Q&A: Flooding and the role of the loss adjuster

  • Anyone dealing with serious flood damage will come into contact with a loss adjuster
  • Policyholders are likely to have a better claims experience if they understand what loss adjusters do and how they can work together
  • Mike Weatherhead, Director, Head of Technical Best Practice at Vericlaim, Zurich’s partner loss adjusters, explains how all parties can get the most from the interaction

Following a major flood, it is highly likely that a loss adjuster will be one of the first people that the customer comes into contact with.

However, despite their central role in the insurance claims process, not all customers understand what loss adjusters actually do.

By understanding the role, what should be expected and what steps to take before, during and after the event, policyholders can ensure a smooth claims process.

We asked Mike Weatherhead, Director, Head of Technical Best Practice at Vericlaim, to explain more about the work of loss adjusters.

Q: What is the loss adjuster’s role?

Mike: The most common misconception, is that our role is simply to reduce the claim.

The aim, particularly in a flood loss, is actually to achieve the best outcome for all parties. This means keeping the damage to the lowest possible level, getting the policyholder back into operation as quickly as possible, and finding alternative ways for them to operate while that is being done.

There is always more than one way of doing things, so a loss adjuster’s role involves trying to explore the quickest and most efficient way for all parties to get to the best end result.

In large flood claims, there will always be a team involved, including building surveyors, mechanical and electrical specialists, accountants and others as required. In many ways, the role of the loss adjuster involves managing these groups.

Q: How does the process work?

Mike: One of the most important steps is agreeing with the policyholder the best way forward and formulating a plan that is in everyone’s interest. Taking the case of a school flood, for example, the highest priority will be to find an alternative way of providing education facilities as quickly as possible.

While that is being arranged, we will be looking at the quickest way of returning the existing facility to a usable condition. Once we have done that and helped with the immediate recovery process, we can start quantifying the value of the claim, which, of course, depends on what measures are taken to mitigate the overall situation.

Ultimately, as much as anything else, loss adjusters work on claims management in cooperation with the insured.

Q: When will the loss adjuster get to the location?

Mike: In most cases, particularly for big local authority claims, we would hope to get to commercial customers within 24 to 48 hours. On major losses, a member of the Major Loss Team will usually be in attendance. This benefits municipal customers as the team gain first hand knowledge of the damage and customer priorities, which speeds up the decision making process on policy cover and mitigation and reinstatement plans.

In the event of serious flooding, there may be a slight delay in reaching customers. When Storm Desmond hit Cumbria in late 2015, for example, access was a huge issue. You could not get to some places because the bridges had been washed away.

Even in these cases, however, most sites will be visited within four or five working days. Speed of response is key to getting things moving.

Q: What does the policyholder need to provide?

Mike: A bit of prior planning can make all the difference in the event of a claim. Perhaps the most important part of this is establishing an effective disaster recovery plan.

What really needs to be considered is that whatever facility you are operating from, it is likely to be lost for a prolonged period of time in the event of a serious flood. If a customer has a plan, the loss adjuster can buy into it and develop it, significantly speeding up the process.

Loss adjusters will also need to verify the extent of the claim. Ideally, there will be an inventory of items. If there is, it is just a case of getting these inventories valued by the usual purchasers.

In addition to inventories, producing building plans and photographs can be very useful, particularly in the event that flood-damaged items need to be disposed of quickly.

Q: What happens after the initial inspection?

Mike: The main thing is that after the first visit the policyholder is absolutely sure what the next steps are. For example, if dryers are due to come a few days after a flood event, then a further site meeting would be arranged after an appropriate period to ensure that everything is progressing as it should.

Loss adjusters can also play an important part in the learning experience following a claim, and will usually be willing to sit down with policyholders for a post-loss review. In these, we examine whether the disaster recovery plan was effective and what can be improved if this happens again.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that mutual cooperation and developing an understanding of what everyone wants to achieve is by far the most effective way to deal with a flood claim.