Contents claims adjusting is a hard and tedious job. Few insurance companies conduct a prompt investigation and evaluation of contents losses even though they may be evaluating the real property damage. It is probably the most ripe and overlooked arena for unfair claims practice conduct by insurance companies on typical claims.

Why? The answer lies in the procedures demanded by claims managers and the incentives not to adjust in "good faith." As I explained in Adjustment of Claims is 100 Percent Policyholder Service–Is The Insurance Industry Providing This Service?, insurance companies that promptly investigate claims, explain policy benefits, and make certain their customers are getting promptly paid everything due are acting in "good faith." This adjustment conduct is required in "good faith" claims conduct. Insurers that adjust claims in good faith will promptly paying more than competitors that cheat their insureds by delaying adjustment, failing to investigate, failing to explain coverages, studied blundering, and quietly failing to pay full benefits. These cheating and unethical insurance companies save money on claims expenses and indemnity dollars. It is a huge competitive incentive that most insurance company claims departments act upon as a cultural norm because there few personal and group incentives which reward individual and group acts of "good faith."

Who has ever heard of an insurer giving awards to adjusters and claims departments for fully paying policyholders? Instead, incentive programs at most claims departments reward lowering or achieving claims severity, claims accuracy, lowering leakage, etc. Nobody gets claims department "gold stars" for explaining benefits to a policyholder that will require the insurer to pay tens of thousands of dollars legitimately owed. In most companies, such conduct will get you chastised and fired. Can you imagine claim department managers talking over beers and crowing about how somebody in their claim unit helped a policyholder make a claim for an extra million dollars that was almost missed? When I ask my claims adjuster buddies whether that happens, they look dumbfounded and wonder what rock I crawled out from under. The fault lies with executives at insurance companies for creating a claims culture obsessed with not paying too much rather than taking care of the customer to the fullest extent promised.

Insurance company adjusters usually handle contents claims by handing the policyholder numerous blank forms and asking the policyholder to investigate and evaluate the loss by listing details about every article damaged or lost. With such acts, the insurance adjuster turns the policy from one with promised service by the insurer to a self service policy. Most policyholders, not knowing the insurer should be assisting, take the forms and then, when they can, start the tedious task of remembering what was destroyed or lost, figuring out if it can be repaired, the original cost, the age, the condition (if asked), and come up with values from a search on the internet. To the joy of many cheating insurance companies, many policyholders give up and fail to make a full claim. Think of how many gift cards you have received as a present and how many you failed to use because you forgot about them. Get the picture of how profitable it is for an insurer to not act in good faith when adjusting contents claims?

This is written because I came across a post, Contents Coverage: The Flaw of Averages, which lead me to the Enservio website and blog. Enservio claims the following:

Enservio was founded in 2004 with a mission to become the undisputed leader in contents claims services and software for the property insurance industry. Headquartered near Boston, we have offices and professional staff located across the United States allowing us to offer our customers nationwide coverage. Today, Enservio is by far the market leader in property insurance software and services for contents inventory creation, valuation, payments and replacement.

We are the industry’s top specialists across the entire value chain of contents claim processing, from onsite inventory capture and forensic reconstruction of non-restorable contents to transcription, desk appraisal, payment, replacement, reporting, and contents valuation services and software.

Our success is driven by our commitment to help our customer constituents with all of the contents-related challenges they face. We understand the challenges of property and casualty carriers in the current environment to compress costs and increase efficiencies.

In a post, On the Scene with an SOS Property Specialist, they describe a total loss contents adjustment in part:

The claim site was a residential house that had been deemed a total loss from a recent office fire – fortunately, no one was hurt and the family dog and two cats continued to roam the property. I arrived on Sean’s second day on site – he’d already spent the first day working with a Public Adjuster (PA) there to verify a couple of rooms that had been burned from site.

Today was Day Two. Sean had cautioned me in advance to wear old clothes and steel-toed boots — he equipped me with a mask and headlamp as the electricity had been turned off and a few areas were pretty dark even with the sunlight streaming in. The first room we worked on was a young girl’s bedroom which really affected me since I have a teenage daughter of about the same age who also has Justin Bieber and One Direction posters on the wall. Sean was incredibly methodical, working in a spiral in the room and dictating items by name, model or brand, and age. He pretty much left no item unturned, digging into closets and under the bed as well as noting items hanging from the wall and back of the door. Sean also impressed me with his knowledge of women’s brands, which he’s learned on the job – not many men can describe women’s shoes as “strappy sandals” or the material of a wedding dress accurately. Full disclosure – my husband is probably not clear on the difference between a skirt and a dress, making Sean all the more remarkable.

In addition to having to be incredibly observant and detail-oriented, you also need to be in shape to do this job. It is physically demanding from inhaling the chemicals and soot to essentially having to be on your feet all day, broken only by the need to climb around a closet or repeatedly squat down to sift through a drawer or pile of items. Sean took pity on me and broke for lunch but explained that usually he would work on through the day with no breaks to keep his rhythm.

One of the scarier moments occurred in the basement when the PA with us indicated an empty aquarium, mentioning that it had been the former home of a snake, that had escaped. For the rest of our time in the basement, I was convinced the missing snake was going to turn up – on me – dropping from the ceiling or slithering out of a closet to wrap itself around my ankle. Needless to say the snake had probably already found a new home far away from the loss site and never turned up.

While we didn’t work directly with the insured at this site, I can see why so many carriers see the Enservio Service on Site as a great customer service benefit for their insureds. I can’t imagine the stress of trying to recreate a list of what was in your home while the smoke (literally) is still clearing. In fact, many insureds, according to Sean, are ecstatic that he’s there to hold their hands through the process and only want to return to their home or office AFTER everything has been restored. Neighbors who have been through a similar experience frequently ask Sean which carrier he’s with, lamenting the fact that their carrier didn’t provide a similar service.

I do not know too many insurance companies with contents experts or that take the time to do what Enservio does. At least some insurance carriers are outsourcing their obligations at the start of a contents adjustment.

  • SHIRLEY HEFLIN

    Dear Chip:

    I love tedious and time-consuming jobs, however, you’re right, there are many people that do not and will not complete those Contents forms (especially if they knew that their ins co should be helping them w/this aspect of their claim) !!!

    This is so annoying, though, to think how people (insureds) are cheated out of coverage and benefits that they pay for and – come to think of it – it’s been annoying for over a quarter of a century now! How’s that for feeling dated? !!!

    SHIRLEY HEFLIN
    (Tampa, FL)

  • A great resource that I always recommend to my clients and policyholders is knowyourstuff dot org. It is a completely free website, provided by the Insurance Information Institute and each user sets up their own account with private passwords etc. The know your stuff website will walk a homeowner through each room of the dwelling and provides a handy checklist of the common items found in a bedroom, kitchen, garage etc. Fill out those inventory forms, take a few photos, log off and you are done. A quick reference and inventory of your home is now at your fingertips and available via the internet, which is much better than storing in a home computer as the data would not be destoyed by Fire, Flood or other Peril. A bit of time spent today can pay big dividends should disaster strike and it will help to make the claim process go smoother and ultimatly be settled quicker. Getting people to act on this free service, well that is another story.
    Keith Royle

  • Chip

    I like your post and found it very revealing. However, the insurance company may believe that it is not their responsibility to prepare the PPIF. Many times the carrier may direct the insured’s attention to this section of the policy:

    By the insurer using this order and methodology in handling the claim, which may be justified, the insured soon gives up and leaves countless dollars on the table. As a public adjuster, I like doing content’s claims and have found them rewarding. It has been my experience that if the IA has to perform an estimate for personal property inventory himself, he will usually give more consideration to my estimate. I have gone up against a company such as Enservio and have found their estimates my like the fine tuning which fully reimburses my clients. Knowing where my client shopped and previously purchased his damaged items is important in determine fair reimbursement. Was the insured given an opportunity to review Sean’s estimate before it was turned into the carrier? After this estimate is submitted and paid, it is harder to get the insurer to change their position on the value of an item.

    I would like to know the answer to this question. If a company such a Enservio prepares an estimate for the insurer, does the existence of that estimate alleviate my client from having to prepare and submit their own estimate as required in Duties After Loss?

    Gary Ahrens
    AA Florida Public Adjusting Agency, LLC
    http://www.aafpaa.com

  • Brady Ailsworth

    I lost my entire house and two dogs in a house fire last October. I was told by my insurance company Enservio would assist me with my content claim. They sent a representative to my where I was staying who merely said “did you have a toaster?” etc. He did not offer a sample inventory list and at the end of the day wasn’t much help.
    After I spent over 40 hours listing all of my contents, vendors, age and descriptions in an excel sheet organized by room, Enservio too the list for TWO months. I received it back last Friday and to my disgust, they changed over 50% of the vendors to those that sell less expensive items (Comping Crate and Barrel against Walmart prices and Macys agains Kmart prices). My favorite is that they valued my diamond earrings at $12 and listed the vendor as Barnes and Noble.
    I now have to review the entire list again for mistakes and then go online to look up prices.
    When I alerted Enservio they simply said they were reviewing my additional items and would review those more carefully. No apology, no explanation. Nothing.
    Enservio is unprofessional, sloppy and for the company to even suggest they provide any benefit to the insured in their marketing material is simply false.

  • Mark Pitrone

    After reading the testimonials about “Enservio” and ‘knowyourstuff dot org’, I think it wise to employ BOTH and HOPE you get an Enservio rep like the woman in Chip’s referenced article had.

    It can NEVER be a bad idea to have an off-site inventory of the contents of your home/business and to update it regularly. PLUS, if your content list is up-to-date, your public adjuster can establish cash values something like the actual.

  • Ahop

    I’m helping my best friend and her family with their contents inventory. They lost everything in a house fire 6 months ago. I had no idea that the adjuster is supposed to help with it. He handed them a stack of blank forms! It is the most tedious thing I’ve ever done! My friend had 15 pair of miss me jeans, but I’m afraid the insurance company won’t believe she had that many, so I only listed one pair. She also had over 500 pair of costume earrings, but there’s no way I’m going to list them all. People don’t realize how much work this is!

  • Fire Total loss

    I had a total loss during the fire last August. The adjuster from the insurance company did prepare a list and sent it to me a month after fire. But I noticed it included only half of all my items. So I added more items and send him back.

    The adjuster is asking if I have receipts and credit card statements to back up the items I listed. Unfortunately I don’t have either. All houses are gone, I don’t have any receipt with me. Also, I change a new credit card last year when my old credit get stolen last year. so I don’t have credit card back up either.

    Am I required to provide all proofs for my lost items to insurance company? How can it be practically possible? Will insurance company still have the responsibility to pay my lost content if I can not provide proof as they requested?

    Appreciate your help!

  • John B. Miller

    Re:Fire total loss,

    I am a Contents specialist and have done many low and high end homes from fire/water losses. More than likely if you cannot remember the exact dates or have receipts for your items, your PA should take your case to arbitration. That way your PA will work with what you have presented in your contents spreadsheet vs what the insurance company will accept, 3rd party arbitration.

    As far as Enservio, I have had customers use them in the past and to an extent they do provide a good service, but you have to remember they are using software generated pricing and valuation of your items. I go in and manually go through the room and make the observation in detail and then go back to office and price that item accordingly, it is painstaking and very methodical to say the least. That is the difference, make sure that when you are looking for a company they are manually pricing not using software generated pricing or you will most likely get an imbalanced contents adjustment.