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Five Critical Factors for Claims Success That Are Often Overlooked

These overlooked factors are significant in determining if your company can survive a loss.
By: | May 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Nothing is more important than getting claims resolved successfully. After all, at the heart of the insurance contract is the promise to cover losses.

That’s why the financial strength and claims reputation of carriers is so critical. These characteristics demonstrate a company’s ability and willingness to pay.

But when a business suffers a significant loss that severely limits its operations, there are several additional factors that will determine if the company will survive. In these circumstances, repairing the damage and getting back to work as fast as possible is critical.

Therefore, it’s vital to work with carriers who demonstrate these five traits:

  1. Responsiveness

Dean Owens, Head of Property and Special Risk Claims, U.S. and Canada

Recovery is a race against time, and the clock starts ticking as soon as a loss occurs. Even with Business Interruption coverage, competitors will not be sitting idle waiting for your business to get back to work.

This is why speed is critical.

Waiting weeks or even months to receive a claim payment can seriously hinder a business’s ability to become fully operational again.

“Whether a loss is large or small, companies need some working capital in the early stages of recovery to put the business back together,” said Dean Owens, Head of Property and Special Risk Claims, U.S. and Canada, AIG.

AIG recognizes that need with its ‘AIG Property Claims Promise,’ which assures that policyholders will receive a payment of up to 50 percent of the agreed total loss estimate within seven working days, which accounts for cleanup costs, property repairs, and extra expenses incurred during the rebuilding process.

The willingness and ability to pay quickly also shows clients that their insurer has the resources to support them for the long haul, even in the event of large losses.

In 2016, for example, a large resort complex suffered a major fire that destroyed several hundred of its units and 70-90 of its buildings. Claims handlers were on the scene within two days, while the fire was still smoldering. Seeing that it was a total loss, the AIG claims team expedited a $10 million advance within a week on what ultimately amounted to a multimillion dollar property claim. This working capital allowed the resort to kick off the rebuilding process immediately.

  1. Domain Expertise

Your business and industry are unique. There are complexities and peculiarities that require experience and expertise to understand. Working with claims handlers that have deep knowledge about your industry means they understand your top concerns, and how to minimize them.

Property damage will impact a casino differently than it impacts a real estate developer, for example.

“A claims handler with casino loss experience knows that a property claim is as much about the business interruption as it is the physical damage. A casino could suffer a very significant business interruption loss in a single day,” Owens said. “You need to understand your clients’ revenue streams, and how to best mitigate losses in the event of a property claim.”

Pairing the right claims handler with the right client is part of AIG’s credo of operational excellence.

“We always want to bring someone to the table who has specialized knowledge of client’s industry segment, and who has the right skills to handle the types of claims that clients are likely to have. It’s about matching the right skills and resources to the right customer,” Owens said.

  1. Access And Availability

Relationships matter. To respond quickly and effectively, a claims team that is familiar with the decision-makers in your business needs to be in place before the loss. No risk manager or executive should be meeting their claims person for the first time when they’ve just suffered a loss.

Whether an insurer has an in-house claims staff or contracts with external adjusters – or a combination of both – a claims representative should ideally be meeting with clients face-to-face as often as possible.

“We strive to get in front of the clients as often as we can,” Owens said. “We want to get claims handler at the table with clients, brokers and underwriters so everyone is on the same page. And we want our clients to know that their claims handler is their single point of contact if they have a loss. No back-and-forth or roundabout communication.”

AIG’s internal Property Claims Field Group, which is involved in about 40 percent of cases that tend to involve smaller claims, further streamlines the process. External adjusters remain critical for large claims, though, especially when multiple insurers are involved.

“We partner with some excellent outside firms, but wherever we can do something ourselves, we do it ourselves,” Owens said. “It puts us in front of the clients, and a stronger relationship leads to an expedited claims process.”

  1. Innovative Technology And Analytics

Claims data holds incredible value if properly utilized. Important insights can be gleaned from loss history about specific exposures, and a better understanding of exposures can be leveraged to improve the coverage and pricing of your risk portfolio.

But to achieve these benefits, the data needs to be tracked consistently, at a granular level and across your global portfolio.

Underwriters who have an integrated view of global claims data can see how much of a claim is for business interruption losses versus property damage. Maybe one or two locations out of a portfolio of 12 are sitting in a hail zone and are responsible for the bulk of large claims. This insight allows them to adjust their underwriting to better match the risk profile of that particular client.

“It’s about making sure you understand what you’re insuring,” Owens said. “Having this data enables the underwriter, the client and the broker to make more informed decisions.”

AIG’s IntelliRisk® system allows clients to directly access that data through an online portal. Along with detailed claims data, it provides tools to run ad hoc loss runs in real time and monitor open claim activity.

  1. Investment Training

Across the insurance industry, talent development and continuity is a pressing challenge that many acknowledge, but few have taken initiative to solve.

AIG continually feeds its talent pipeline by hiring a few interns every year and investing in their development. All of AIG’s handlers go through regular training to keep their knowledge fresh. That could include a course on hail damage or the roof rebuilding process, or some other technical aspect of property risk.

“It keeps their expertise on the leading edge of a skill set,” Owens said.

Staying sharp and continually building talent is also key to maintaining clients’ trust and confidence.

“You’re only as good as your last claim,” Owens said. “We aim to make each claim an excellent experience for our insureds every time.”

To learn more, visit: http://www.aig.com/globalproperty.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with AIG. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




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AIG is a leading international insurance organization serving customers in more than 100 countries.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Alternative Energy

A Shift in the Wind

As warranties run out on wind turbines, underwriters gain insight into their long-term costs.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 6 min read

Wind energy is all grown up. It is no longer an alternative, but in some wholesale markets has set the incremental cost of generation.

As the industry has grown, turbine towers have as well. And as the older ones roll out of their warranty periods, there are more claims.

This is a bit of a pinch in a soft market, but it gives underwriters new insight into performance over time — insight not available while manufacturers were repairing or replacing components.

Charles Long, area SVP, renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

“There is a lot of capacity in the wind market,” said Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy at broker Arthur J. Gallagher.

“The segment is still very soft. What we are not seeing is any major change in forms from the major underwriters. They still have 280-page forms. The specialty underwriters have a 48-page form. The larger carriers need to get away from a standard form with multiple endorsements and move to a form designed for wind, or solar, or storage. It is starting to become apparent to the clients that the firms have not kept up with construction or operations,” at renewable energy facilities, he said.

Third-party liability also remains competitive, Long noted.

“The traditional markets are doing liability very well. There are opportunities for us to market to multiple carriers. There is a lot of generation out there, but the bulk of the writing is by a handful of insurers.”

Broadly the market is “still softish,” said Jatin Sharma, head of business development for specialty underwriter G-Cube.

“There has been an increase in some distressed areas, but there has also been some regional firming. Our focus is very much on the technical underwriting. We are also emphasizing standardization, clean contracts. That extends to business interruption, marine transit, and other covers.”

The Blade Problem

“Gear-box maintenance has been a significant issue for a long time, and now with bigger and bigger blades, leading-edge erosion has become a big topic,” said Sharma. “Others include cracking and lightning and even catastrophic blade loss.”

Long, at Gallagher, noted that operationally, gear boxes have been getting significantly better. “Now it is blades that have become a concern,” he said. “Problems include cracking, fraying, splitting.

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“In response, operators are using more sophisticated inspection techniques, including flying drones. Those reduce the amount of climbing necessary, reducing risk to personnel as well.”

Underwriters certainly like that, and it is a huge cost saver to the owners, however, “we are not yet seeing that credited in the underwriting,” said Long.

He added that insurance is playing an important role in the development of renewable energy beyond the traditional property, casualty, and liability coverages.

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine. Weather risk coverage can be done in multiple ways, or there can be an actual put, up to a fixed portion of capacity, plus or minus 20 percent, like a collar; a straight over/under.”

As useful as those financial instruments are, the first priority is to get power into the grid. And for that, Long anticipates “aggressive forward moves around storage. Spikes into the system are not good. Grid storage is not just a way of providing power when the wind is not blowing; it also acts as a shock absorber for times when the wind blows too hard. There are ebbs and flows in wind and solar so we really need that surge capacity.”

Long noted that there are some companies that are storage only.

“That is really what the utilities are seeking. The storage company becomes, in effect, just another generator. It has its own [power purchase agreement] and its own interconnect.”

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine.”  —Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

Another trend is co-location, with wind and solar, as well as grid-storage or auxiliary generation, on the same site.

“Investors like it because it boosts internal rates of return on the equity side,” said Sharma. “But while it increases revenue, it also increases exposure. … You may have a $400 million wind farm, plus a $150 million solar array on the same substation.”

In the beginning, wind turbines did not generate much power, explained Rob Battenfield, senior vice president and head of downstream at JLT Specialty USA.

“As turbines developed, they got higher and higher, with bigger blades. They became more economically viable. There are still subsidies, and at present those subsidies drive the investment decisions.”

For example, some non-tax paying utilities are not eligible for the tax credits, so they don’t invest in new wind power. But once smaller companies or private investors have made use of the credits, the big utilities are likely to provide a ready secondary market for the builders to recoup their capital.

That structure also affects insurance. More PPAs mandate grid storage for intermittent generators such as wind and solar. State of the art for such storage is lithium-ion batteries, which have been prone to fires if damaged or if they malfunction.

“Grid storage is getting larger,” said Battenfield. “If you have variable generation you need to balance that. Most underwriters insure generation and storage together. Project leaders may need to have that because of non-recourse debt financing. On the other side, insurers may be syndicating the battery risk, but to the insured it is all together.”

“Grid storage is getting larger. If you have variable generation you need to balance that.” — Rob Battenfield, senior vice president, head of downstream, JLT Specialty USA

There has also been a mechanical and maintenance evolution along the way. “The early-generation short turbines were throwing gears all the time,” said Battenfield.

But now, he said, with fewer manufacturers in play, “the blades, gears, nacelles, and generators are much more mechanically sound and much more standardized. Carriers are more willing to write that risk.”

There is also more operational and maintenance data now as warranties roll off. Battenfield suggested that the door started to open on that data three or four years ago, but it won’t stay open forever.

“When the equipment was under warranty, it would just be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer,” he said.

“Now there’s more equipment out of warranty, there are more claims. However, if the big utilities start to aggregate wind farms, claims are likely to drop again. That is because the utilities have large retentions, often about $5 million. Claims and premiums are likely to go down for wind equipment.”

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Repair costs are also dropping, said Battenfield.

“An out-of-warranty blade set replacement can cost $300,000. But if it is repairable by a third party, it could cost as little as $30,000 to have a specialist in fiberglass do it in a few days.”

As that approach becomes more prevalent, business interruption (BI) coverage comes to the fore. Battenfield stressed that it is important for owners to understand their PPA obligations, as well as BI triggers and waiting periods.

“The BI challenge can be bigger than the property loss,” said Battenfield. “It is important that coverage dovetails into the operator’s contractual obligations.” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]