“Insurance is a socialist scheme,” the driver muttered, spitting out the word scheme while glancing to me in the passenger seat. “It’s just taking one person’s risk and spreading it across the rest of us.” The man was a close friend, but also a prosecutor for our county, so I was shocked at his perspective since his job necessitated a basic grasp of how insurance worked. During the drive the conversation had somehow landed upon auto insurance, most likely due to the excessive speed he seemed to enjoy, redlining his minivan as if it were an Italian sports car. That day was eight years ago, but I still hold its profound realization: The insurance industry is misunderstood, even among those well informed.
At its foundation, insurance is no different today than when it began, a community banding together to help each other in a time of crisis. Many credit the industry’s origin to ship owners in the 14th century, while others stretch its roots all the way back to Chinese traders in the 3rd millennia BC. But no matter where it started, it is still a group of individuals who each contribute their share to help other members when a claim occurs.
That earlier conversation with our county prosecutor stands in stark contrast to a recent one I enjoyed with Susan Delfert, a former independent insurance adjuster now turned claims agent for Bankers Insurance. Susan, an eleven-year field veteran, worked disasters all over the U.S.
Q: What does a claims adjuster do?
A: I was an independent claims adjuster, which means I worked for many insurance companies. Most companies have their own adjusters for day-to-day claims, but when they need extra help or when large events occur, they call in independent adjusters. Thus, I was sent wherever they needed help, which meant visits to Florida after hurricane Irma or Sonoma County in California for the Kincade Fire.
Q: Describe what happens after a catastrophic event like those you just mentioned.
A: Initially, the area is flooded with people as emergency action plans are put in place by local, state, and federal teams. The Red Cross arrives and helps with immediate needs, along with FEMA. Other organizations come onto the scene, providing temporary shelter, medical help, or basic necessities. You may spot the DMV with a tent right next to Samaritan’s Purse. The National Guard is often mobilized to ensure order and discourage looting. Earth movers clear debris and linemen from across the U.S. begin to rebuild infrastructure. Insurance companies send in adjusters to locate and contact residents and begin the claim process. That’s where I came in.
Q: How does an adjuster work among everything else going on?
A: Not easily. Many clients are already overwhelmed by their loss and the confusion of the entire scene. Since I had seen a lot of these events, I would stop by the information centers set up by various organizations and put together information packages for each client I visited. There are so many things going through their mind, providing a little guidance helped greatly. Ultimately, my job was to get a list of destroyed items from each client and assign a value, but in reality adjusters are a part of the larger community just like the other organizations on site helping to rebuild. Sometimes clients were in shock and couldn’t remember what was lost. In that event, I would leave them my card along with a list of common items in each room. In time, they would check off what was lost, giving us a place to start.
Q: How does the insurance industry fit into the rebuilding process?
A: Using the Kincade fire as an example, after the flames were contained and immediate needs were met, that’s when rebuilding began. Our industry’s job stretches on for months, even years, after a major disaster such as that – well beyond when the work of others is complete.
Q: What suggestions would you have for our clients as a result of your experience?
A: Aside from the obvious need to check that you have adequate insurance, it would be to take a home inventory video once a year. Walk through your house, open drawers, through the garage, and video what you have. Store it in the cloud somewhere so you can get to it in an emergency, even if you lose your phone.
Also, one of the biggest items people miss after a major disaster are family photos. So, if you ever find yourself in that unfortunate situation, throw a picture party! That is where, after you get settled again, you host a party where friends bring photos containing members of your family. You will be shocked to see how quickly your collection will be rebuilt.
No amount of insurance can make a client whole after a major disaster. The time, headache, and heartache can’t be averted. But the insurance industry steps in and does what it agreed to do; it pays to rebuild. It isn’t a socialist “scheme” as my misguided friend had asserted, but a group of people bound by an agreement to restore its members after a loss. It helps to clear the ground, rebuild foundations, and begin to construct anew.
David McCaleb LinkedIn
Bankers Insurance LLC
Photos from Susan Delfert’s time working the Kincade fire:
Photo Credit: All images provided by Susan Delfert, used with permission. All rights reserved.