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Confessions of an insurance claims adjuster

Insurance adjuster looking at damaged car
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When you file an insurance claim, you put your trust in a claims adjuster to help you get back to normal. But have you ever wondered what the experience is like from the other side? 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.

Understanding the process that an adjuster goes through to settle your claim could help you be more prepared for your own loss experience. You may be better able to provide an adjuster with the information and documentation needed to help move your case along. The insights shared by Congiusti might even help you head off misunderstandings before they happen.

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.

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Key takeaways
Having to file a claim is never fun, but understanding how adjusters approach your loss can help you manage your expectations of the process. Every claim is unique, but there are some steps you can take to help make the process as efficient as possible:
  • Stay in touch: Adjusters often handle several claims at once. If you get a phone call, voicemail, email or mailed letter from your adjuster, responding promptly can help your claim move faster.
  • Ask questions: If you are unsure of something, always ask questions. Adjusters are generally ready and willing to answer your questions so that you feel comfortable with your claim and informed along the way.
  • Keep records: Having receipts, photographs, quotes from contractors and other important paperwork handy to send to your adjuster can make things easier on everyone.

Adjusters know that dealing with damage is stressful, and it is their primary responsibility and goal to help you get back to normal. Staying in contact with your adjuster, asking questions and keeping detailed records could help you move through the claims process as quickly and smoothly as possible. Being patient and kind can go a long ways towards making the process easier for you and the adjuster assigned to your claim as well, especially in the event of a large scale loss.

Frequently asked questions

Do I get to choose my claims adjuster?

It depends on how you approach your loss situation. Once you file a claim with your insurance company, a company adjuster will typically be assigned to your case. You may be able to request a second opinion from another adjuster or a manager, if you’d like. However, you could choose who to work with if you opt to hire your own adjuster. Often called public adjusters, these claims handlers work on behalf of policyholders (rather than being employed by insurance companies) to help you settle your claim. Depending on the insurance company and circumstances surrounding your loss (such as widespread hurricane damage), your adjuster may change as the company has to deal with multiple losses.

What is the difference between public claims adjusters and independent claims adjusters?

There are three primary types of claims adjusters: company adjusters, public adjusters and independent adjusters. Company adjusters are employees of an insurance company and work on behalf of the company to settle your loss. Public adjusters are not affiliated with a company, and instead are licensed to work independently on behalf of a policyholder. An independent insurance adjuster falls somewhere in between. Like a company adjuster, an independent adjuster works for an insurance company. However, these adjusters work on a contracted or as-needed basis. For example, if a catastrophic storm hits and an insurance company needs more adjusters than it has employed, it might hire independent adjusters to fill the need.

Written by
Cate Deventer
Insurance Writer & Editor
Cate Deventer is a writer, editor and insurance professional with over 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