25 Aug Wisconsin’s insurance companies use advanced IT to speed relief
MADISON — Insurance companies headquartered in Wisconsin are using the latest information technology to speed claims processing for disaster victims. These companies are quickly responding with wireless and Web services to process their portion of the $7.4 billion in losses caused by Hurricane Charley. Paper files used to mean processing claims took days or weeks.
General Casualty Insurance in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, anticipates $3.5 million to $4 million in losses related to Hurricane Charley through its Southern Guaranty Insurance brand, according to spokesperson Anne Smith. The company handles much of the work through wireless technology.
“We send a message to an adjuster by cell phone or through email. We can notify them that they have a claim, and they can start the settlement process,” said Smith.
A Web-based database and file sharing allow the company to manage its resources more efficiently, and not only during large-scale weather events. Offices can also split up day-to-day work efficiently, and General Casualty has taken preferred auto body shops online.
“The shops have all of our information,” Smith said. “The customers don’t have to bring in the paperwork.”
Credit unions with claims can file electronically through the Web site of CUNA Mutual Group, based in Madison, a national provider of financial services to credit unions. Hurricane Charley caused CUNA no major losses, the company reported.
“The damages are limited to the $300,000 to $500,000 range, mostly minor building, water or power outages,” said Phil Tschudy, a CUNA spokesperson. “They can be processed immediately when they file online. We can get a check out to them immediately.”
Tschudy noted that the claims process depends largely on what the credit unions prefer, so there are also field staff available in Florida. “Simplicity is the key,” he said.
While American Family Insurance, also headquartered in Madison, expected no losses from Hurricane Charley, its catastrophe response vehicles are at the ready for weather-related disasters. The vehicles, a semi-truck trailer and two RV’s, feature satellite technology, laptops, Internet Protocol phones, and their own generators. Both claims and technical staff ride along.
“It essentially sustains itself as a mini-office,” said Wendy Scheper, catastrophe claims manager for American Family. “They can be there in a matter of hours.”
The “Cat Trailer” has responded to large-scale weather events in the past, including the Ladysmith Wisconsin tornado in 2002, which heavily damaged much of the downtown, including the insurance agent’s office.
“In a situation where we’ve lost telecommunications capability, we can transmit and receive information,” Scheper said. The company also makes the trailer’s IP phones available to the community when land lines or cell phones aren’t functioning.
The vehicles have also been used as a drive-in claims center, especially when hail damages thousands of policy-holders’ automobiles, and Scheper estimates the company can process 192 vehicle damage claims in a day.
Another use of technology for American Family is “electronic file assignment.” Once a claim comes in to their call center, a claims file is set up. “We can push it to the adjuster in three minutes,” said Scheper. “The adjuster has all of the information, and can begin making appointments immediately.”
American Family spokesperson Ken Muth pointed out the benefits of electronic mapping technology. “We can go on and use our policy holder technology to overlay the storm area,” he said. “You can see how many claims are likely in an area.”
The data was especially useful during the Colorado wildfires. Using data from the U.S. Forest Service, the company could anticipate how many customers would be affected, and determine whether or not to send a catastrophe response team.
“The technology allows us to be instantaneous where it used to take several days,” said Scheper. “It allows people to have peace of mind, and to have faith in the product they’ve purchased.”
Karla Wotruba is a Madison-based freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com