May 25, 2019

When it DOES Make Sense to Check Email First Thing in the Morning …

Three weeks ago, I posted on LinkedIn’s “Claims Management” discussion group a recent “Claims Coach” blog on why adjusters should not start their work days by checking e-mail. Many insightful responses followed in that discussion thread.

Check email

Many of the participants agreed. Some, however, did not.  Two particularly strong arguments emerged. 

First, when you know or have reason to know that many of your first notices of loss via e-mail.  My friend and claims colleague Chantal Roberts of Advanced Risk Management in Arkansas made this point. 

Second, where the boss or management has instructed adjusters to check their e-mail first thing in the morning.

I must agree that in such situations, it does make sense to begin one’s day as a claims professional by checking e-mail. In either case, customer service or job survival trumps any productivity consideration.

It does no good being productive if, by doing so, you sacrifice customer responsiveness by not getting to new case assignments as quickly as possible. This is particularly true if new claim assignments are time-sensitive.

Further, it makes no sense to strive for an abstract standard of productivity if, due to noncompliance with boss expectations, you lose your job or are downgraded in performance.

The overarching point is to be intentional about the pacing and sequencing of checking e-mail.

It has been said that “E-mail is the perfect system for other people to deliver their priorities to your attention.” 

I heartily agree 100%. However, my general advice must realistically be tempered by other considerations at times. Those considerations include client expectations and upper management/boss expectations.

Certainly, responsiveness and prompt turnaround have to be mitigating considerations.

The point is to reach a happy medium between a reflexive Pavlovian response to every chime signaling arrival of a new e-mail or an icon popping up, notifying us of a new message versus shutting down altogether. Whether the magic interval is four times a day, checking e-mail on the hour, whatever, the point is to have a more intentional approach to e-mail to stay productive while simultaneously being prompt, customer-focused and responsive.

There is a happy medium, but that medium is often violated by virtue of an ingrained, Pavlovian, knee-jerk reaction to interrupt what we are doing in order to check e-mail. When the first act of the work day is to check e-mail, it can totally derail us from more important projects that need their focused attention.

A key skill is to differentiate the urgent from the important. Often, they are not the same thing. Email tends to coalesce around the urgent (or pseudo-urgent) in my view.

Every guideline has an exception … including this one!

Risk Managers: Use These 8 Tips for Better Meetings with Underwriters

The risk manager’s ability to procure insurance coverage and to do so on the best financial terns depends in large part on the discretion of the insurance underwriter.  Underwriters are the insurance company gatekeepers.  They decide whether or not to offer coverage terms and, if so, at what price. 

Meet with Underwriter

            Within insurance companies, the underwriter decides which risk applications to except for coverage and which to decline.  They also will determine how much you pay, what kind of policy terms and conditions the insurance company is willing to provide, etc.  They are the “gatekeepers” to insurability.  As such, the underwriter is key to a company’s insurance program, risk management program and financial protection.  This can work for – or against – a risk manager.  It pays to get to know the underwriter. 

            #1.  Don’t be “too busy” to meet.  However, this is rare in buying insurance.   Risk managers may feel they are too busy to meet underwriters.  To kick start the insurance process, the prospective policyholder may have to complete an application for coverage.    

            #2.  Get into selling mode.  The ability to get insurance coverage at the best price on the best terms may hinge upon how successful and skilled you are in “selling” your company as a good risk.  If you convince the underwriter that you have strong loss control/prevention and risk management systems, you have a better chance of being insured on the best possible terms.  If, however, you cannot make a compelling case to the underwriter, seem  befuddled or ill-prepared, that may compromise your negotiating leverage and the ability to get the best insurance price and terms.

            #3.  Understand the underwriter’s world.  Here it helps to have some appreciation of the underwriter’s work environment and job context.  Underwriters are often besieged by the volume of incoming applications that they have.  They always feel (not without justification) that there is more work to do than there are hours in which to do it.  It is challenging for them to stay on top of their workload. 

            #4.  Know your aims in meeting with underwriters.  The aim for risk managers is to emerge from the pack, from the herd and to differentiate their companies in a positive way, as a good risk which any sane underwriter and reasonable insurance company would WANT to insure.   

            #5.  Seek an in-person meeting.  One way to do this is to seek a brief but in-person meeting with the underwriter.  A conference call or email doesn’t cut it.  This may be a challenge, but there are ways to do it:

  • Prepare well in advance
  • Have your insurance broker run interference
  • Propose to meet underwriters in their office
  • Ask for a short amount of time

            #6.  Prepare an “elevator speech,” a short verbal presentation generally meant to persuade or in foreign. It should be two to three minutes long.  Explain why your company represents a good risk  Highlight key features, particularly in so far as safety is concerned. Underwriters often have limited availability and attention span, so hit the high points. 

            #7.  Be brief.  Practice and rehearse your talking points.  Prepare to amplify if you field questions.  When you meet with an underwriter, you are an ambassador for your company.  If you are well prepared, the underwriter may infer that your company has its act together with regard to safety and related features. 

            #8.  Make a positive impression.  If you appear unprepared, this can cast a negative pall. Your aim: to leave the exchange with the underwriter thinking, “That company really seems to have its systems in place and to be an attractive risk!”  This impression should manifest itself in the form of a favorable insurance quotation both in terms of price and coverage features.

            For risk managers, time spent meeting with underwriters may seem like a needless distraction but can pay off in broader insurance coverage at a more favorable price!

Q:  What techniques have worked for YOU in having more productive exchanges with insurance underwriters?  Share here or email me at kevin@kevinquinley.com

5 Reasons I Favor Smaller Defense Firms

When I was an undergraduate in college, one of the most popular books at the time was a tome titled, Small is Beautiful by the British economist E. F. Schumacher. While I read the book, I did not jump on the bandwagon, at least not in the realm of economic theory.

small-is-beautiful-button

However, in one aspect of litigation management, I agree that small is beautiful.

In searching for defense firms that do insurance work, I confess a bias toward small to medium-sized law firms. Often, I have clashed with policyholders who insisted that some name brand, $500 an hour attorney or law firm was the only one who could adequately represent their interests and who could “send a message” to the other side.

Incidentally, I have never had a case where the claimant/plaintiff folded up their tent and slunk away simply because the insurance carrier or defendant named a specific big-name law firm to the defense. To the contrary.  In some cases, it sent the message that “this must be a big deal, or else they would not have gone to the expense of hiring such a white shoe law firm!”

Five factors cement my bias toward small to medium-sized defense firms:

            1.  Flexibility.  I often find them more flexible to deal with in terms of agreeing to insurance carrier litigation guidelines

            2.  Cost effectiveness.  They have less of a cost structure, so they are more cost competitive in terms of hourly rate

            3.  Service orientation.  there are less hidebound by size and bureaucracy, so they often appear to be more service oriented

            4.  Personalization.  Odds of getting more customized and personalized service by being a bigger fish in a smaller pond

            5.  Better vibe.  Less hubris with regard to insurer cost guidelines and litigation/reporting procedures

Some big law firms I have encountered almost wore it as a badge of honor that they did not lower themselves to do “insurance defense work,” as if it was on the wrong side of the tracks in the legal neighborhood.

I also plead guilty to overgeneralization here. There have been big firms with whom I’ve worked that have delivered responsive, effective and customized service and have garnered good results for my policyholders.

I’ve also encountered small to medium firms that turned out to be absolute nincompoops.

Exceptions exist for every general rule.

However, as a default mode, I gravitate toward small to medium-sized firms in stocking any panel of defense counsel in an insurance defense context.

How about you? Does it matter to you whether you hire a large “name brand” law firm or one with less cachet and name recognition? Share your comments here or directly to me at Kevin@kevinquinley.com

A Pictorial Lesson in Halloween Risk Management

Flying Witch

Adjusters — DON’T Start Your Work Day by Checking Email!

Here is a radical tip for many adjusters and other claim professional’s:  do NOT begin your day (or work day) by opening up your email manager and checking your email. 

Check email

Why?  This is a good way to get you distracted and off-track from what you want to accomplish early in the day.  Instead, set aside specific times during the work day to get into and then get out of email.  Maybe every other hour, on the hour.  Perhaps once at mid-morning, once at mid-day, once at mid-afternoon and finally at the end of the day. 

This latter point is crucial.  Once you check email and knock out some replies, do not leave your email manager open.  This applies regardless of whether you use Outlook, Lotus Notes, Gmail, Thunderbird or some other system.

I recently read a quote by marketing specialist Chris Brogan that really resonated with me:  “Email is the perfect system to deliver other people’s priorities to your attention.”  This, he explains, is why he resists the powerful temptation to start the day by checking email. 

Forgoing this start of day ritual puts YOUR priorities and intentions at the forefront.  It makes it less likely that other people’s priorities will derail your best intentions.  In our always-plugged-in world, the seductive siren call of checking email “just one more time” is powerful. 

Resist it.  Like any new habit, it will take time to retrain yourself. 

(I need to sign off for now.  In ten minutes, it will be time for me to check my email….)

“What are the biggest productivity barriers to adjusters in today’s claim departments?”

Recently, I posed this open-ended question on the claims management forum of LinkedIn.  (Incidentally, this group now has over 13,000 members and is a terrific sounding board for discussions regarding management of claims. If you are not a member, please join!)

Productivity

Over a dozen claim professionals weighed in on the issue. Let me summarize and distill the feedback, in no particular order:

            *  Busy-work.  misguided managerial focus on requiring adjusters to waste time on activities that add little or no value

            *  Lack of self-discipline

            * Intrusive “repeater” calls.  phone calls from the same policyholder to three times a day, which forces you to stop would you are doing to assist them

            *  E-mail interruptions and excessive meetings

            *  Excessive workloads. One person lamented the expectations of high closure ratios with more files being dumped on desks, almost to the point of impossibility

            *  Being reactive instead of proactive and strategic, always playing catch-up and losing the ability to be strategic with time and effort

            * Personal disorganization in not having a system to keep all claims flowing patiently at different stages of the process

            *  Dysfunctional metrics that foster competition within claim departments, where the focus becomes less about servicing insured or claimant needs but rather attaining high scores on quarterly reports

            * Time mis-management

The point:  a large part of claims management is or should be supervisors and managers periodically assessing barriers to productivity within the claims office.

In some cases, the analysis may lead to Pogo’s saying that, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Management can unwittingly create procedures and bottlenecks that thwart adjuster productivity. Of course, there has to be a balance between necessary procedures and efficiency.

Nevertheless, an ongoing process for effective claims supervision and management is to determine what barriers exist within the claim department that create “drag” on the adjusting staff and to consider ways to remove those friction points. For starters, there may be merit in periodically polling and formally taking the temperature of the claims staff as to what procedures and features of the job or work environment get in the way of been doing an efficient job at investigating, negotiating and evaluating claims.

For adjusters who feel overwhelmed by the volume of e-mail, there may be a need for periodic tutorials and coaching sessions on managing this electronic communication.

If adjusters feel hounded by the same policyholders or claimants calling again and again, management should look at those situations, develop case studies and strategies for adjusters to see what can be done to preempt such calls.

If the claim department culture is one of numerous meetings which adjusters find unproductive, consider shorter meetings, more tightly focused meetings with prepared agendas, or less frequent meetings.

These are all tactical approaches in response to adjuster concerns that barriers for their ability to efficiently and effectively handle claims.

Surprisingly, this informal poll did not cite social media and Internet web-surfing as productivity barriers. Many management teams seem to harbor the suspicion that adjusters with on-the-job Internet access will mis-use this freedom to shop at Amazon.com or to post Facebook statuses.

The take-away here, however, is for management of any claims office to view as part of their job the role of identifying and, if possible, eliminating barriers to adjuster productivity.

It goes beyond consciousness-raising, however, beyond the awareness comes the follow through and action item to identify each one of those barriers and see if they can be eliminated or worked around. In some cases, this may not be possible, but at least management has given it thoughtful consideration.

(Fortunately, none of the individuals nominating sources of productivity barriers cited LinkedIn polls or discussion forums!)

While this blog post comes to an end, the dialogue continues. What do YOU see as the primary obstacles or barriers to claim department productivity? Feel free to post here or reply directly to kevin@kevinquinley.com

5 Tips for Negotiating First-Party Property Claims

Against the backdrop of stalled budget talks and government shut-down, we can see an example of unsuccessful negotiations in Washington D.C.  Adjusters are thrust in the role of negotiator frequently, as part of their jobs. 

Negotiate

            Claim negotiating nuances arise between third- and first-party claims, subtleties which the claims rep should observe.  The negotiating context is different with each.  Let us examine some the special contextual factors which distinguish first-party claims.  Appreciating these factors will help claim representatives steer clear of potential land-mines in negotiating such losses. 

            #1 Be flexible.  One initial consideration:  with first-party claims, you may have to be a little more flexible.  Reason: you have a contract with the individual with whom you are negotiating.  He or she is the person helping to pay your salary via premium payments.

            #2.  Give the insured the benefit of the doubt when possible.  For gray area cases, you may have to bend over backwards, giving the insured the proverbial — and literal — benefit of the doubt.  You don’t think that the insured’s expenses at the Ritz Carlton constitute reasonable “additional living expenses”?  You question whether the insured needs an entire kitchen remodeling job following the grease fire?  If it is a close call, then you may need to be more yielding and swallow your doubts.  Of course, if it’s a case of fraud or blatant “padding,” then by all means dig in your heels.

            Courts are more likely to hold you to a rigorous standard of punctilio in dealing with policyholders than with third-party claimants.  While all policyholders or claimants are entitled to good faith treatment, this is not a black-and-white issue.  There are subtleties and gradations of good faith (and bad faith!).

            #3.  Act in good faith and beware of the bad faith boogeyman on first-party claims.  In other words, you do not have the “general damages” component in first-party claims which you typically have in third-party losses.  Insureds do not claim pain and suffering, unless they file a bad-faith lawsuit against you, in which case they can seek extra-contractual damages.         This is an important area, for bad faith is much more prevalent in first-party than in third-party claims.  Courts often say that the adjuster or insurer has a higher duty of care to the premium-paying policyholder than to a third-party claimant.  In some states, third-party claimants cannot bring bad faith actions.  Thus, on first-party claims you must take any bad faith threat very seriously and make sure that you dot all “i’s” and cross all T’s. 

            #4.  Be prepared to negotiate.  The adjuster’s negotiation of first-party and property claims is strengthened by knowledge of the FACTS, a good investigation and a firm command of the insurance coverage and policy provisions.  Preparation cures most ills when it comes to claim negotiations.

            #5.  Be alert to high-profile situations.  Be alert to cases of unusual sensitivity, where adjusting property claims will involve special considerations.  Such circumstances might include:

            *  claims made by celebrities or semi-famous persons

            *  claims made by VIP accounts, long-standing accounts or big premium payers

            *  claims made by individuals who are in media or politics, and who could make your life miserable if they feel they are being mistreated

            *  claims involving employees of the insurer (due to the touchiness of these situations, some insurers decline to write coverage on the property of their own employees),

            Use these tips to navigate first-party property losses, whether you’re handling a house fire or water damage claim. 

            Q:  What tips or techniques have YOU found effective in negotiating first-party property losses?  Post here or share your thoughts offline at kevin@kevinquinley.com   

 

Roll of the Dice Makes White and Williams’ “Coverage College” a Winner

You might think that attending an insurance law conference would be [YAWN…] the most boring experience in the world. But what if you could win $25,000 at the event?

Coverage College

This was the carrot that the Philadelphia-based law firm of White and Williams dangled at its recent annual “Coverage College” at the Philadelphia Convention Center. At the end of the day, registrants could sign up to toss dice and — if they had six straight rolls with the words “White and Williams” facing up, they would win $25,000.

Over 650 insurance professionals from 130 different companies attended the October 3rd event, the seventh offered by White and Williams. This was my second visit and I must say that this is a terrific continuing education forum. White and Williams run it with Swiss-watch efficiency and offer an interesting and eclectic menu of breakout sessions as well as general/plenary sessions.

I attended an excellent breakout session on when the company is on the hot seat.” This featured a variety of clips from actual video depositions, demonstrating what not to do. (Hilarious, UNLESS you are the lucky deponent whose performance is being postmortemed.)

For the second straight year, however, the capstone and final presentation was from an invited policyholder lawyer, typically the loyal adversary of the likes of White and Williams and the type of law firm that sues insurers.  The presenter was William Passannante of the ubiquitous Anderson Kill firm, a heavy-hitter in pro-policyholder coverage litigation. Passannante presented on specific mistakes that he sees insurance companies make in coverage litigation that get them in trouble.

Here is a sampling of mistakes made by insurers, leading to bad faith claims:

            1.Ignoring exposure to attorney fees in many jurisdictions. I.e. if you contest coverage and LOSE, you not only have to pay the claim and coverage counsel’s fees, you also get to pay the policyholder’s legal fees. 

            2.Being unaware of what the adjuster said about the coverage issue before coverage counsel was hired.

            3. Trying to “wall off” loss adjusting activity by moving all claims handling to attorneys.  Trying to keep the claim file privileged by immediately assigning coverage counsel can be an uphill battle, according to Passannante. 

            4.  Failure to notify the policyholder of a reduction in coverage.

            5.  Inexplicable delay in claim handling.

            6.  Forgetting that your adversary in a claim situation is your customer.

            7.  Failure to notify plaintiffs in bodily injury cases, pursuant to state laws and some jurisdictions.  (If you reserves rights or disclaimed coverage, did you inform the third-party claimant?)

            8.  Reviewing the law when convenient rather than reviewing the law in other states that could arguably be the jurisdiction for the case.  (Assuming that one state’s law will control when a case can be made that a different state law applies.)

            9.  Asserting prejudice due to late notice without any basis.  (Not all delays are prejudicial and courts are often very exacting in making the insurer prove prejudice.)

            10.  Denying a claim that the company is advertising as a covered loss at the same time.  Passannante had a case where this really happened — where the insurer’s print ad touted as covered the very claim for which it was contesting coverage.  “Don’t the marketing and claims people ever talk?” Passannante asked.

            11.  Reserving coverage rights when not needed, thereby creating Cumis-type situations and relinquishing control of defense counsel.  What are the odds of prevailing on coverage versus the real risk of relinquishing some control over case defense by creating the insured’s right to separate/independent counsel? 

            12.  Failure to keep the insured informed of developments in defense of the case.

As a parting gift of Conference “swag,” the host firm gave each attendee a “Magic Eight-Ball” to use in answering the eternal question that adjusters ponder, “Is it covered?”  Shake the ball vigorously, and you get answers ranging from “Don’t Bet on It” to “Indications Say `Yes.'” (To make it truly realistic, answer options for future Eight-Balls might include other helpful advice adjusters receive from insurer coverage counsel such as, “It Depends,” or, “Need More Research.”)

At seven years old, the W&W “Claims College” has become a distinct brand.  (In fact, rumor has it that three SEC schools are trying to add easy “W’s” to their 2014 Fall football season by scheduling home games against the “Claims College.”)

If you get a chance to attend next year’s “Coverage College,” GO!

Who knows — you might win $25,000.  And if some lucky insurance person does roll the dice successfully for the prize, don’t feel sorry for the White and Williams firm for having to plunk over the money.

They bought insurance to cover that contingency. 

3 Ways to Curb “Info-Pollution” in the Claims Department!

A scarce resource in any claim operation — whether an insurer, TPA or self-insured setting — is the time and attention of the claim staff.  To harness this time and attention for maximum effectiveness and productivity, claim supervisors and management should create a work environment that fosters sustained attention.  This involves eliminating distractions and interruptions that can get in the way of adjusters investigating, evaluating and negotiating. 

Overload

Here are three tips:

·         #1.  Avoid REPLY ALL.  Be sparing in using the REPLY ALL button.  Does everyone really need to see the reply?  Is it just a CYA maneuver?  In some cases, adjusters who have slipped and have used the REPLY ALL key have experience embarrassment, humiliation or even termination.  It can also be a massive time waster. Think about it. Does everyone need to see your reply that says, “Thank you”? How about the reply that says, “I can’t cannot attend the scheduled meeting”? There are even software plug-ins that offices and companies can buy to force employees to policy forgetting reply all and inquires as to whether it’s really necessary for everyone to see the reply. Every minute spent by the claim staff reading unnecessary incoming e-mails is time siphoned from investigating and handling claims.

 ·        #2. Curb after-hours email.  Do you really need to send an email over the weekend or after hours?  This can create a false sense of urgency and create a climate where adjusters feel they are never fully away from the job.  (Some businesses have adopted rules designating no email on Fridays or on weekend.) 

 ·        #3.  Don’t carpet-bomb your claim staff.  Are you inundating your staff with FYI emails?  A friend worked for an insurer whose President sends 5-8 emails a day, articles pulled from various trade and business publication.  It’s not that these articles lack relevance; they all pertain to the market space of this specialty insurer (health care).  It’s just that the staff feels it would need to spend an hour or more a day keeping up with all these articles passed along.  In the meantime, there are accounts to underwrite and claims to handle.  Were they to actually read all the material, they would fall hopelessly behind in handling claims and underwriting submissions, and catch flak for that.  On the other hand, they have angst about the overlooking some important information nugget – or at least a nugget that the CEO views as important.  Or, they worry that the CEO may ask then about some item she passed along and be caught unawares, looking unprepared to the boss.  Both scenarios are stressful. 

Bosses who carpet-bomb their staff with emails, memo’s, voice mails and communiqués invite burnout, disaffection and operational sludge.  Information overload and data fatigue sets in.  Barraged by the President’s emails, the staff can either burn lots of time trying to keep up (this, on top of their own professional reading that they think is relevant) or delete most of these and feel guilty or angst over missing out on something that the boss thinks is important.  This is not to say that claim bosses should sit on their hands or be uncommunicative.  It means be selective in the frequency of your communication.  By all means, get the word out on issues vital to the claim department.  Be judicious.  Pick and choose your spots.  When you emphasize everything, you end up emphasizing nothing.

 Q:  What ways have YOU seen where information pollution has cluttered the claims operation and how have you seen it addressed?  Post here or email me at kevin@kevinquinley.com

Reframe Claim “Audits” for a More Constructive Approach!

In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, the latter tells her loverboy, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet ..”

Audit

            Words matter.  That is true not only in courtship, but in claim audits. 

            Like it or not, fair or unfair, the word “audit” has a punitive, pejorative connotation that is negative.  If you want to do an audit, tell the TPA or claim unit that you want to do a “claim review.”  Others call it a “statistical claim analysis.”  This sounds more benign and less adversarial than “audit.”  Careful word choice may help dissolve resistance and foster more  cooperation.  No one should care what you call it as long as you follow best practices.

            Sadly, the word audit evokes defensiveness and may trigger that reaction.

            When you go for an annual physical checkup, does your doctor say that he or she is conducting a “health audit”? No, but that’s basically what they’re doing.

            When you visit your dentist routinely, does he or she tell you that they are doing a “tooth/mouth audit”? No, even though you could say that’s exactly what it is when they lecture you for the 18th time on why you should floss six times a day.

            Word choice matters.

            With claim audits, tis’ probably better to give than to receive. 

            If you’re the one getting an audit, try to frame the exercise differently.

            If you are receiving an audit, try to view the exercise as an opportunity to improve claim operations. Get beyond the often pejorative connotation that the word audit has.

            No doubt, audits are about as welcome as an involuntary colonoscopy … often leaving you feel like you’ve been equally reamed out. They are a distraction and an occasional drag on productivity.

            Nevertheless, they are a necessary evil and maybe even not evil if you can reframe the exercise as one that can spotlight opportunities to improve your claims handling and claim operation.

            An improvement is one word that we all can agree that we like!

Question:  What ways have YOU found to make claim audits go smoother? 

 

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