Technology Is Enabling Better Virtual Claims Collaboration. But Here’s Why a Human Touch Will Still Be Necessary, Even Vital

COVID-19 accelerated the use of technology in claims. But a human touch is still necessary.
By: | October 4, 2021

Insurance has always been a people business — the industry is built on relationships and helping people through times of need.

In the past, field adjusters traveled to meet claimants, viewed property damages in person, examined damaged homes and vehicles, and wrote reports while talking with claimants. If a lawsuit was filed, insurance representatives, attorneys, and policyholders went to hearings in person, meeting with arbitrators and judges to present cases.

But the pandemic forced every industry to get creative and find acceptable ways to replace these critical in-person activities. The breakthrough video conferencing application, Zoom, had profits of $671.5 million in 2020 — a massive increase over the $21.7 million it saw in profits in 2019.

As 2020 continued, it became clear in-person business would not resume anytime soon, and the insurance industry shifted to virtual claims collaboration.

Virtual Tools Are Being Used in Claims Settlement

Synchronous and asynchronous virtual collaboration tools have played a major role in making the switch to virtual collaboration within the insurance industry.

Synchronous virtual collaboration tools allow teams, vendors and customers to connect in real-time. Chatbots, instant messenger programs, video calls, and chatrooms are examples of synchronous collaboration. Immediate answers are possible, and team brainstorming is enabled through the use of synchronous tools.

Asynchronous virtual collaboration tools, on the other hand, allow for non-instant virtual communication. Methods like email, contact forms on landing pages, shared databases and discussion boards are examples of asynchronous collaboration tools.

Both synchronous and asynchronous virtual collaboration tools have a place in claim settlement. Throughout the pandemic and the years preceding it, insurance companies have been investing in their technology. Several carriers have engaged with Insurtech firms, hosting start-up incubators and accelerators to provide funding in exchange for technology.

The new use of technology has allowed for faster claims cycle time with less effort needed by customers. Carl Todd, national general adjuster and claims manager for Engle Martin & Associates, confirmed the efficiency of virtual collaboration tools: “An experienced adjuster using the virtual tools is able to view and assess the damage along with discussing the facts of the loss during one call.Using virtual collaboration, the cycle time is decreased by 3-5 days,” he said.

Reducing cycle time and improving customer satisfaction are often goals in the claims department. These four virtual tools are being used to help achieve these goals.

Carl Todd, national general adjuster and claims manager, Engle Martin & Associates,

1) Telehealth visits. Going to visit a doctor or therapist in person during the height of the pandemic wasn’t possible or practical, and the use of telehealth services exploded across the U.S. Virtual health visits allow patients access to providers safely and conveniently, letting them receive treatment without leaving home.

Stephen Deane, executive vice president and chief claims officer, global risk solutions, North America for Liberty Mutual said, “Telehealth visits are an example of leveraging the technology we have to better serve injured workers. Telehealth tools give them access to providers they couldn’t see before – maybe they are not in close proximity to a provider who could help them in a meaningful way.”

2) Property damage inspections. Virtual collaboration tools help connect adjusters and policyholders to review damages. A field adjuster may not need to go in person to view the loss – with virtual tools, the adjuster can text a link to the policyholder for a virtual inspection app.

The insured can use their mobile phone to survey damages, take measurements, and send pictures and videos – in many claims, this information is sufficient for an adjuster or computer program to settle the claim. New risks are introduced in the form of digital image fraud, though.

Carriers must still find ways to combat fraud as new tools are introduced.

3) Mediations and arbitrations via video conference. Virtual collaboration has allowed hearings and mediations to continue even through the pandemic. The adoption of tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex and others ensured case settlement could continue with less interruption. The American Arbitration Association established guidelines to help insurers conduct virtual arbs.

4) Adjuster support. Virtual tools help adjusters learn. Shared internal resources like wikis, databases, and virtual assistants can help in real-time when adjusters have questions.

Virtual collaboration tools can allow less experienced adjusters to share their screens with a mentor for help while in the field, reducing errors and re-inspections.

Virtual Collaboration Tools Plus Adjuster Experience

While virtual collaboration tools have enhanced claims settlement, nothing beats the combination of an experienced adjuster leveraging technology to their advantage.

“We have come to the realization that the adjuster having the skills to select the right tool and negotiate its use with the insured/claimant for the specific claim is epically important to the process,” said Carl Coleman, vice president of technology and innovation at Engle Martin & Associates.

Carl Coleman, vice president of technology and innovation, Engle Martin & Associates

Virtual collaboration tools are just that – tools that can be used to improve processes when applied correctly.

Carriers need to invest not only in the technology but also in their strategy for development and deployment. For example, teaching adjusters and CSRs how to be successful in virtual interactions with customers is one way to empower employees to use virtual tools to meet customer demands.

Demand for New Employee Skills

New technology drives innovation in the claims process, and with it, the need for claims employees to develop new skills.

Employees will need to work with machine learning, AI, blockchain and other new technologies to do their jobs well.

“As a result of the pandemic, we’ve acquired the tools and the talent to handle a large volume of simple claims efficiently, allowing us to reallocate more of our expertise to complex claims,” said Dhara Patel, president of American Claims Management, a division of Brown & Brown.

Along with new employee skills comes the need for new leadership styles. Managers have to lead virtually and continue to find ways to engage employees. Technology has enabled these efforts in many ways, but these new tools present challenges to leaders who have to learn to use the tools while still managing their teams and getting results.

“The ‘new normal’ will continue to challenge us as leaders to use these virtual tools to find new and creative ways to connect with our teams so we continue to build and enhance our culture,” Deane said. &

Abi Potter Clough, MBA, CPCU, is a keynote speaker, author and business consultant focused on Insurtech, leadership and strategy. She has over 15 years of experience at a Fortune 500 company with expertise in P&C claims operational leadership, lean management consulting, digital communications and Insurtech. As the past chair of the International Insurance Interest Group of the CPCU Society, Abi remains involved in many international initiatives and projects. She has published two books about change management and relocation. Abi can be reached at [email protected].

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