Disasters—responding to the customer

Jack Evins (Texas DOI) moderates a panel segment focused on responding to customers following disasters. Panelists (l to r) Joanna Benko (Farmers Insurance Group), Rob McQuillen (State Farm Insurance Companies) and Angela Nelson (Missouri DOI).
Jack Evins (Texas DOI) moderates a panel segment focused on responding to customers following disasters. Panelists (l to r) Joanna Benko (Farmers Insurance Group), Rob McQuillen (State Farm Insurance Companies) and Angela Nelson (Missouri DOI).

Continuing the theme of Remember the Customer, Jack Evins, director of the Consumer Protection Section, TDI, was a masterful moderator interacting with panelists and audience to distill significant amounts of information (within a very short timeframe) on the topic of how to respond to customers in a disaster situation—a uniquely insurance-industry specific topic. Panelists included: JoAnna Benko, regulatory affairs manager, Farmers Group; Rob McQuillen, section manager, State Farm Insurance Company; and Angela Nelson, director, Market Regulation, Missouri Department of Insurance.

Preparing:  pre-event
The group chose to start at the beginning—meaning it discussed what should be done to best position a customer before a disaster occurs.  Panelists encouraged industry professionals to perform an audit to know what type of risks might occur in any service area and to plan for those risks, but cautioned that no one can plan for everything—any plan must be flexible because the only certainty is uncertainty.

Simply put, the group learned that any pre-event plan must address:

  • How to communicate to internal and external audiences,
  • Have resources identified,
  • Include a business continuity plan linked to all units, and
  • How to execute effective communication to employees.

Further, the disaster plan should have elements that include expectations on how an organization will respond in a disaster, how to use technology and have training and practices on how the plan will be executed.  Panelists strongly agreed that an untested plan is guaranteed to be a non-working plan.  The panelists noted that even partial practice is better than no practice.

The panelists encouraged ongoing engagement with all agencies, resources and entities throughout the year so that services are integrated and relationships established prior to the actual need.  Moderator Evins noted that his department works with all carriers to ensure a disaster plan is in place.  Although not mandated, TDI lets no-plan carriers know they will be looked at more carefully throughout all regulatory phases.

Many regulators feel consumer education is one of their primary responsibilities, including education on how to respond to an emergency.  However, pre-event education is also critical to remembering the consumer. For example, underinsurance is a virtually impossible obstacle to overcome in a disaster situation—so working with consumers to make sure insurance coverages are adequate is a preventative message of key importance to consumers on a pre-event basis.

Joanna Benko (Farmers Insurance Group) shares Farmer’s experiences in dealing effectively with customers after a disaster.
Joanna Benko (Farmers Insurance Group) shares Farmer’s experiences in dealing effectively with customers after a disaster.

Actions at time of loss
When a loss occurs, everyone has clear responsibilities.  All agreed that messaging immediately after a disaster is extremely important.  Significant, simple messages via a variety of distribution channels ensure non-industry professionals (consumers) get the right messages.

Panelists cautioned all to remember disasters do not happen in convenient times or locations—so planning for on-site staff requires careful preparation for staff and their families. Participants were urged to remember that even well-intentioned volunteers will need to be trained to see stunning devastation.  All agreed that group counselors are extremely useful—for consumers and staff.

In a disaster, visibility of staff and resources is very important to consumers and to those who are providing help to consumers.  For example, because all states have different regulations on badging and access to disaster sites, that information should be available prior to any disaster so the information is available in every disaster situation.  Panelists noted that, in extreme devastation, global positioning systems (GPS) are a major way to locate signs, landmarks, and buildings that no longer exist.

Preparing on-site disaster staff
Panelists urged attendees to realize on-site disaster staff can become emotionally compromised fairly quickly.  It’s important for all entities to recognize this and plan for relatively short on-site rotations and plan for on-site individuals to go out in pairs for mutual support.  If on-site staff is showing any type of fatigue, panelists urged all organizations present to make sure counselors are available for staff—even if staff is working disaster relief on a remote basis.

Rob McQuillen (State Farm Insurance Companies) provides some best practices that normally work well for the customer in time of need.
Rob McQuillen (State Farm Insurance Companies) provides some best practices that normally work well for the customer in time of need.

Long-term recovery:  Post-event analysis
Organizations were encouraged to continue strong staffing efforts after on-site effort is removed—consumers will still have a high need to tell their story as a part of the healing process. Panelists discussed the collaboration necessary to ensure experienced catastrophe teams are available.  This is vital to help those in need—regardless if the individual “belonged” to any specific carrier.

Panelists also noted the importance of collaboration between regulators and carriers during and after a disaster.  One DOI working a disaster promised all carriers an expedited complaint process during and immediately following a disaster.  This DOI broadcast to all carriers that if they engaged in an expedited complaint process—48 hour turnaround for any problem, the DOI guaranteed that information did not get captured in complaint data.  The result?  A huge positive for the industry as legislators, consumers, carriers and DOIs worked to deliver positive industry experiences for the consumer experiencing the disaster.

Missouri DOI market regulation director Angela Nelson expresses some lessons learned following the Joplin, MO tornado.
Missouri DOI market regulation director Angela Nelson expresses some lessons learned following the Joplin, MO tornado.

Best practices noted
As a wrap-up, the panelists noted viable best practices that resulted from actual disasters.

  • In Joplin, MO—100 days after the tornado disaster, a claims-roundup event was held on site.  The DOI gathered industry professionals, bankers, and others who could aid recovery and invited the public in to a one-stop shop.  When a claims issue was identified—consumers had instant access to claims resolution.  To help the carrier in the process, the issues surfaced at the claims-roundup event were also noted as inquiries, not complaints.
  • Post event, DOIs and carriers must be vigilant in monitoring for fraudulent behaviors including fraudulent contractors, storm chasers and other fraudulent activities to ensure disaster victims are not further victimized.
  • All encouraged organizations to use disaster anniversaries as an opportunity to leverage consumer education and debrief industry staff.

CONTACT INFO

JoAnna Benko
Regulatory Affairs Manager
Farmers Insurance
15700 Long Vista Drive
Austin, TX   78728
512.233.3412
joanna.benko@farmersinsurance.com
www.farmersinsurance.com

Jack Evins
Director, Special Assignments
Texas Department of Insurance
P.O. Box 149104
Austin, TX   78701
512.463.6580
Jack.Evins@tdi.state.tx.us
www.tdi.state.tx.us

Rob McQuillen
Catastrophe Coordinaltion Section Manager
State Farm Insurance
8900 Amberglen
Austin, TX   78729
512.918.5164
rob.mcquillen.bhgb@statefarm.com

www.statefarm.com

Angela Nelson
Director, Division of Market Regulation
Missouri Department of Insurance
P.O. Box 690
Jefferson City, MO   65101
573.522.9869
angela.nelson@insurance.mo.gov

www.insurance.mo.gov

PRESENTATION
Click here to view the disaster panel presentation

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