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Contact Centers Handle Disaster Call Spike

Carriers' call centers proved to be up to the job of handling claims and providing service following the terrorist attacks.

Editor's Note: Julie Gallagher and Anthony O'Donnell contributed to this article
Even with what will most likely be the largest insurance catastrophe in history, insurance companies are reporting that claims call centers and customer contact points have been able to handle the increase in call volumes.

USAA (San Antonio), a multi-line financial services company that serves mostly US Armed Forces personnel, says it is ready to handle the increased policy administration requirements from customers who were relocated because of military operations. "We cover our members wherever they go and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with an extensive network of toll-free telecommunications and electronic commerce services," according to Stephen Yates, president, USAA Information Technology Co., and an Elite 8 Award honoree (see profile). "Many years ago, we anticipated and addressed mobility issues and our IT systems are at the heart of these service-delivery channels."

USAA also saw an increase in call center volume following the attacks. "Call center volume was high in certain areas like investments for a period of time after the attacks, but has returned to more normal levels," according to Yates. "We did not increase call center capacity because our systems are structured to handle high volumes at all times." However, USAA did increase its Web site capacity.

Increased Sales

In fact, USAA saw a large increase in inquiries about life insurance. "During the week of Sept. 11 we had low phone activity," Yates continues. "The weeks since have seen a 20 percent increase over our normal volume. It is too early to give exact sales increases, but we anticipate seeing a 20 percent jump in the near term."

At SAFECO (Seattle), according to Tom Turner, assistant director of catastrophe claims, the insurer's dedicated catastrophe line hasn't experienced a drastic influx of calls: "It can expand and contract based on call volumes." Normally the line usually used for natural disasters receives 10,000 to 12,000 calls a day. However, it could handle 30,000 to 40,000 calls a day.

A possible explanation for a lack of attack-related claims calls could be that SAFECO's catastrophe team, through mapping, identified areas of P&C risk within the Manhattan area, contacting those closest to the WTC first.

SAFECO's P&C lines will incur estimated losses of $24 million, plus an estimated $1 million in life, disability and medical insurance losses, for a total estimated $25 million loss net of reinsurance.

CIGNA Corp. (Philadelphia) has added two phone lines to deal with claims from the disaster. According to Gloria Barone, director of communications for CIGNA Group Insurance, the company has not added additional customer representatives to deal with calls. They have, however, "taken the most senior people and put them on the phone lines," says Barone, who explains that these reps previously had sensitivity training. "They are accustomed to working with the worst-case scenarios," she says.

Part of CIGNA's existing Manhattan office also has been opened for those employees who need to speak to someone about claims in person.

Handling Agents/Brokers

Kevin Murray, CIO of AIG Claim Services (New York), says the events had an insignificant effect on his firm's claims processing systems volume. "Claims aren't any different than the ones that were coming in before the disaster," he says. "They're mostly business interruption, and our claims processing systems handle those. So really, from a systems functionality standpoint, it was a non-event."

Since there was a large brokerage presence in the WTC, including offices of Marsh McLennan and Aon, "there was a lot of need for copies of policies, because they were lost in the disaster," Murray says. "So, it was important that we got the policy systems up-and-running as part of AIG's disaster recovery response and were able to provide brokers with access to policy information."

Mark Schussel, a spokesperson for Chubb (Warren, NJ), says the disaster presented few systems challenges. "We're set up to handle this type of situation from both a technology infrastructure and a staffing standpoint," he says. From a claims-processing standpoint, "it was quiet at first, with the volume picking up in subsequent days." The carrier is set up to handle increased volumes of claims at its CAT claims service center in Chesapeake, VA. "We're set up to switch to a facility in Phoenix," in case Chesapeake is unable to handle the volume during any catastrophe, Schussel says.

The principal adaptation Chubb needed to make in managing claims was on a human level at its call centers, according to Schussel. "The tragic loss of life had to be carefully addressed, so in that regard we briefed our call center staff to handle calls," he says. "We also gave our people access to counselors to deal with their own grief and with the stress and emotion of dealing with the calls."

At Boston-based John Hancock Financial Services, with life insurance financial exposure estimated to be $25 million, according to a Salomon Smith Barney report, "we experienced a change in the mix and nature of the calls but volumes remained flat," says Bob Walters, executive vice president and CIO, and an I&T Elite 8 Award honoree (see profile). "Many called to make sure we 'were still here' and to determine if our exposure was large and could impact our operations. Many customers wanted to reallocate funds or equities. We added both seats and network capacity in anticipation of a spike that did not occur."

Newark, NJ-based Prudential Financial also has seen increased call center activity, says Barbara Koster, senior vice president and CIO, Individual Life Insurance and Retail Distribution. "However, it is well within the capacity."

Koster, another Elite 8 Award honoree (see profile), also notes that Prudential representatives in the field are all equipped with laptops and "have access to instant information and can process claims very fast." Prudential estimates a $75 million to $125 million exposure to the events of September 11.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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