The Human Side of Insurance

The Human Side of Insurance

Carrie Burns

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During and after hurricane season each year, we take moments to reflect on the devastation experienced by policyholders and, too often, the loss of lives. We think about how the insurance industry (especially within policy administration) steps up at this time. And later, we have to look at insured loss numbers so that we learn where to improve and adjust. This year, though, we’re doing it in March.

The winter storm that hit the southern United States in February was one of these events we have to talk about. Just to use Dallas as an example: The average temperature in Dallas in the middle of February is 50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius). However, between February 13 and February 17, Dallas experienced snow, ice, roof collapses, days-long rolling blackouts, water disruptions, and a complete water system shutdown—all in freezing temperatures.

With this severe weather so early in the year, there’s no question that 2021 overall is going to be a record year for P&C insurers. According to Fitch Ratings, the widespread scale of homeowners, auto business, and various commercial insurance claims volume from the event could drive ultimate insured losses to a range of $10 billion to $20 billion.

The devastation in Texas emphasized what many in the insurance industry have been saying for years: Texas is difficult for insurers. It’s not profitable, but it’s necessary. This is what this industry does—helping people restore their lives. I chatted with Laura Drabik (Guidewire Chief Evangelist), who has experience on the front lines as an adjuster, even responding to a large-scale Texas catastrophe many years ago.

“I was one of the only people in my group at the time who actually ever volunteered to work catastrophe duty,” she explains. “It was probably because I’d never been on one at that time.”

She walked into the situation prepared to estimate, but not prepared for the emotion.

“People are crying. They've lost everything. Someone lost their dog. A roof crashed in. Their whole house and memories are soaked in water. As an adjuster, you want to help. You work seven days a week, 12 hours a day, to get money into people’s hands as soon as possible so they can start getting back to normal. You're part of the plan to recovery.”

However, Laura says that in this instance, a large portion of an insurance company’s catastrophe (CAT) work should have already been done.

“If you have an insurer that's reacting to a CAT, they’ve lost the battle. It’s about being proactive, monitoring, and preparing before you even know it's going to be a CAT.”

Proactive is the key word, so that you can lean on technology and start responding to claims “before they happen.” For example, with the right cloud-based, integrated policy and claims systems (Guidewire InsuranceSuite and Guidewire InsuranceNow), you can spin up servers, map out the predicted damage area, pull all of the policies in the exposed area, indicate a red zone or the most-affected area with total insurable loss…all before the first notice of loss.

I then spoke with Nicole Bruns (Group Director for Product Marketing at Guidewire), who lives in the Dallas area. She experienced the February storm first-hand with her family: boiling water, being on alert, and ready to charge devices when the electricity came on for 45-minute increments.

“Laura is right! Insurers need to be proactive because the last thing people think about in a large-scale catastrophe is, ‘How do I file a claim?’” Nicole says. “What we were thinking about was far more needs-based: ‘Where will I sleep tonight without heat? How will I get clean water for my baby’s formula? What will we eat when we can't drive to the store?’ It’s in these moments that communities come alive. Doors to homes with a warm shower are opened and rides to the grocery store are offered. This is what I saw during that blizzard-like week. It’s not until these basic needs are filled that we then worry about the insurance process getting life back to normal.”