Mobile technologies already have transformed the claims adjustment and settlement process. Now social media is starting to have a similar dramatic impact on the ways property/casualty companies handle claims related to natural catastrophes. These trends have been in evidence in the Nashville area since the May 3 rainstorms and subsequent flash floods that left more than 30 people dead across Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi and caused at least $1 billion in damage in Nashville alone.
Within a few days of the floods, Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Financial Services ($105 billion in total assets) had received more than 900 homeowner claims and 280 auto claims relating to the disaster, according to company spokeswoman Elizabeth Stelzer. But, she adds, the insurer expected that amount to dramatically increase as policyholders who had evacuated the Nashville area returned and began to assess their losses.
In the first days after the catastrophe, with roads shut down and much of the city still underwater, response teams and victims who left town were still having difficulty accessing the area. Social networking sites and other interactive media emerged as an effective tool for carriers trying to reach out to policyholders in need. For example, Nationwide used Facebook and Twitter to promote its claims hotline number.
"Most policyholders don't think about what they'll need to do when they have to file a claim during an emergency," says Stelzer. "We're using social media to communicate to our policyholders that they can call our hotline or visit their local agencies for assistance with their claims."
Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate went even further in its use of social media following the floods. The carrier's customer service representatives actually used Facebook and Twitter to answer policyholders' claims questions, enabling many disaster victims who did not have access to computers or Allstate's phone number to have their claims questions answered via apps on their mobile phones.
Providing the Necessities
Several carriers deployed catastrophe buses equipped with technologies such as GPS -- as well as with necessities such as bottled water, food and blankets -- to the disaster sites along with teams of claims adjusters who can use the GPS technology to quickly find policyholders to assess their damage. Many of these vehicles are equipped with satellite technology that enables a wireless communications platform capable of supporting a variety of critical functions, such as claims filing.
Farmers Insurance Group (Los Angeles) deployed its state-of-the-art Mobile Command Center vans, introduced in 2006, and a fleet of customer care vehicles to respond to the flood victims in Nashville. The deployment was facilitated by the fact that the Mobile Command Center vans already were based in Murfreesboro, Tenn., just days before the flooding began, as part of a natural disaster awareness tour.
As advanced as the mobile response vehicles are, at this point they are hardly "bleeding edge" in the insurance industry. Over the past few years, the technology used in disaster response has become increasingly sophisticated, according to Bob Passmore, senior director of personalized policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI; Des Plaines, Ill.).
"A trend we're seeing is that insurers are taking a proactive approach to disaster response," says Passmore. "Companies can see where their policyholders who may have been affected by natural disasters are located and contact them immediately after the disaster occurs to determine the need for assistance."
And with widespread access to digital cameras, mobile phones, wireless Internet and even iPhone apps created by insurance carriers, customers are more capable of documenting property damage to file their claims than ever before.