October 15, 2015
Why Independence Matters for Claims
by Jeff Esper
Brokers, insurers and others will offer to help prepare claims, but there may be hidden conflicts that restrict their independence.
Policyholders insure against business risks to protect their financial integrity. When these risks become a reality, claim recovery is the return on investment. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. Claim recovery is a process that requires expertise to secure a fair settlement. As you know, your carrier has experts assigned to adjust and audit your claim, so, in turn, you should have experts to help you quantify your losses and prepare a well-documented claim. But expertise is not enough. If you want the best chance to be made whole, independence matters.
Many companies promote themselves as focused on client needs, but, in claim preparation, it has to be more than a slogan. When it comes to preparing claims, true independence isn’t as common as you might think.
Is your loss accountant independent? The most common claim preparers are forensic accountants. Let’s take a look at where they exist in the insurance industry:
- Insurance company forensic accountants
- Insurance broker forensic accountants
- Consulting firms with forensic accounting service offering
- Accounting firms with forensic accounting service offering
- Independent loss accounting firms
It should go without saying that the firms that are hired by the insurance companies cannot provide independent and unbiased service to policyholders, but many still do rely on the insurers’ accountants to measure their losses. If asked, the insurers’ accountants would likely recommend the insured retain an independent firm to assist them, yet there are those who don’t know and don’t ask. For the policyholders in this category, I hope you see the light after reading this article.
Broker-owned accounting firms have their own set of potential conflicts, starting with the strategic relationship they have with insurance companies. As a former broker, I can tell you these relationships are sacred. The carrier’s profitability is directly related to claims paid, and the carrier will reward brokers for profitable accounts with a bonus commission, aka contingent commissions. If you are on a fixed-fee arrangement, it does not mean there’s no contingent commission in play. Your broker wants to serve your needs and will work hard for you, but, when you have a loss, the broker has a conflict of interest.
It’s also important to remember that your claim can last longer than your broker agreement. It’s hard enough to end a relationship with your broker, but if the broker is preparing an outstanding claim it will prolong your dealings with the broker. If you change carriers and your broker at the same time, the situation can be harder to resolve. If you are using your broker for claim preparation, consider an independent option that only serves one master, you.
The large accounting firms with consulting practices will scale back their consulting activities when faced with financial debacles that cause regulators to scrutinize their independence. The inherent conflict of an auditing firm preparing a claim for a client should be obvious. The audit firm will have a direct impact on creating an asset or revenue stream, which the firm would then audit as part of the financial results. Those two activities need to remain separate to maintain independence.
Also consider what it means if your claim preparation firm is also the auditor for your insurer. As you can see, there are potential conflicts on both sides. Why not avoid potential conflicts and work with an independent specialist?
Hiring consulting firms presents similar conflicts to consider. Is it a provider of another service to your company? Does it also serve your carrier in some capacity? Making this determination can be time-consuming, and conflicts can be easily missed. Any firm you consider should be clear about possible conflicts, but it’s your recovery at stake, so it’s best to do the proper vetting.
In the insurance industry, it’s the policyholders’ right and obligation to value their own losses for submission to their insurer. Your insurer may be more than willing to help, but is that’s what is best for your business? Claim recovery is the reason policyholders invest in insurance, so be sure to hire a firm that knows how to prepare a claim and is working on your behalf. Loss accounting is a specialized craft that comes as a result of experience and expertise with insurance claims. Seeking an independent, third-party valuation of your losses is not only smart business but may be a fiduciary responsibility, especially with a large property and business interruption claim.