Making a responsible decision to become an insurance adjuster, particularly an independent insurance adjuster, means knowing what equipment, gear, or “stuff” an adjuster should have in the field. Because independent insurance adjusters operate as independent contractors, they are frequently required to supply their own adjusting equipment. In general, there are 8 things that every independent adjuster should plan to have in the field. These items are not merely luxuries, but more like necessities, without which the job becomes difficult if not altogether impossible.
In Part I of this article, we will look at the first four:
Must-Have #1: A Vehicle.
This is a bit of a no-brainer. The real question is what kind of vehicle an independent adjuster should drive. Some folks are under the impression that a claim cannot be properly handled unless you first arrive in an F-350 Turbo Diesel Dually. Certainly there are benefits to having a powerful truck in the field but in this author’s opinion the better vehicle alternative is probably a smaller gas-efficient car. With foldable and telescoping ladders available everywhere, you can stow your ladder away neatly in any average-size sedan or coupe’s trunk. Independent adjusters might drive a hundred or more miles daily so the issue of fuel economy should not be taken lightly. Further, negotiating your way through a heavily-trafficked street in Miami or New Orleans is far easier in a nimble Accord than in a blocky Hummer. And finally, in some areas, adjusters may just as soon not draw attention to themselves. Pulling into a high crime neighborhood in a $50,000 automobile wouldn’t make me feel altogether easy. For my money, I’d prefer to just pass under the radar in an ’01 Camry. Obviously the question is finally resolved by what kind of vehicle you are comfortable with. But keep in mind that the job can be done just as efficiently in a small coupe as a full-sized pickup.
Must-Have #2: Navigation Device
A good GPS system might be the single best investment an independent adjuster can make. Independent adjusters, especially when working catastrophic claims, might scope four to six properties in a day. These properties may be spread out over a surprisingly wide geographical area. Using a traditional paper map is laughable when compared to the amazing speed and accuracy of a dash mounted GPS system. In fact, I would estimate a GPS system saves an adjuster at least of an hour a day in missed turns and forced stops to consult the Rand McNally. Project this over a month and you have a good 30 hours, or over an entire day, of time saved. That’s an extra four or five claims closed per month. In some cases I would estimate that a GPS system can increase an adjuster’s efficiency by as many as 10 claims per month. Cat adjusters are paid per claim, so that’s an extra $2,000 to $5,000 in pocket per month. And finally, the frustration alone that a GPS prevents is worth the price tag.
A dash mounted GPS is a good option. Most models have more features than you will ever use so keep it basic and don’t bother with anything over $700. A far lower priced option and one that is still absolutely packed with features is a program like Microsoft Streets and Trips. This $100 program is meant to be installed on your laptop and comes with a GPS device that connects to your computer via a standard USB plug-in. Streets and Trips allows you to take 10 destinations, find your current location, and calculate the quickest way to visit all 10. This is an excellent feature when planning your day’s claim route.
Must-Have #3: Laptop Computer
The days of hand-writing claims are essentially over. Electronic preparation and delivery of estimates is now standard and a laptop computer is the technology for the task. Xactimate and MSB IntegriClaim are the most commonly employed estimating programs and have minimum system requirements. Count on having a laptop with at least a 1 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 1.5 Gig of free hard drive space available, and a monitor resolution of 1024X768 or higher. With that in mind, don’t let unconscientious salesmen or websites push heavy graphic packages or upgraded sound cards if you are buying a new laptop. You want to write estimates with this computer – not play Halo on a network in a college dorm.
Some adjusters have recently begun using tablet laptops (laptops with touch screens that swivel and fold down on themselves). In theory an adjuster could take such a laptop on a residential or commercial claim, hold it like a clipboard, and write the majority off the estimate in electronic form at the property. As usual, however, the technology for tablets is slightly behind the conceptual and promotional curve. I’d recommend waiting a few more years for the workability of the technology to catch up with the concept (which is a good one).
Must-Have #4: A Good Ladder
Roof damage due to hail and high winds results in tens of thousands of claims yearly and property adjusters should be prepared to spend some time on roofs. A good ladder is your connection to the roof. Most accidents befalling claims adjusters involve ladders and the interchange between ladder and roof. Having a stable ladder should help give an adjuster peace of mind.
There are three types of ladders in common usage. Foldable ladders are an excellent option for adjusters. They come in a variety of models all of which will generally break down to around 5ft in their folded state. This is small enough to fit into virtually any trunk unless your adjusting vehicle of choice is a Miata. Wood models are even becoming available in fold-up form and are a better option than aluminum when working in areas where encounters with power lines may be of concern. Another highly compact ladder is the telescoping ladder. Telescoping ladders are generally the most compact ladder on the market today. The primary drawback, and it is a big one, is that a step will occasionally disappear when sufficient weight or the wrong directional force sends a rung of the ladder zipping into the one below it. This can have disastrous results. If you are going for compact, I’d recommend the foldable variety. Traditional ladders are generally quite stable and secure but can’t match the versatility of the foldable ladder.
Must-Have #5: Digital Camera
A claims adjuster must represent as accurately as possible the damages or lack thereof to the claimant’s property – literally painting a picture whereby file reviewers can asses the situation remotely. Sketching and watercolors aside, you need a camera and if you want to close claims quickly it had better be digital. Some claims with multiple types of damages can require hundreds of photos and scanning in that kind of number manually would be a nightmare. Digital cameras are quick, efficient, and built for the electronic estimate delivery. Don’t bother with an SLR or, for that matter, anything costing you more than $300. You want something smallish, somewhat light, and preferably having a good return policy. In the process of doing a scope, particularly while scaling ladders and maneuvering about roofs, it is extremely easy to drop your camera – sometimes several stories down. A good return policy ensures that your purchase is safe. Regarding mega-pixels – anything above 7 or 8 mega-pixels is probably overkill. Do remember that digital cameras require an inordinate amount of batteries so be sure to always have at least three spare sets before going out to scope claims.
Must-Have #6: Measuring Devices
There are two broad initial determinations made when assessing property damage: what is damaged and how much? Measuring devices tell you how much. A simple 25ft Tape Measure is your first tool. From there you should at least consider expanding your tool-kit to a laser tape measure. Imagine you are scoping a residence with interior damage to multiple rooms. The first room is quite large and filled with heavy clutter. Instead of trying to thread 18ft of tape out of your FatMax through sofa and electronic equipment in one direction and then another 22ft across a bar-set in the other direction, you simply click once in each direction and Presto!, you have your measurements. If you are measuring 5 or more rooms in one house you will probably shave 15 minutes off your scoping time. Over the course of a month, this time saved will result in more claims closed. Now some folks don’t trust the accuracy of the laser measurer and, in fact, some insurance carriers will not allow their adjusters to use them. From my experience they work exceptionally well but do check with your claims manager before parading your new Disto around the office. A rolling measure can also come in handy, especially for roofs where a traditional 25ft tape measure will seldom be sufficient to measure every length of the roof. Again, in some instances, the use of rolling measures is not allowed, so do check with your claims manager.
Must-Have #7: Tool-belt
In addition to your digital camera and various measuring devices, there are a few other items that are indispensable to a claims adjuster. This invites the logical question of “Where do I put all this stuff?”. The answer is a tool-belt. Standard contractor toolbelts will do but pale in comparison to the variety that are custom built for claims adjusters. Custom adjuster tool-belts are specifically engineered to carry the necessary tools of an adjuster. Imagine climbing your ladder with both hands while securely carrying with you a digital camera, tape measure, wheel measure, clipboard, chalk, pitch gauge, and shingle gauge. Standard tool-belts may or may not be able to do this but certainly cannot do so as securely and intelligently as custom made belts. Stay organized and stay safe with a good adjuster tool-belt.
Must-Have #8: The Adjuster Dress-Code
Adjusters are almost always expected to observe a dress code. The particular code may vary from company to company but in general you should expect to wear a sharp polo and khakis. Jeans won’t cut it and tee-shirts, unless distributed to you specifically for wear in the field, are too informal. You want a professional and competent appearance. Adjuster footwear is another consideration. As you will be spending time on roofs, think about obtaining shoes that have strong traction. Leave the penny loafers at home or you risk skating off a steeply pitched roof. Specially crafted boots called Cougar Paws, with felt-like material adhered to the bottoms, were developed with roof walking in mind. In any case, remember that an independent adjuster spends a good deal of time on his or her feet and comfort and traction are the name of the game.
Having the right gear is critical for an independent insurance adjuster because it allows them to not merely do their job but do it with maximum efficiency. And an efficient claims handler is an adjuster who will never go hungry.