|Mr. James Ong
CEO of Sedgwick Asia
The ripple effects of the latest outbreaks and mutated variants of the virus are having a huge impact on global efforts to contain and eradicate the virus. In Asia, many countries including Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and India are facing their third and fourth waves of infections which in many ways are still more severe than the initial outbreaks in early 2020. Many countries have imposed more closures to contain the raging spread of the virus.
This pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we live, work and play, but how, specifically, is it affecting the world of loss adjustment?
Work at home
At the start of the first coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, adjusters, like their colleagues in the insurance industry, had no choice but to quickly adapt to working from home (WFH) and teleworking to ensure the business continuity. This was made necessary due to the various blockages imposed by governments across Asia. The WFH model had not been without challenges, but the loss adjustment industry proved to be resilient and moved quickly to adapt different models to meet the needs of their clients.
Eighteen months later, the WFH model evolved from its initial stage into a hybrid. Claims management companies are now firmly convinced that the WFH models will become a permanent feature of how the industry operates after the pandemic.
At Sedgwick, we firmly believe that a WFH hybrid model that enables our adjusters to provide the best service to our clients is the way to go. An office that combines “smart” functionality, socially distant and secure workspaces, coupled with WFH provisions is the future of loss adjustment.
The “smart” offices that have evolved have features that allow common and open “office” working options for those entering offices and these workspaces can be pre-booked through mobile smart apps. Smart office spaces enable safe social interactions with colleagues and clients that are often lacking in a pure WFH model. Claims adjusters therefore have the flexibility to come to the smart offices as and when required for work, meetings or social interactions in a safe environment. The evolution of this change has undoubtedly boosted productivity, contained office rental costs and provided a means of ensuring the continuity of the industry in the future. Traditional offices of the past quickly become irrelevant in the future.
Focusing on the actual experience of our own teams who participated in an arrangement with the WFH over the past 15 months, the first comments at the onset of the pandemic were that the WFH was disrupting both their own productivity as well as difficulty connecting and interacting with colleagues. Many found the change in the beginning to be a painful and cumbersome process. Some of the factors cited by our colleagues were the lack of adequate workspaces in their own homes, having family and children in the same environment, and issues with computer connectivity. Being separated from co-workers and not being able to chat or have lunch together and not being able to have personal interactions took a toll on many of our co-workers during the early stages of WFH.
More than a year later, the experience has changed for the majority of our teams. They settled into a WFH experiment that has become the new standard, not only for our industry, but across all sectors of the economy. The WFH suddenly felt natural watching their peers and colleagues in the insurance market as well as similar claimants. The advantages of a WFH hybrid model were obvious, less travel time to the office, the ease of use of videoconferencing / audio conferencing to connect with clients and requesters who were also no longer in their offices, and reporting from the comfort of their home have become the new normal. Interactions with colleagues have also improved; sometimes reinforced by the adaptation of various technologies and coupled with the possibility of meeting in a socially distanced framework occasionally at the office or elsewhere with the gradual relaxation of confinements and the relaxation of social rules and protocols.
The feedback from most of our teams is that they find themselves working harder than they were before the pandemic. This inevitably increased productivity and helped businesses survive the pandemic. Many adjusters have concluded that a WFH hybrid model is here to stay and has adapted well to it. It’s the silver lining behind the dark cloud of the pandemic.
Innovation and digitization
Currently, the level of innovation and digitization in the industry has shifted into high gear due to the fact that most international and regional borders continue to be closed, which has a direct impact on how experts claims traditionally deal with losses.
Many major and complex losses have occurred over the past 16 months, but site visits from the two traditional regional hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong have not been possible due to border closures and strict rules. lockdown, quarantine measures and COVID-19 testing protocols. We have noticed that many losses have been adjusted and finalized without any presence on the site. At Sedgwick, we have leveraged our network of well-connected offices across Asia. Claims adjusters in the country or region where the loss occurred stepped up and applied their skills to make site visits, where possible, and for larger and more complex claims, they often acted as a principal claims adjuster assisted by technical specialists based in Singapore.
This new way of working has proven to be well accepted by international insurers and reinsurers. The success of this collaboration is mainly due to the availability of digital tools, including remote digital video surveys and digital complaints management systems. The loss adjustment industry has innovated to survive and thrive during the pandemic.
The pandemic has also drawn a line between traditional claims settlement services and new emerging claims services. Many insurers are looking to adapt digital technologies to improve their own customer service offerings, take advantage of the technology, and manage claims handling costs. Many insurers are looking for adjusters to partner with them in the digital space to deliver fully digital end-to-end claims solutions. The pandemic has certainly accelerated this process.
Role of specialists – forensic accounting
Given the exposure of the insurance industry to losses from COVID-19 in light of UK Financial Services Authority court cases, adjusters with teams of forensic experts have seen a sharp increase in need their skills.
Forensic accounting expertise is particularly relevant for the investigation and quantification of business interruption losses related to COVID-19. The forensic accounting team within a claims management organization also plays an important role in the resolution of major and complex claims. Their skill set not only involves quantifying business interruption losses, but extends to quantifying complex financial losses, inventory losses, and a range of complex fiduciary losses.
Before the pandemic, our colleagues in the Forensic Accounting Services division were able to go to loss locations and personally meet and interact with intermediaries and claimants, but the pandemic made that impossible. Through the adaptation of new technologies, video conferencing, remote digital video surveys and digital collaboration tools, our team has been able to add value to major and complex losses by working in unison with our national network and our specialist in major and complex claims. After the pandemic, it looks like this model would work well and has been accepted by many large insurers and reinsurers.
Looking forward to
No one knows or can predict when the pandemic will eventually end and allow us to resume our normal activities. Many experts predict that international travel will not return to normal until the end of 2022. There is a silver lining with the COVID-19 vaccines now given to millions of people around the world.
One thing is certain, however. The loss adjustment industry has changed and those changes are here to stay: WFH hybrid models will be a permanent feature of our operations now and into the future. Everything digital in loss adjustment, such as digital claims management, remote digital site visits, digital video conferencing, is today’s technology. The technology of the future is evolving rapidly. Sedgwick is already showcasing some of them in our digital offerings such as automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, big data analytics, image recognition and processing, and end-to-end claims solutions.
Insurance adjusters who are innovative and apply these future digital claims technologies are moving to the next level and will thrive in the post-pandemic world.
James Ong, Managing Director – Asia
EMAIL [email protected]