"Look for common sense, honesty and pride," says Bud Trice, vice president and head of Atlanta-based Crawford & Company's Catastrophe Services Group. If you want a good adjuster, those are the three main qualities to scout for.
Trice claims he can sense common sense and pride in candidates when they enter his office for a job interview. Honesty is a bit trickier to detect, he says, but it's essential because adjusters are always dealing with money--other people's money.
Good adjusters also have to be objective and consistent, says long-time commercial adjuster David Atkinson. The job requires that they make a conscious effort to call losses the same way on every claim, much in the same way that a baseball umpire ideally applies the same strike zone for nine innings.
"One of the things you've got to sell in this business is your reputation," Atkinson says.
Besides these core principles, CAT adjusters come with varied backgrounds. Trice says he doesn't look for any particular kind of academic major for prospective adjusters coming out of college, but they must have some understanding of the basic principles of engineering and/or a working knowledge of construction. Trice, for instance, first worked for a company that cleaned up oil spills before coming to Crawford's CAT team through a college buddy's recommendation.
In those days, Trice was an exception to the rule. Most CAT adjusters tended to be "grizzled old veterans," says Trice, who had worked as staff adjusters for their entire careers. After raising their families and putting in their time, though, they wanted to escape their desks and get into the field.
YOUNGER ADJUSTERS HOLD SWAY
Nowadays, however, the industry tendency is toward younger adjusters. Companies educate these newbies themselves on the ways of general property adjusting. Crawford has invested millions in its training program, called "Crawford University." Besides classroom learning on property-adjusting basics, the curriculum also includes fieldwork at a branch office.
"Some of the companies actually have houses that are in warehouses, and they go in and show you how the house is built," says Atkinson. "When I started, they did not do that," he adds, betraying himself now as one of those grizzled veterans.
For Atkinson and other old pros, schooling has come over the course of a career, at every catastrophe, at every loss. After decades on the job, adjusters become proficient not only in insurance coverages, engineering, architecture and construction, but also in meteorology, geology, psychology and several other "ologies."
When he worked on hospital claims, for instance, Atkinson had to grasp the inner workings of a facility's CT scanners, physiology monitors and other high-tech, high-price medical devices, not just the building's blueprint.
"You have a working knowledge when you first start out," Atkinson says, "but every time you look at a loss, you learn something. And me being in this business as long as I have, I'm still learning things."
Though it's easy to paint CAT adjusters as the Indiana Joneses of the insurance world, chasing hurricanes with their big brains, Trice and Atkinson add that it can be challenging.
"Anybody who has children and everything, I try to talk them out of it, because it's a hard life," says Trice.
Atkinson says he's known adjusters to go "four to five years without stopping working, and it means being on the road all the time, being away from family. There are people who can do that, and there are people who cannot."
September 1, 2005
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