the figurative “goggles” we use to self-evaluate claims operations.
If you are running a claims operation, you have an entire collection of evaluation goggles — the more claims experience you have, the larger your collection. When you have your “experience” goggles on, you compare your operation to others you have read about, or seen in prior jobs, or at competitors, to make sure your activities and results benchmark well and that you are staying up to date with best practices. At least once a year, someone outside of claims probably demands that you put your “budget” goggles on o look for opportunities to reduce ULAE costs. or legal costs, or fines and penalties, or whatever. You probably look through your “customer satisfaction” goggles quite a bit, particularly when complaints are up, or you are getting bad press because of your CAT response, or a satisfaction survey has come out and you don’t look good. Your “stakeholder” goggles help you assess how successful you have been at identifying those who have a vested interest in how well you perform, determining what it is they need from you to succeed, and delivering it. You use your “legal and regulatory compliance” goggles to identify problems before they turn into fines, bad publicity or litigation, much as you use your “no surprises” goggles to continually scan for operational breakdowns that might cause reputational or financial pain, finger pointing and second guessing. Then there are the goggles for “management” — litigation, disability, medical, vendor — and for “fraud mitigation” and “recovery” and “employee engagement.” Let’s not forget the “efficiency” goggles, which help you assess unit costs and productivity, and the “effectiveness” and “quality control” goggles, which permit you to see whether your processes are producing intended and expected results. And of course your “loss cost management” goggles give you a good read on how well you are managing all three components of your loss cost triangle, i.e., whether you are deploying and incurring the most effective combination of allocated and unallocated expenses to produce the most appropriate level of loss payments.
Are all those goggles necessary? You bet. Claims management involves complex processes and inputs and a convoluted web of variables and dependencies and contingencies. Most claims executives would probably agree it makes sense to regularly evaluate a claims operation from many different angles to get a good read on what’s working well , what isn’t and where there is opportunity for improvement. The multiple perspectives provided by your goggles help you triangulate causes, understand dependencies and impacts and intelligently balance operations to produce the best outcomes. So even if you do have a strong bias that your organization design is world-class, your people are the best and all processes and outcomes are optimal, the evaluation should give you plenty of evidence-based information with which to test that bias and identify enhancement opportunities — as long as you keep an open mind.
No matter what you do, however, there will always be others in your organization who enjoy evaluating your claims operation, and they usually aren’t encumbered by such an extensive collection of goggles. They may have only one set that is tuned to budget, or customer experience, or compliance, or they may be under the influence of consultants whose expensive goggles are tuned to detect opportunities for large-scale disruptive/destructive process innovation or transformation in your operation. On the basis of that narrow view, they just might conclude that things need to change, that new operating models need to be explored. Whether you agree or disagree, your evidence-based information should be of some value in framing and joining the debate.
Will we ever see virtual claims operations? Sure. There are many specialized claims service providers operating in the marketplace right now that can perform claims value chain processes faster, cheaper and better than many insurance companies can perform them. The technology exists to integrate multiple provider data inputs and create a performance dashboard. And there are a few large insurance company claims organizations pursuing this angle vigorously right now. I fully expect the companies that rethink and retool their claims value chains to take full advantage of integration of supply chain capabilities and begin to generate improved performance metrics and claim outcomes, ultimately creating competitive advantage for themselves. Does that mean it is time for you to rethink your claims value chain? I think the best way to find out is to put on your “innovation” goggles and take a look!