Anita Taff has consistently impressed me with her tenacious spirit, which has enabled her to overcome challenges and achieve remarkable, yet humble, success.
For instance, Anita and Brian Goodman approached me for assistance in founding the Georgia Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (GAPIA). I collaborated on this initiative until I felt our visions diverged. Despite the challenges, Anita persevered to establish GAPIA in alignment with her vision. Through successful collaboration with other public adjusters, she created a thriving association. Subsequently, she graciously invited me to serve on the Board of Directors for several years. Anita epitomizes leadership, demonstrating both self-control and an admirable humility that eschews personal accolades.
Four years ago, I wrote Georgia Association of Public Insurance Adjusters’ May 14 Spring Conference Will Be Missing Foy Taff, where I noted:
I have no idea how Foy kept up with the energy of his wife and public adjusting partner, Anita Taff. Like so many public adjusting firms, Foy and Anita made their work a family public adjusting business which has now been ongoing for over 25 years. Foy always had a positive attitude and a friendly comment or question for me after I made a presentation. I will miss him.
I want to highlight that public adjusters can be extraordinarily successful without having to cave into the mantra of “scaling up.” Smaller and local public adjusting firms can thrive and differentiate themselves from those trying to build empires.
I also want to highlight the not-so-distant history of what many women faced in the insurance industry. Anita lived through this, and her perceptions are important. Here is my interview with one of the leading public adjusters in the country:
How did you get started in insurance claims handling, and how did Taff Claims Services start?
I was never interested in an insurance career. I interviewed with St. Paul Insurance Company with the intention of gaining interview experience. Little did I know that this interview would lead to a lifelong insurance career. With St. Paul, I handled all lines of claims, including workers’ compensation. After six years with St. Paul, I was recruited for a newly created management position regarding outside property adjustment. Eventually, an opportunity for a full time outside catastrophe adjuster opened in Michigan. Later, I worked with CNA and briefly as an independent adjuster. When the insurance industry switched from a customer service to a stockholder satisfaction business model, we decided to leave the representation of insurance companies and start our public adjusting firm.
Did you have any challenges working alongside your late husband, Foy, and did you have different roles in the firm?
Working with your spouse isn’t for everyone. For us, it worked very well. We were newlyweds when we started our business. We believed partnering was the best route for professional success and strengthening our marriage. The keys were mutual respect, excellent communication skills, and a predetermined conflict resolution plan.
The only differences in our roles were that I was the CFO and business manager. We both handled all types and components of residential and commercial property claims. We complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We partnered in sales and adjusting. Our roles were primarily defined by who was the best fit for the client or the task of the claim.
There were relatively few women in the field of public adjusting 30-40 years ago. Were there any unique challenges you faced, and how do you think that has changed?
This is true! At the time, I was the only female resident adjuster in Georgia. There were all sorts of challenges. I experienced many instances of insults and degradation. In response, I had to hone my communication and negotiation skills. Rather than respond with an insult or negative response, I learned to lead others to the conclusion I needed for my client—even allowing them to believe it was their idea. My main concern was not what they thought of me but the results for my clients.
I once had a commercial client tell me I had no business on his roof. He thought it was no place for a lady! Vendors and adjusters often assumed I was the secretary. Today, it is a very different atmosphere. Most adjusters and contractors, at least initially, treat women in this business with respect.
What are the most significant changes you have faced regarding the day-to-day business of public adjusting since you started?
When we first started, there were very few claims involving public adjusters in the Atlanta area. Adjusters working for insurers threatened to put us out of business. Policyholders didn’t know what a public adjuster was or could do for them. Insurance vendors refused to work with us because of the fear of appearing friendly to a public adjuster.
Today’s challenges are different. There are many issues ranging from insurance adjusters who are not properly trained and the recurrent claims delay, deny, defend principles used to frustrate the policyholder.
We worked with Clark Howard, a nationally syndicated radio and television consumer advocate who helped consumers understand the benefits of public adjusting. I have found that if you are respectful to the adjuster, who is only doing what they are told and show them by teaching that you are helping them close the claim, they will often try to come to a fair settlement.
Could you share one of the most complex cases you’ve handled and the strategies you employed to secure a favorable outcome for your client?
One was a 150-year-old building that burned. There was a coinsurance problem. Rather than claim replacement cost, we presented an actual cash value claim. We showed the adjuster that no matter how you calculated a total loss and coinsurance penalty, the amount of loss was above the policy limits.
Another was water damage from a burst county water supply pipe (3’ in diameter), which pushed the concrete block foundation wall inward and flooded the terrace level of a 3-story home. The homeowners allowed the insurance contractor to start repairs. The contractor caused more damage to the foundation wall, resulting in additional damage to all three floors of the home that were not supported by one wall. We recovered the limits of the policy from the homeowner policy. The balance was paid from the contractor’s liability carrier. The claim went from $50,000 to $565,000. It settled without appraisal or litigation.
Where did the concept of GAPIA come from, and what were some of the challenges you faced founding it?
GAPIA was formed when I unexpectedly uncovered drafted legislative language that was intended to put public adjusters out of business in Georgia. The proposal made it impossible to handle claims without working for an attorney. Brian Goodman, NAPIA’s counsel, recommended I form a Georgia association. At the time, public adjusters in Georgia did not work with each other much. It was challenging to get them together in one room and be civil to each other. Eight public adjusters stepped up as founding members of GAPIA. We financed the cost of a lobbyist and were able to not only defeat the bill but help educate the Georgia Department of Insurance on how public adjusters are on the same side—helping protect policyholders. We developed an excellent working relationship with that administration.
How was it that you became President of NAPIA?
I was asked by a past president of NAPIA if I would consider volunteering for the NAPIA board of directors. I considered it an honor and an opportunity to help the profession and policyholders. After creating the Fundraising and Ambassador Committees, someone thought I might be a good candidate for the Executive Committee. It was some of the most rewarding work I’ve done and an accomplishment few get to experience. I am proud to be a part of a small group of very talented and accomplished influencers!
What can NAPIA do for experienced public adjusters? What can it offer for public adjusters newer in the business?
It’s never too late to join NAPIA, whether you are experienced or a beginner. The education is always well presented by a variety of experts and practitioners. The networking and support by its public adjuster and vendor members is immeasurable. By networking, a member will find support for claims when needed and receive referrals from other public adjusters. NAPIA offers a certification program that will enhance the individual’s knowledge and provide credibility, marketability, increased earning power, improved reputation, and respect.
What are some emerging trends in public adjusting that you think are crucial for practitioners to be aware of?
I am seeing and hearing that insurance companies are refusing to participate in the appraisal process, which is designed to be a less expensive and quicker resolution platform for policyholders than being involved in litigation. However, many companies are following the Delay, Deny, and Defend business model, realizing that many policyholders will give up and go away. This saves the insurance company millions, if not billions, of dollars.
Insurance companies are reducing policy benefits with new form policies. They seem to be either deleting coverage completely or reducing coverage to an amount reflecting actual cash value rather than replacement cost value, which is how most policies are sold. Public adjusters need to carefully read the policy on every claim. We can no longer memorize a policy and expect the same language will be used for future claims.
What core principles guide your approach to public adjusting and client relationships?
ETHICS, ETHICS, ETHICS!. It is our job to choose our clients carefully. Not every policyholder is honest. It is best to discover that before a public adjuster signs a contract. Transparency has always been my standard practice. The more a public adjuster’s client understands about what you are doing, the better your relationship.
What is your impression of how your public adjusting business model differs from those expanding on a national basis, and what do you believe provides your type of business model an advantage?
Since Foy and I traveled the country for CAT duty for insurance companies and were newlyweds, we decided to stay home and service our home area while others chased the storms. We operated on a low volume, higher return model that allowed us more time to provide personalized service. We also made the conscious decision to remain small. He had experience managing multiple locations with an insurance company. We preferred not to go that route again.
With ever-changing insurance laws and regulations, how do you stay updated and ensure compliance in your practice?
I have always interacted with the DOI and receive their notices. I had friends who worked for the department and others who were involved with insurance company trade associations. We often discussed trends and solutions. I also check the legislative site regularly before and during the session.
What advice would you offer to new public adjusters entering the field, especially those looking to start their own firms?
I would recommend that they focus on partnering with an experienced public adjuster, prioritize education, join NAPIA, and join their local association. What most public adjusters don’t realize is that what happens in one part of the country may spread to the rest of the country. The better you can prepare for change and anticipate trends, the more successful you will be.
One of the biggest challenges to the public adjusting profession is public adjusters who either don’t know how to do things correctly or choose to conduct themselves with unethical and fraudulent behavior. These public adjusters hurt everyone— the policyholders, themselves, and the vast majority of professional public adjusters dedicated to helping policyholders.
Where do you see the public adjusting industry headed in the next decade?
I see more demand for our services. Consumers are becoming more savvy about their rights. They seek professional assistance. Insurance companies are decreasing coverage, increasing premiums, and mistreating their customers. NAPIA works diligently to be a resource to the state insurance departments to help insurance department regulators understand the ramifications of laws and regulations regarding insurance and the insurance industry. I believe the general public is seeing that public adjusters are experts in our field and supportive of their rights.
Anita Taff’s journey through the evolving landscape of property insurance adjusting shines a light on the boundless potential of tenacity, vision, and ethical commitment. Her resilience in the face of gender biases, adept navigation through industry challenges, and unwavering commitment to ethics speak volumes about the caliber of leadership she has brought to the table.
As the world of insurance adjustment changes, professionals like Anita serve as guiding examples for those looking to make a mark in the industry. The story of Anita Taff is a testament to dedication, transformation, and the importance of championing policyholder rights. Future public adjusters would do well to emulate her unwavering standards and pioneering mindset, remembering that in the quest for true professional excellence, it’s not just about navigating the system but enhancing it for the betterment of all.
Thought For The Day
Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in your charge.