Confessions of an insurance claims adjuster

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Do you ever wonder what being an insurance claims adjuster is like? Bankrate asked New York-based Scott Congiusti, assistant vice president of claims for HUB International insurance brokerage, to take us behind the scenes of a claims adjuster’s life.

While you may never need to do the job of an insurance claims adjuster, understanding how your claim is handled from an adjuster’s point of view could be useful. Knowing what a claims adjuster needs to handle your claim efficiently — like a detailed description or photographs of your damage, documentation of your out-of-pocket expenses and prompt responses to information requests — might help you to assist the adjuster in the handling of your claim.

Additionally, emotions tend to run high during the claims process and misunderstandings can happen. Having the knowledge of how insurance adjusters handle claims before you are in a stressful situation could help you to be better prepared should you need to file an insurance claim.

A lot in common with being a cop

I was working as a police officer in New Jersey when I fractured my back in an off-duty accident. During my recovery, I started looking at what I could do in the private sector and took a job with Allstate, handling automobile claims. It was a good mental fit because I like figuring things out and I function best under high stress. A mundane, sedentary job would drive me nuts. Strangely enough, a lot of insurance claim adjusters have a criminal justice degree; they just might not like shift work or carrying a gun.

Every day starts with the hotline

You come in every day and you have a list of automobile claims assigned to you from the insurer’s 24-hour hotline. If I was lucky, I’d have two or three, but it was usually more. Still, I had more information from the hotline than I did in law enforcement, where somebody would call and say, “There’s a fight in progress,” but you didn’t know what caused it or how many people were involved.

More on insurance:

Camera required, other gear optional

Absolutely the most important tool for a claim adjuster is a digital camera, cell phone or tablet to capture photos. You also need a lengthy tape measure and maybe a moisture meter to detect standing water behind walls or under floors. In a catastrophe, you need protective gear and a ladder in case you have to climb on a roof. And regardless of technology, I still carry a notepad, because depending on where you are, it’s not always practical to carry a $2,000 tablet around with you.

Adjuster styles differ by insurance types

There are definitely differences between working for a publicly traded, stock-held insurance company versus working for a mutual insurer where the policyholders own the company. Stock-owned companies are a little more black and white on procedures, because they are typically large and have thousands of adjusters in the field. With mutuals, the policyholder is also a shareholder, so they tend to be a little more flexible. I wouldn’t say one is better or worse than the other. They both get to the same place, just from slightly different angles.

Everybody needs their car claim done ‘now’

How are we perceived by the customer? Typically, you are the answer to their call for help. With an automobile claim, they might need a rental car or body-shop estimate, so it’s more immediate, whereas with someone’s home it is very, very personal — you are going to be in their house. But at the end of the day, you are seen in this positive light as the person who’s going to make their life good again.

The rarer the claim, the greater the appeal

The least frequent claims are probably the most interesting, just because they are different. But they are also the most disruptive to the policyholders, so they tend to be the most difficult. House fires, for example, are pretty rare — you don’t get a full house-burns-to-the-ground claim very often. They are very tragic, very personal. There’s a lot of emotion involved, so they are probably the most difficult to deal with on the homeowner side.

The one claim no adjuster can ever fix

On the auto side, absolutely the worst claims are fatalities. I’ve dealt with quite a few of those. There’s nothing you can say or do to make it better. I can pay them $10 million on a policy or buy them a new car or build them a new house, but it’s never going to replace the person who passed away. It’s never going to fix it, and you’re often left with this sense that you didn’t do enough, because you can’t.

Toughest part about being an adjuster?

The hardest part of my job? That’s easy: living on call. For the last eight years of my career, my cellphone has only been off when my two children were born and anytime I am on an airplane. Otherwise it’s either on silent or just on, period. My wife’s used to seeing my phone ring at 2 or 3 in the morning and me waking up and going to get my laptop. It seems to be a reoccurrence every single Christmas Eve.

By now, I am used to it; my family’s used to it. But for somebody coming from a typical 9-to-5 job, it can be very hard to adjust to. The trade-off for me is, I don’t work shifts anymore. Being awakened at 2 a.m for half an hour is so much better than working midnight to 8 a.m. and trying to sleep when everybody else is outside enjoying the sunshine.

Key takeaways

The claims process can be emotional, but adjusters are there to help you get back to normal. Understanding how an insurance claims adjuster handles your claim may help you feel more comfortable with the process. While every adjuster and claim is different, there are some things you may be able to do help your claims process go more smoothly:

  • Stay in touch with your adjuster: You may receive phone calls, voicemails, emails or letters in the mail from your adjuster. Responding to these promptly and providing the requested information may help your adjuster process your claim faster.
  • Ask questions: Insurance adjusters deal with numerous claims on a daily basis; they understand that you do not. If you are unsure of the process, ask your adjuster to explain, step-by-step, how your claim will be settled. Knowing what to expect could help take the stress out of the claims process.
  • Keep thorough records: Whether you have filed a home or auto claim, keep records of your damages, any out-of-pocket expenses that you have incurred and a list of questions that you may have. Keeping everything in one place might help you remember what you need to give to or ask of an insurance adjuster.

Claims adjusters are the superheroes of the insurance world. When you are at your worst, dealing with a frustrating, time-consuming and potentially devastating situation, adjusters are there to help you. Knowing how they work and what they need may help facilitate a level of teamwork between you and your adjuster that could help your claim be settled faster and more efficiently.

Written by
Cate Deventer
Insurance Writer & Editor
Cate Deventer is a writer, editor and insurance professional with nearly a decade of experience in the insurance industry as a licensed insurance agent.
Edited by
Insurance Editor
Reviewed by
Director of corporate communications, Insurance Information Institute