Phones ringing, e-mails piling up, supervisors and insureds demanding information—claims adjusting is not a stress-free job. Summer is supposed to be a time to rest and relax, yet claims practitioners seem to be more "stressed out" than ever!
Can anecdotal "stress" be backed up by facts? And, more importantly, what techniques can the claims professional initiate to relieve the pressure? The answer to the first question is yes, and as for the latter, there are definitely techniques that claims professionals can use to relieve the stress they are now feeling. This article addresses those techniques.
The motto of President Bill Clinton's campaign team some years back—"It's the economy, stupid!"—sums up the current situation pretty well. According to the Insurance Information Institute, employment in the claims segment of the insurance industry is down by 16.3 percent in 2010 as compared to December 2007 when the recession began. The U.S. employment decline overall is 7.2 percent. It is not an illusion that there are fewer claims practitioners available to do the job that is required of them.
Some of this employment decline is due to a reduction in claim frequency as a result of the slowing economy. However, claim severity has been steadily increasing. Claims are staying open longer, there is less churn, and claims handling activities are more complex.
Continued pressure on premiums has resulted in a buyer's market for insurance coverage. To survive the protracted soft market, insurers have no choice but to increase revenue and cut costs. They increase revenue by enhancing coverage through expanded limits or offering broader language. They cut costs by assigning more claims to each adjuster. Claims practitioners are being asked to handle larger and larger caseloads.
With U.S. unemployment at the highest levels many have ever seen, it's important to understand the economic pressure placed on insureds and claimants. Many people have used up their entire savings trying to hang on. Many others have filed for bankruptcy at astounding rates. Whatever the reason, they have only limited or no access to emergency funds. They may see the insurance claim as an opportunity to make a little extra cash or an opportunity to discard an asset by "selling" it to the insurance company. They may need money more quickly and therefore be more demanding of the claims practitioner.
According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, vehicle give-ups have become more prevalent. Dumping vehicles in lakes or rivers, setting fire to the vehicles, and abandoning vehicles that are subsequently stripped or taken to a chop shop all result in allegations of total loss, claims that are difficult to investigate and more difficult to resolve. And, while home arsons have increased, more troubling is the incident rate for theft of personal possessions. With arson cases, the claims practitioner will most likely have solid evidence with which to work; bona fide theft leaves little evidence, and "faked" theft even less.
To effectively deal with these and other stressors, claims professionals use a number of different pressure relief tools and techniques. Some of these techniques have the ability to alleviate the stress altogether.
Everyone has the same 24 hours bequeathed to them each day. Some people are able to produce significantly more in their 24-hour period than others. They've learned certain techniques for getting more done in less time, and they have become more productive by doing so. They may have taken advantage of an educational opportunity offered by their organization or by an association to which they belong that generated ideas about time management.
Techniques that help the claims professional develop a work plan and follow a diary ensure that activities are prioritized and deadlines are met. Not getting caught up in office politics or gossip means more time to deal with cases. Managing distractions such as family calls and texts by instructing family members when to call, with agreed upon times except for dire emergencies, will help the claims professional remain focused. Maintaining a "to-do" list and a calendar for recurring or special events ensures that promises are kept.
Utilizing vendors and experts that don't require follow-up, who meet the agreed upon deadlines, and who provide outcome reporting as agreed actually serves to reduce the workload and moves the cases forward more quickly.
A credentialed professional has a distinct advantage because stakeholders will be more respectful and will accept the professional's decisions more agreeably. Keeping up with new laws and regulations as well as judicial actions is a challenge. By participating in education programs, the claims professional will attain the knowledge necessary to make appropriate decisions.
Credentials such as the Associate in Claims (www.aicpcu.org) and Claims Law (www.aeiclaimslaw.com) clearly demonstrate the commitment of claims professionals who are dedicated to providing superior service to their constituents.
With the plethora of delivery options—webinars, teleconferences, in-classroom programs, and archived presentations—it is more convenient than ever to keep up with current topics and issues. For claims professionals, too, "it's the economy, stupid." Many companies pay college tuition or expenses to obtain designations. Claims professionals take advantage of these opportunities to increase their value quotient and to earn bonuses or conferment trips.
A healthy body portends a healthy mind. To prepare the mind and body for each day's marathon, the claims practitioner must eat right, get plenty of exercise, and enough sleep. Tests have shown that brain function increases with exercise. Parking the car at the back of the lot, taking the stairs, and going for a walk at lunch are all little ways in which the claims professional can add exercise to the daily routine without wrecking the schedule.
Participation in industry or charitable golf, tennis, or marathon events provides exercise for its own sake, not as competition. Exercise will give the brain additional oxygen to allow the mind to think more clearly.
If it's not fun, it's not worth doing. The claims profession should be fun! It's not like fiction where things have to make sense. It's nonfiction, so anything can, and does, happen! Keep a "humor" file and tuck away funny claims stories, oddities, and accounts of humorous events. They will be available for your review after a particularly difficult telephone call or meeting. Humor calms the mind, distracts it from the stressful event, and may even facilitate the creation of new ideas or ways of thinking that can help to solve a particularly thorny problem.
Inexperienced practitioners will want to find knowledgeable and experienced claims professionals who are willing to share what they know. The textbook answer isn't always the best answer to solve a problem. Practical experience of what works and what doesn't is important, too. A good mentor will steer the claims practitioner through dangerous waters to a safe harbor, helping the practitioner avoid the sharks and traps along the way. These are skills that can't be taught and are more likely to be obtained through trial and error.
Experienced claims professionals will enhance their work life by serving as mentors. Taking the time to help a less experienced person provides a meaningful break from the day-to-day work, affirms the value of the knowledge held, and ensures the future of the profession.
While each claim is unique, there are very few circumstances that haven't been experienced by other claims professionals. Business networks such as LinkedIn allow professionals with similar specialties to exchange ideas and relay experiences. Group discussions help claims professionals to explore problems from other angles in order to resolve them as quickly as possible.
Industry associations bring together claims professionals who share a single specialty or who hold a variety of skills. There is an association to fit each professional's particular needs and desires. Associations can be locally focused or nationally spread. Involvement will provide enrichment, create contacts, and help the claims professional become more knowledgeable.
There is no single panacea for dealing with the stress that claims professionals feel—there are many. Using a variety of techniques is the key to stress-free adjusting.
Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.