Filed Under:Claims, Catastrophe & Restoration

4 ways to leverage aerial data for property claims handling

Claims from severe weather such as hailstorms are increasing in frequency and severity, and insurers are taking measures to alleviate the challenges of processing those claims. Aerial data is a key tool that can help insurers reduce inspection times, fight fraud and improve catastrophe response.

A study from Verisk Insurance Solutions – Underwriting, titled "Property Hail Claims in the United States: 2000–2013," reveals U.S. insurers handled nearly 9 million hail loss claims valued at more than $54 billion between 2000-2013. About 70% of claims occurred in the final six years of the 14-year study, and the average cost per claim during those six years was 65% higher.

The increasing size and complexity of claims often lead to rising claims-handling costs and longer closing times. Aerial data is helping insurers achieve the seemingly conflicting goals of compiling detailed claim files while processing those claims quickly and effectively.

Aerial Technology: From a Hot-Air Balloon to Roof Dimensions
For centuries, people have taken to the skies to gain valuable perspective from a bird’s-eye view. Aerial photography started in 1858 when Gaspard-Félix Tournachon captured the first aerial photo from a hot-air balloon. Since then, aerial imagery has become a staple of cartographers and land surveyors because it helps yield precise maps in a short amount of time.

The insurance industry was a frontrunner in its use of aerial imagery for underwriting and catastrophe analysis. Eventually, some insurers began to use it to handle individual claims. In recent years, many insurers have worked with third-party vendors that use commercial aerial imagery to dimension roofs. It was a bold first step, resulting in greater efficiencies than traditional roof-dimensioning methods.

Insurance-specific Data
As insurers began to use aerial data extensively, demand rose to capture more detailed imagery and data about structures and neighborhoods. Computer scientists and geospatial technology and data specialists began to collaborate on new ways to capture and analyze increasingly detailed building information. Underwriters can get specific information about a structure’s size, roof material, decks, wall finishes, trampolines, swimming pools and much more. Claims estimators can arrive on-site with dimensions and information about roof materials and finishes, which can help them compile estimates in a fraction of the time it takes from scratch. Soon, insurers will be able to map policyholders in a storm’s path, set reserves, dispatch staff and send dimensions and building data with claim assignments.

Multipurpose Technology
Aerial data benefits insurers and policyholders in several ways. High on that list is its potential to save lives, quicken inspections, fight fraud and provide faster policyholder service.

1. Lifesaving tool. The ladder is a perpetual source of concern for claims managers and insurance executives. Climbing ladders and roofs is inherently dangerous in the best of conditions. Loss sites may have structural integrity issues, rain, snow, dogs, power lines and many other hazards.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics attributes falls from higher levels, usually off ladders, as the cause for 544 fatalities in 2012, the most recent year reported. Thousands more suffer injuries from similar falls. Insurers are constantly searching for ways to minimize those dangers.

Aerial data technology doesn’t eliminate the need to examine damage and assess needed repairs, but it reduces the amount of time spent off the ground. For example, with dimensions and material identification in hand, an estimator can inspect a steep roof system without climbing from the ladder to the roof—a major cause of accidents. The view from the ladder shows the extent of damage and provides a vantage point for photos.

2. Loss site visit. Getting comprehensive aerial data immediately after the first notice of loss quickens loss site inspections. Before arriving on-site, estimators receive a digital diagram of the exterior, including roof dimensions and slopes, information about roof and exterior finishes, and a set of high-resolution aerial images.

This property data can seamlessly integrate with an adjuster’s claims-estimating system. Dimensions appear in the estimating system as roof and house plans, noting all exterior dimensions, materials and finishes.

3. Combating insurance fraud. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that about 10% of property/casualty claims are fraudulent. So, as the number of claims from severe weather rises, insurers need efficient ways to identify suspicious claims.

Documentation that shows a structure before it was damaged—such as aerial data that includes up-to-date high-resolution images—is an effective means to fight fraud. In the event of a total loss, a significant level of detail about the footprint, dimensions, and characteristics of the house makes estimating replacement faster and reduces the potential for disputes.

4. Premier catastrophe response. Between July 7 and July 9, 2014, a massive storm system swept from the Rockies to the northeast United States, causing more than 45,000 claims and approximately $350 million in damages.

Aerial data that included roof and exterior plans led to significantly shorter loss inspection times. Adjusters could handle more claims while providing faster service. Many adjusters reported high policyholder satisfaction.

Claims professionals were able to start the claims process before site visits, which was particularly helpful when access was restricted in hard-hit areas. In the aftermath of catastrophes, adjusters can immediately use aerial data to generate roof and exterior plans and even produce a preliminary estimate based on the materials and expected scope of loss. Once the adjuster inspects the loss, that estimate can be quickly amended to match actual damages.

Insurance carriers are meeting the challenges of increasingly severe and more common storms by using aerial imagery to reassess risk and efficiently handle claims. With aerial data and analysis, they can quicken loss inspections, stymie fraudulent claims and provide better policyholder service. Future aerial data technology advances will help insurers meet the ongoing challenges of providing premier claims handling.

Jeffrey C. Taylor is vice president of Xactware’s Property InSight group. Xactware is a Verisk Analytics business.

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