As I was sitting through a fascinating discussion being facilitated by “Practical Futurist” Michael Rogers, I couldn’t help but reflect on how things have changed when it comes to insurance claims. When I began my claims career in 1989, the first George Bush was president and Pontiac still made cars. I know, because my first company car was a Sunbird. In fact, many adjusters had company cars because our job was done in the streets, miles from the types of service centers that handle the majority of claims today.  

The tools of the trade were simple; a Polaroid camera, a Dictaphone, a calculator and estimating sheets. We had no computers or cell phones. If you wanted to make a call, you dropped a quarter into a pay phone and hoped someone on the other end would pick up. All of our “Adjuster Notes” were handwritten. Changing reserves meant filling out a form in triplicate and waiting a few days for processing. There were no iPhones, iPads or iAnythings for that matter. I think it was the early 90’s when I got my first mobile phone, which was roughly the size of a cooler you’d take to the beach on a warm summer day—and it weighed just as much.   

But despite this lack of technology, we somehow managed to adjust claims. In many respects, the outcomes were often better than today. The learning curve was quick, especially on the streets of South-Central L.A., which was my first territory. Fraud was rampant, gangs were prevalent and there was no shortage of corrupt body shops, attorneys and medical clinics. In the early 90’s, it was estimated by the Los Angeles District Attorney that roughly half of all claims in L.A. County were fraudulent.

As the years passed, technology began to evolve. In the early 1990’s, the first desktops made their way onto adjusters desks. Netscape was founded and became the dominant web browser. The cellphones became smaller and the workloads became larger. Small, localized claims offices became mega claim centers. Adjusting as a skilled trade became more of a processing role.   

As the 90’s faded into the millennium, the first HDTV’s found their way to our homes, laptops became the tool of choice while flip phones became Blackberry’s. While these were cool gadgets for the time, they also rendered users accessible 24/7. Work days became longer, vacations shorter and usually involved addressing those critical e-mails that the boss found necessary to send to your villa on the French Riviera.   

One recurring question that I often field is whether claims organizations are effectively leveraging all of these changes. Certainly we have gotten to a point where we can do more with less, but quite often we aren’t doing everything within our power to maximize outcomes.  

From a business and product side, there are some really impressive forward thinking steps that have happened. Apps to report losses, calculate liability and estimate damages have given the customer a new degree of empowerment. This is only going to gather momentum and will ultimately creep into the world of claims adjusting.   

Despite all of the gains, many claims organizations remain hamstrung by inconsistent handling and outcomes. So why is it that with all of the technology at our fingertips, our investigative abilities are often lagging behind where they were a generation ago? 

Herein lies the quandary of the present day. Perhaps understanding where we are headed directionally will provide us with some key answers. So let’s take a minute to think about what things will look like 10 years from now, in the year 2024. 

To bring things into perspective, let’s reflect on where we were 10 years ago to see how far things have advanced. Roughly this many years ago we saw the iPhone introduced, Facebook became a household name and 32-inch plasma televisions cost several thousand dollars.   Today, Facebook has over a billion users, more than 6 billion hours of YouTube video is watched each month, more people have iPhones than do not and 32-inch plasma televisions cost $189 dollars at your local Wal-Mart. As fast as technology is evolving, many believe that we have reached critical mass with little room to expand. I would beg to differ.  

In 10 years we will have self-driving cars, and yes, those cars will still run into one another. This will create a brand new field of litigation, as determining cause will be far more complex than pointing a finger at a negligent driver like we do today. 

For those of us who grew up watching the Jetsons, flying cars may very well be part of our vernacular, too! Boston based Terrafugia has recently announced that they have started working on the TF-X, a four seat, plug in hybrid electric car that can do vertical take offs and landings.  

Filing claims will be as simple as an app on a future generation iPhone. There will be no keyboard as those phones will be way too small for that functionality. Rather, all instructions will be vocalized, or perhaps even parsed from our thoughts. We may don a pair of Google glasses and share the accident scene virtually with First Notice of Loss. There will be an app to guide insureds through the estimating process and funds will be electronically placed into accounts.   

Will there be fraud? Of course. Where there is insurance, fraudsters will always lurk. It is far too lucrative an industry to go away, especially when one considers that there is virtually no risk of punishment for this white collar crime. But, beware! Adjusters and insured’s will have new tools too. Chances are that if someone steals from you, the chip in what was stolen will instantly identify its location. In fact, you will have a virtual inventory of every possession and know its location at all times. Homes will be equipped with not only remote capabilities, but will often have 24/7 video surveillance, theft and fire deterrents.   

As far as injury claims, there will be vastly more shared data than is available today. As the government gets more involved in health care, we will see massive federal repositories that capture data on not only medical data, but, as Orwellian as it sounds, also substantial lifestyle data that will provide predictors of longevity and likelihood of future treatment. The prior claims that we struggle to identify today will be available via a federal repository of data. Of course, there will be a significant increase in litigation as it pertains to privacy and private health information. Think of HIPAA on steroids.  

There will be attempts to fully automate the claims process, which will see some success in the world of fast track claims, but will struggle in the world of complex claims. New technology will share with us the probability of injuries based upon accident scenario and g-forces, yet we will struggle as claimants will always be unique. Predictive modeling will evolve to a platform by which risk and link analysis begins with underwriting and continues throughout the entire claims process.   

A key opportunity will be available to those who can provide key skills to new adjusters. As the older generation, who used to be the feet on the street, retire, they will continue to be replaced with more claims processing roles. Ultimately this will have a detrimental impact on leadership who will likely have keep business acumen, but not the technical knowledge of yesteryear.  Productivity will continue to rise, and insurers who want to maintain a competitive advantage will leverage proven technologies, such as future generations of ClaimIQ, Decision Point, Smart Advisor and applications not yet even created!   

It is amazing to think of where we will be, especially given where we have come from. While I am getting older, it really doesn’t seem like that long ago when polaroid’s, pocket rods and Dictaphones were our tools of the trade. It is exciting to see where things are going, but one thing that will not change is the need for claims organizations to focus on the fundamentals of basic claims execution. Even with the most advanced and robust technology in the world, there will still be basic issues that need addressed, such as comparative negligence, subrogation, salvage, medical bill review, estimatics and injury evaluations.   

In Re-Adjusted: 20 Essential Rules To Take Your Claims Organization From Ordinary To Extraordinary, a key characteristic of successful claims organizations is having an insatiable curiosity. This is something that can’t be created in the virtual world and can’t be developed as a software application. This is the human element of claims, one that was alive 25 years ago and will be alive 25 years from now. It is what makes us a unique industry. Whether it is an adjuster trying to figure out how that house burned down or an executive trying to figure out how to improve adjuster negotiation skills, our success comes from asking questions. The more we ask, the more successful we will become. So I ask you, where will we be in the year 2024 as both individuals and as an industry. As always, I love getting feedback so please e-mail your responses or start a discussion on the LinkedIn Re-Adjusted: Taking your claims organization from ordinary to extraordinary group page.