How is the present economic downturn impacting the insurance industry? Will the available technologies and the pool of talented professionals enable insurers to thrive? Is outsourcing really a wise way to augment capabilities? These are merely a few of the questions posed at the roundtable discussion that took place on the third and final day of the 2008 ACE America’s Claims Event. Top claims executives assembled to explore current trends and offer insights about customer service, combating fraud, and enhancing overall claim processing, among other things. Jim Mullarney, product strategy director of Oracle Financial Services Global Business Unit, moderated the event. Comprising the panel were Rod Rupp, senior VP of claims at Auto-Owners Insurance Group; Mike Scholl, associate VP of claims at Nationwide; and Jill Rasmussen, assistant director of corporate web development at Amica Mutual Insurance Company.

Mr. Mullarney served up fraud as the first topic du jour, asking panelists to respond to the perception that fraud is running rampant as more households struggle to make ends meet. First to respond was Mr. Scholl, who acknowledged that although the slump could lead to a higher incidence of fraud, he had not seen evidence of a surge as of yet. Mr. Rupp said that he had been privy to little more than anecdotal evidence that this was indeed the case, but that industry professionals are attuned to what is going on and to investigating all possibilities of fraud. Ms. Rasmussen added that she has noticed an increase in fire-related claims, and that Amica is looking to systems that could highlight potential red flags, especially pertaining to auto theft and fire.

During the roundtable, the commentary related to the slumping economy, including the rising unemployment rate–reportedly at 5.5 percent–and absurdly high gas prices was also tinged with some optimism. For instance, Mr. Scholl pointed out that there is an upside to policyholders rethinking their travel plans and daily routines.

“The upside is lower mileage,” he said. “There is a lower frequency of claims because fewer miles are being driven. A California cop told me that he had been handing out fewer speeding tickets recently because drivers seem to be driving slower, as they are perhaps more aware of the impact their habits have on fuel economy.”

Technology as a means to increase the accuracy and overall efficiency of claim processing was also a central topic. When asked to comment as to whether investing in technological improvements could ostensibly take a backseat during the current economic climate, all of the panelists concurred that cutbacks in IT spending would be unlikely.

“Although we may rethink spending in other areas, we look at the technologies available to get us through these tough times,” Mr. Scholl said.

“Technology is a fundamental asset of a business, just as employees are,” Ms. Rasmussen added. “It gives an organization more flexibility moving forward.”

Various other topics warranted discussion and examination, including the degree to which claim processing should be automated; rule engines; investing in human potential and promoting talent from within companies; and the staffing implications of the anticipated exodus of baby boomers who are approaching retirement.