Victims of the devastating duo hurricanes – Katrina and Rita – know first hand the importance of insurance claims adjusters. “Those men and women were on the front lines with money to get people’s lives back together,” reports Sterrett Harper, executive director of the California Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters in Burbank.
“There is a wealth of employment opportunities mainly because claims adjusting jobs seem to be recession proof. People who are claims adjusters can always find a job easily.”
Where There’s a Loss . . .
Public claims adjusters deal with residential and business losses arising from all kinds of calamities: floods, fires, explosions, hurricanes and high winds, riots and civil commotions, vandalism and theft.
According to Harper, anything or anyone can be insured. One of the more famous examples is the policy on actress Marlene Dietrich’s legs in the 1940s.
“There are many different areas,” he continues. “Insurance adjusters stepped in with property and business interruption and catastrophic loss claims when the World Trade Centers were struck. Those teams of adjusters made all the difference.”
Harper notes that he has investigated five murders in his 27-year career, while there are others who handle everything from aviation claims and art theft to white-collar crime losses.
“During the recent rain, I had to determine how much money it would take to pay a farmer for the loss of several flooded acres of cotton,” he recalls. “Chicken farmers in Turkey had to recover the loss of birds that were destroyed because of the avian flu.”
For jobseekers looking to adjust their career path, Harper says most large insurance companies want applicants to have a college degree. However, it is not uncommon for someone who starts on the clerical side and shows initiative and “something on the ball” to become a successful adjuster. Most new hires start at an annual salary of $24,000 to $45,000. Trainees are then sent to adjusters school in various locations.
“Insurance adjusters help people immensely at a time of high stress,” notes Harper. “If a house is destroyed, they help to get the person’s life back in order, and that is satisfying.”
More good news for those willing to take on a pressure-cooker career: Specialists such as those who handle natural disasters can earn $80 to $300 an hour, boosting annual pay to over $100,000.
Harper says the most enjoyable part of his job is meeting new people. “The most satisfying part is handing out checks to policy holders after an unforeseen event. Wading through water or climbing over broken walls to get to them is a great feeling.”
Janie Carduff, human resources manager with State Farm Insurance in Rohnert Park, says she looks for applicants that have a certain spark.
“Out of a vast field of applicants, someone with strong communication, team work and analytical skills will get my attention,” she says. “In California, bilingual skills are a plus. The experience does not have to be in the insurance field because we have an intensive training program.”
State Farm hires recent college graduates as well as others from diverse career backgrounds.
Annual starting salaries can range from $34,000 in California’s inland areas to $37,500 in the Bay Area.
Kate Diehl, with the Association of California Insurance Companies, comments that claims adjusters can only deliver on whatever coverage was purchased by the customer, and often that is disappointing news.
“Their job is difficult because they are interpreting a policy to someone who has had a loss,” she attests. “After the hurricanes in Louisiana and other Gulf Coast areas, claims adjusters had to deliver a lot of bad news to policyholders whose losses were not covered because they didn’t buy flood insurance policies.”
Tough Negotiators Needed
Diehl thinks most people don’t want to talk about insurance until it’s too late and many don’t know what their policy covers.
That’s the reason she thinks a good claims adjuster is someone who has good negotiating skills, is good with people, is able to listen and communicate well, and has the ability to take technical information and translate it into language people can understand.
“You also have to be thick-skinned enough to not take things personally,” she advises. “After all they are just the messengers.”
Diehl notes the psychic rewards of meeting tough challenges like trying to find coverage for someone and thinking creatively about ways to help people work through a situation of economic loss. She points out that many policyholders have expectations that the insurance company will take care of everything when disaster strikes. So, knowing the nuances of the business is key to getting the job done. That might include telling a homeowner that her policy covers water damage but not the replacement of a broken water pipe that caused the damage.
Still, for the most part, “insurance adjusters can help people recover,” Diehl concludes. “People are so grateful to know they will be taken care of. It’s a warm feeling to be able to hand someone a check that allows them to buy whatever they need for themselves and their family.”