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Insurance Adjuster – 8 Must-Haves for the Independent Claims Adjuster

Making a responsible decision to become an insurance adjuster, particularly an independent insurance adjuster, means knowing what equipment, gear, or “stuff” an adjuster should have in the field. Because independent insurance adjusters operate as independent contractors, they are frequently required to supply their own adjusting equipment. In general, there are 8 things that every independent adjuster should plan to have in the field. These items are not merely luxuries, but more like necessities, without which the job becomes difficult if not altogether impossible.

Here are the 8 Must-Haves:

Must-Have #1: A Vehicle.

This is a bit of a no-brainer. The real question is what kind of vehicle an independent adjuster should drive. Some folks are under the impression that a claim cannot be properly handled unless you first arrive in an F-350 Turbo Diesel Dually. Certainly there are benefits to having a powerful truck in the field but in this author’s opinion the better vehicle alternative is probably a smaller gas-efficient car. With foldable and telescoping ladders available everywhere, you can stow your ladder away neatly in any average-size sedan or coupe’s trunk. Independent adjusters might drive a hundred or more miles daily so the issue of fuel economy should not be taken lightly. Further, negotiating your way through a heavily-trafficked street in Miami or New Orleans is far easier in a nimble Accord than in a blocky Hummer. And finally, in some areas, adjusters may just as soon not draw attention to themselves. Pulling into a high crime neighborhood in a $50,000 automobile wouldn’t make me feel altogether easy. For my money, I’d prefer to just pass under the radar in an ’01 Camry. Obviously the question is finally resolved by what kind of vehicle you are comfortable with. But keep in mind that the job can be done just as efficiently in a small coupe as a full-sized pickup.

Must-Have #2: Navigation Device

A good GPS system might be the single best investment an independent adjuster can make. Independent adjusters, especially when working catastrophic claims, might scope four to six properties in a day. These properties may be spread out over a surprisingly wide geographical area. Using a traditional paper map is laughable when compared to the amazing speed and accuracy of a dash mounted GPS system. In fact, I would estimate a GPS system saves an adjuster at least of an hour a day in missed turns and forced stops to consult the Rand McNally. Project this over a month and you have a good 30 hours, or over an entire day, of time saved. That’s an extra four or five claims closed per month. In some cases I would estimate that a GPS system can increase an adjuster’s efficiency by as many as 10 claims per month. Cat adjusters are paid per claim, so that’s an extra $2,000 to $5,000 in pocket per month. And finally, the frustration alone that a GPS prevents is worth the price tag.

A dash mounted GPS is a good option. Most models have more features than you will ever use so keep it basic and don’t bother with anything over $700. A far lower priced option and one that is still absolutely packed with features is a program like Microsoft Streets and Trips. This $100 program is meant to be installed on your laptop and comes with a GPS device that connects to your computer via a standard USB plug-in. Streets and Trips allows you to take 10 destinations, find your current location, and calculate the quickest way to visit all 10. This is an excellent feature when planning your day’s claim route.

Must-Have #3: Laptop Computer

The days of hand-writing claims are essentially over. Electronic preparation and delivery of estimates is now standard and a laptop computer is the technology for the task. Xactimate and MSB IntegriClaim are the most commonly employed estimating programs and have minimum system requirements. Count on having a laptop with at least a 1 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 1.5 Gig of free hard drive space available, and a monitor resolution of 1024X768 or higher. With that in mind, don’t let unconscientious salesmen or websites push heavy graphic packages or upgraded sound cards if you are buying a new laptop. You want to write estimates with this computer – not play Halo on a network in a college dorm.

Some adjusters have recently begun using tablet laptops (laptops with touch screens that swivel and fold down on themselves). In theory an adjuster could take such a laptop on a residential or commercial claim, hold it like a clipboard, and write the majority off the estimate in electronic form at the property. As usual, however, the technology for tablets is slightly behind the conceptual and promotional curve. I’d recommend waiting a few more years for the workability of the technology to catch up with the concept (which is a good one).

Must-Have #4: A Good Ladder

Roof damage due to hail and high winds results in tens of thousands of claims yearly and property adjusters should be prepared to spend some time on roofs. A good ladder is your connection to the roof. Most accidents befalling claims adjusters involve ladders and the interchange between ladder and roof. Having a stable ladder should help give an adjuster peace of mind.

There are three types of ladders in common usage. Foldable ladders are an excellent option for adjusters. They come in a variety of models all of which will generally break down to around 5ft in their folded state. This is small enough to fit into virtually any trunk unless your adjusting vehicle of choice is a Miata. Wood models are even becoming available in fold-up form and are a better option than aluminum when working in areas where encounters with power lines may be of concern. Another highly compact ladder is the telescoping ladder. Telescoping ladders are generally the most compact ladder on the market today. The primary drawback, and it is a big one, is that a step will occasionally disappear when sufficient weight or the wrong directional force sends a rung of the ladder zipping into the one below it. This can have disastrous results. If you are going for compact, I’d recommend the foldable variety. Traditional ladders are generally quite stable and secure but can’t match the versatility of the foldable ladder.

Must-Have #5: Digital Camera

A claims adjuster must represent as accurately as possible the damages or lack thereof to the claimant’s property – literally painting a picture whereby file reviewers can asses the situation remotely. Sketching and watercolors aside, you need a camera and if you want to close claims quickly it had better be digital. Some claims with multiple types of damages can require hundreds of photos and scanning in that kind of number manually would be a nightmare. Digital cameras are quick, efficient, and built for the electronic estimate delivery. Don’t bother with an SLR or, for that matter, anything costing you more than $300. You want something smallish, somewhat light, and preferably having a good return policy. In the process of doing a scope, particularly while scaling ladders and maneuvering about roofs, it is extremely easy to drop your camera – sometimes several stories down. A good return policy ensures that your purchase is safe. Regarding mega-pixels – anything above 7 or 8 mega-pixels is probably overkill. Do remember that digital cameras require an inordinate amount of batteries so be sure to always have at least three spare sets before going out to scope claims.

Must-Have #6: Measuring Devices

There are two broad initial determinations made when assessing property damage: what is damaged and how much? Measuring devices tell you how much. A simple 25ft Tape Measure is your first tool. From there you should at least consider expanding your tool-kit to a laser tape measure. Imagine you are scoping a residence with interior damage to multiple rooms. The first room is quite large and filled with heavy clutter. Instead of trying to thread 18ft of tape out of your FatMax through sofa and electronic equipment in one direction and then another 22ft across a bar-set in the other direction, you simply click once in each direction and Presto!, you have your measurements. If you are measuring 5 or more rooms in one house you will probably shave 15 minutes off your scoping time. Over the course of a month, this time saved will result in more claims closed. Now some folks don’t trust the accuracy of the laser measurer and, in fact, some insurance carriers will not allow their adjusters to use them. From my experience they work exceptionally well but do check with your claims manager before parading your new Disto around the office. A rolling measure can also come in handy, especially for roofs where a traditional 25ft tape measure will seldom be sufficient to measure every length of the roof. Again, in some instances, the use of rolling measures is not allowed, so do check with your claims manager.

Must-Have #7: Tool-belt

In addition to your digital camera and various measuring devices, there are a few other items that are indispensable to a claims adjuster. This invites the logical question of “Where do I put all this stuff?”. The answer is a tool-belt. Standard contractor toolbelts will do but pale in comparison to the variety that are custom built for claims adjusters. Custom adjuster tool-belts are specifically engineered to carry the necessary tools of an adjuster. Imagine climbing your ladder with both hands while securely carrying with you a digital camera, tape measure, wheel measure, clipboard, chalk, pitch gauge, and shingle gauge. Standard tool-belts may or may not be able to do this but certainly cannot do so as securely and intelligently as custom made belts. Stay organized and stay safe with a good adjuster tool-belt.

Must-Have #8: The Adjuster Dress-Code

Adjusters are almost always expected to observe a dress code. The particular code may vary from company to company but in general you should expect to wear a sharp polo and khakis. Jeans won’t cut it and tee-shirts, unless distributed to you specifically for wear in the field, are too informal. You want a professional and competent appearance. Adjuster footwear is another consideration. As you will be spending time on roofs, think about obtaining shoes that have strong traction. Leave the penny loafers at home or you risk skating off a steeply pitched roof. Specially crafted boots called Cougar Paws, with felt-like material adhered to the bottoms, were developed with roof walking in mind. In any case, remember that an independent adjuster spends a good deal of time on his or her feet and comfort and traction are the name of the game.

Insurance Agents – Get Your Insured Clients Paid on Their Personal Property Claims Faster!

Most people who buy insurance from an insurance agent do not understand that the majority of agents out there really do care about their customers.

One of the big problems I have found over the last twenty-five years working in the claims side of insurance is that when agents grow sometimes the personal touch side of their business can be hard to maintain.

I have seen countless brave agents the day after a major hurricane tromping through knee high sewer water, snakes, and climbing under and over downed trees to see if one of their customers are okay, and usually have a check in hand.

The problem is the news media do not put those stories out they concentrate on the stories with a negative light.

Over these last two and a half decades as both a staff and an independent claims adjuster a specific niche problem area has continually surfaced when people suffer damage to their homes or businesses. A nagging area that can have your customers unhappy and cause their claims not to close quickly is their personal property claims.

Time and again especially during major storms the insurance companies will somewhat be more tolerant on their documentation requirements for an insured’s personal property claims. You have seen it. A limit set at anything say, $2,500.00 or less is automatically accepted and paid.

Anything over the usual receipts and/or photos is required. After a few short weeks or when the volume subsides some the companies start again adhering to black and white policy procedures to stop all their customers from claiming that 72″ plasma screen television.

This is when the complaints start rolling in and your customer satisfaction drops along with customer retention.

What if you could show your customers how to safeguard the value of their property and have the necessary documents available to you and the adjusters to quickly handle their claim and get them their claims check faster!

Providing Great Customer Service Just Got Easier!

A new service is out now that is designed to:

o Speed up the claims process of your customer’s personal property losses.
o Document the condition of their personal property.
o Confirm repairs or replacement of your customers current or previously damaged property.
o Allows 24/7 access to their photos and receipts 365 days a year.
o Service is for both residential and businesses.

Imagine being able to offer an insurance related service product to your valuable customers that not only benefits your customer, but also has valuable benefits to you and the insurance company.

This new service saves time and money-

o Access to photos of your customer’s home or business personal property taken before the damage occurred.
o View photos of previous storm damage.
o Speeds up adjusters reporting time.
o Customer can give you temporary access code to view all their stuff even if the house is completely destroyed.
o Get your customers their claims money when they need it.
o Save space on company data-storage using their world class data center.

You as an insurance agent have been taking photos of homes and businesses for years. Now this new service that is out can enable an agent to help their customer’s digitally document all of their personal property so if they are unfortunate enough to have to file a claim against their insurance everything is readily accessible for you and your adjusters.

People (your customers) only thought is that they pay on their insurance policies month after month, and year after year.

They just want money to get their life back in order! This new service product is built just for that purpose, but has some extra features built into it that might just put a stop to insured’s trying to make a profit on their claims.

This product has a built in referral system in it allowing the customer a way by telling other people about the service they receive a check. Relate this to how you as an agent receive a residual income when your customers automatically renew their policies.

The referral part of this new service is no doubt a great deal not only for anybody who has stuff in their home or business or who knows someone who owns any personal property, but also for insurance agents with any size book of business.

Residual income is the big draw in becoming an insurance agent. No doubt about it. This new service actually provides a way not only to give your customers a better way to document their personal property in case they need to file a claim, but a way to actually put some extra money in their pocket.

It also allows you as an agent a way to do the same. You provide your customers faster claims service, keep your retention rate up, make your company happy, help your adjusters close claims quicker, and can also receive a non-conflict of interest referral bonus if your customers get this service.

The new service pays adjusters great money to go out and perform the digital photo service for the customer. You could just refer your customers to the service taking advantage of the adjusters taking photos for your customers, or you can take the photos yourself (or have your junior associates do it) and receive both the field pay and the referral fee as well.

Having been in the insurance claims industry all these years, and even having a license on the selling side at one time I can tell you this is a great service product that is a true win-win for everybody.

Insurance Adjuster – How Much Money Does a Claims Adjuster Make?

How much insurance claims adjusters can make per annum is the subject of considerable interest and speculation to those interested in a career in claims. As unstable weather continues into the fall, and the Atlantic hurricane season reaches its stride, its important to correctly understand the financial landscape of the adjuster industry.

Some folks have heard from their girlfriend’s brother or an estranged uncle that claims adjusting is a money tree. The money tree sits there blooming Benjamins, apparently just waiting happily to be plucked by any newcomer with the inside scoop. And as an added bonus, you really don’t have to do work. The opposite extreme is my own previous misconception of the monetary compensation for claims adjusters which is that they made next to nothing and it was essentially a dead end job. This is as far from the truth as the money tree concept but, I would hazard to guess, a much more prevalent misunderstanding.

So how much money does an insurance adjuster really make?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, claims adjusters earned an average of $44,220 in 2004. The top ten percent earned more than $72,620. The bottom ten percent earned less than $27,220. This seems like a fairly significant disparity. What type of adjuster is at the bottom and what type at the top?

The answer to this question depends largely upon the type of claims adjuster you are referring to. In general, there are two types of adjusters: staff adjusters who are salaried employees of an insurance carrier, and independent adjusters who are independent contractors working for adjusting firms. This initial difference will make as much of a difference in pay structure as the type of claims actually handled – from worker’s compensation to multi-million dollar commercial properties.

Staff adjusters are typically going to be earning less than independent adjusters and in some cases dramatically less. $25,000-$60,000 is a reasonable salary range for a career staff claim adjuster.

An independent adjuster in a good year, however, especially if he or she works catastrophe claims, can make well in excess of $100,000.

Staff adjusters can make a good stable living. For independent adjusters, the opportunity can be a little more interesting and, I think, exciting. Independent adjusters working catastrophe claims make essentially a percentage of the amount of each claim they settle. This system of payment is known as a fee schedule and is formulated differently for each insurance carrier represented and storm situation confronted. For example, an independent adjuster handling hurricane claims may receive a fee schedule that pays $500 for claims between $3,000 to $5,000, $650 for claims between $5,000 and $7,500, and $750 for claims between $7,500 and $10,000. An adjuster will receive between 60-70% with the other 30-40% going to the adjusting firm they work for. Hurricane adjusters can easily average $10,000 settlement per claim and thus average between $400 and $500 dollars in their pocket per claim. A good adjuster should be closing 2 to 4 claims per day with superb adjuster closing 4 to 7.

Making over $1,000 a day as an independent adjuster working catastrophe claims is common and very attainable. In this way, a good independent adjuster can surpass six figures income in less than six months.

So, is this the money tree after all? Well, not so fast. Remember that catastrophes, especially catastrophes sufficient to employ significant numbers of adjusters, are relatively few and far between. During “dry” spells for independent adjusters, work can be scarce and competition fierce for the claims that do come along. That said, there is a tremendous and exciting opportunity for very real, very lucrative money when disaster does strike.

Whether its operating on staff or as independent contractor, claims adjusting offers potential for solid and, in some cases, spectacular income.

Daniel Kerr has served as a career and training consultant for thousands of experienced and aspiring professionals in the insurance claims adjuster industry. In addition to his work as a catastrophic claims adjuster, Daniel acted as the V.P. of Operations for one of the most successful adjuster licensing companies in the country – helping to grow the business into the most recognized brand in the industry.