Successful insurance adjusters must have a clear understanding of the construction techniques, materials and labor practices in their markets. Since residential and commercial buildings are constructed differently in Florida, New England, the Southwest, and other parts of the country, an insurance adjuster needs to be up to speed on local building codes and conditions.
Today’s insurance adjusters must also be able to use sophisticated software applications to manage the insurance claims process, and one platform may be very different from another. Perhaps most importantly for long-term success, insurance adjusters should continually develop their sales and negotiation skills when dealing with insureds in order to achieve best results.
Finally, this is a field with many moving parts. Construction material prices, local codes, and technology are some of the elements that are constantly changing, making continuing education a priority for everyone in our field.
To provide a real-world example of the importance of professional education and training, I asked August Forte, one of our insurance claims adjusters, to talk about his different types of learning experiences with GlobalPro for this article. His comments illustrate these key themes.
One of the most valuable ways for insurance adjusters to improve their knowledge and skill is to obtain firsthand construction experience. It provides an opportunity to learn about everything from the foundation on up to the roof. One of the most important takeaways is understanding how to scheduling each stage of a job, which is essential for estimating how long it will take from immediate mitigation to completion, so insurance coverages can be estimated properly.
That experience also provides insights into actual construction costs rather than the figures in cost database. While the numbers in the computer may be updated monthly or quarterly, things happen to shift pricing quickly, and working on a job site is one of the best ways to see how that happens.
Finally, watching someone put a structure together – and perhaps lending a hand yourself – makes it much easier to visualize how the rebuilding process will take place after a loss. It also helps to ensure that all the necessary steps in the process are included. For example, a claims application might include a box to check off for painting a door, but not for removing the door – a necessary step in order to complete the painting of the hinge-side and bottom of the door.
Here’s how Forte describes his construction learning process. “When I first became a licensed public adjuster, I realized that having experience in construction is essential, whether you’re an advocate for the policyholder or the carrier. I thought I was going to either have to go back to school and take some class, or get a part-time job. Then, I was given an opportunity to be a project manager of a construction job with our sister company, MaxPro Builders. Although I was entering uncharted waters, I was up for the challenge.”
Forte says that before this construction job started, he had heard about many issues homeowners had experienced with other construction projects. “Since I had not experienced it myself, I didn’t know what to expect,” he adds. “Now that I have had firsthand experience with similar situations, I have started to see that all of those stories I heard were true.”
Being a project manager has helped Forte to understand the problems that arise on a day-to-day basis. “Although an issue may have been minor, even just the smallest problems would add up to more expenses and more delays,” he says. “While we did our best to keep control of everyday situations and supervise the job, the issues that arose were things we were unable to predict or prevent. On the construction site, I was able to build my personal skills and learned several new things a day. Some days were enjoyable, others no so much. Since I am used to working well under pressure, I tried my best to be more proactive than reactive.”
Forte says that running into unexpected and unavoidable problems, was actually a good thing for him. He adds, “It gave me the opportunity to learn from them and determine the best possible resolution for the client and our companies. I was able to take what I learned in this construction job, and instantly apply it to handling claims. I immediately started to see a difference and was able to settle claims with more success and ease.”
Throughout the job process, Forte interacted and communicated with all different subcontractors from electricians to plumbers to architects. “This was extremely beneficial, considering I write repair estimates on a daily basis and our entire estimates are broken down into the same trades I dealt with on the job site,” he says. “I believe that having experience in construction helps not only to settle claims more successfully, but also helps when meeting potential clients.”
In Florida, professionals seeking to become public adjusters must complete a mandatory apprenticeship program. Basically, candidates must shadow a public adjuster for a year and complete a series of tests to demonstrate their knowledge of the field.
This process allows insurance adjusters – regardless of their individual career aspirations – to become more expert in fields such as construction, and perhaps qualify for additional licensing as contractors. In any case, completing an apprenticeship program adds to an insurance adjusters credentials and credibility when quantifying damages or negotiating with insureds. Again, there is simply no substitute for hands-on experience in the field outside a classroom setting.
As Forte says, “Having the proper experience and knowledge goes along away. It makes it a lot easier to handling their claims so that the insured is fairly compensated. When dealing other qualified insurance adjusters from the insurance company, having the know-how and understanding of how construction works is imperative. The saying, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove,’ is only half right in my opinion. In this industry, ‘It’s what you know AND what you can prove,’ and that only comes with thorough training along the way.”
Every insurance adjuster needs sales and communication skills in order to close new business, and achieve a settlement. Being able to listen carefully and understand the other’s point of view is an essential part of the negotiation process. Of course, insurance adjusters also need to be able to explain the facts of the situation to an insured, set their expectations at a realistic level, and present their own positions in clear and easily understood manner.
As a successful insurance adjuster, Forte recognizes the importance of communication skills. “I used to be a manager and shift leader in the restaurant business where I would oversee over a dozen employees,” he says. “As a project manager of the construction job, I was responsible for making sure all of the sub-contractors did their jobs properly and in a timely manner. I made sure to do so in a way as to not empower them or make them feel below me. Part of my role was to hold others accountable for their end results. I had to communicate daily and periodically to ensure that everything that was supposed to be done was, and that everyone was on the same page.”
Forte also knows that “having a good sales pitch” is essential when signing up new clients. “GlobalPro has a good name and a good reputation, but that doesn’t mean clients are going to come knocking at our door,” he adds. “Most of my sales pitch is based on knowledge that I have obtained both professionally and personally. This is something that makes me stand out from other insurance adjusters who try to use the power of persuasion to get clients to hire their firm.”
Software Training and Support for Insurance Adjusters
Adjusters rely on software applications from companies like Xactimate and Simsol for database management and claims processing. At GlobalPro, our team also uses VisualsXpress, our company’s proprietary solution for helping our insurance adjusters better manage the process and a tool to better communicate with our clients by providing them access to up to date information.
Regardless of software platform, insurance adjusters must develop the skills necessary to use this powerful software effectively. They also need hand-on practice in entering data, calling up information and tracking the process of a claim.
“I have noticed that a lot of adjusters have inadequate software skills,” says Forte. “At GlobalPro, I went through an extensive training period, like our other insurance adjusters. Learning the VisualsXpress platform as well as various estimating software applications in depth before I went into the field was very helpful to me in handling our clients’ claims.”
Finally, insurance adjusters need continuing education in order to stay at the forefront of our profession. From construction practices to market conditions to software updates, there is always something new to learn. The same is true with sales and communication skills, which can always use polishing and improvement.
To help our insurance adjusters keep learning, we bring subcontractors into the office to teach classes on topics like drywall installation and removal, mitigation of water damage, and assessing the condition of a roof after a damaging windstorm.