When it comes to adopting new technology, the insurance industry is one of the more cautious sectors , according to IT experts.
However, a Waterloo, Ont.-based wireless applications company is hoping to change this attitude by helping to reduce “claims creep” or the tendency of insurance claims costs to balloon as processing time lengthens.
Symbility Solutions Inc. says its Web-based mobile claims reporting system can be up to six times faster than using pen and paper.
“The faster you can process a claim, the lower the claims creep,” said James Swayze, CEO, Symbility.
A large number of companies, Swayze said, still use pen and paper to record claim information.
Information gathered at a site has to be brought back to the office for transcription. The information is then entered into the insurance company’s system and relayed to other parties concerned allowing adjusters to process a claim in a single visit.
“Using traditional methods, this process can take up to six visits to the site as people involved request or add new information. In that space, some claims tend to rise as more items are added on,” Swayze explained.
This was one of the challenges faced by brothers Chris and Kevin Bacon, San Francisco-based independent adjusters. The Bacons investigated claims by New Orleans homeowners whose houses were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
A few weeks after the hurricane struck, Kevin was already on-site probing through wrecked homes still partially submerged in floodwaters.
“Because, in most cases, the homeowners were not on-site to preserve and protect the damaged property, it became more important to process the claims fast to avoid claims creep and increased indemnity,” said Kevin Bacon.
Floodwaters, bio-hazards such as mould and fungus as well as security concerns, however, made it difficult to travel the region or use standard tape measure and measuring tape. Kevin, however, was armed with a Symbility pen-based tablet computer to capture and transmit all the details.
The system which uses tablet computers or pocket personal computers (PCs) hooked up to a wireless network.
Adjusters and contractors can type in information or use a stylus pen to write notes, draw or even obtain signatures.
Symbility also provides an Internet-based communications hub dubbed Symbility.NET. The hub allows claim participants to access information to claims they are connected to. Symbility.NET also provides an analytics tool to mine data and create graphical reports.
Searches for specific claims, based on numerous criteria, can also be done using the hub.
Laser measuring tools incorporated in the tablet PC allowed Kevin to capture floor plans and draw diagrams.
“The system’s wireless Internet access enables him to transmit, voice, digital photo and text annotations to me,” said Chris who stayed in their San Francisco office to coordinate operations.
Chris received the reports and loss notices via the Internet or fax and immediately initiated a claim and a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) preliminary report.
The direct integration of the system with FEMA forms cut down the claims process which would normally take hours or days to just three to five minutes, Kevin said.
Before using Symbility, Chris said he and his brother used Xactmate estimating software that could be installed in desktop and notebook computers.
Xactmate required users to execute seven to eight steps before allowing them to make an entry. “Given the volume of claims we were processing, and the short processing period, the software would not have worked.”
These are features that are very important to insurance workers, according to an Ontario-based wireless communications consultant.
“A mobile device that can integrate reporting, digital photography, calculation and transmission will be very valuable to the industry,” said Roberta Fox, principal of Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont.
While recent reports show the insurance industry is among the fast adoptors of virtualization , Fox says most companies still stick to old ways. “Companies have been doing their business the same way for years and it’s hard to change that.”
For instance, she said, the industry has been working for more than 20 years to establish a common Internet-based network.
The network will reduce the need for consumers to enter the same data when applying for different types of insurance and will help companies track billing and fraud.
The industry still has to make considerable headway in the project because of the disparity in company processes and additional workload caused by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the World Trade Centre attack, said Fox.