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Checks and balances: survey suggests salaries, workloads still off-kilter.

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Each election year provides us with a reality check and a reminder that we all have choices and the power to effectuate change. The impending presidential election marks a time for reflection and for astute analysis of the current state of affairs and the decisions that will shape the future for all, including the talented for whom we write.

While at the polls on a brisk November day, fellow countrymen will vote for the type of America they envision. Figuratively speaking, the similarities between this voting process and the one that Claims and its readers embark upon each year are somewhat similar. It is true that we solicit feedback by conducting a poll of a different sort, beseeching our constituency for the vital information that will enable us to create content that is truly reflective of the industry's financial perils and perks. As any insider will readily divulge, this profession is not for the faint of heart and signifies a truly valiant endeavor.

Without input from you, it simply would not be possible to stay abreast of the fluctuating needs and salary figures of all of those diligently working in the trenches, from independent claim adjusters to insurance company vice presidents. To the more than 200 claim professionals who judiciously completed this year's 18th annual salary survey, we would like to express our sincere gratitude. By sharing your reality, from assessing on-the-job practicalities and benefits, to venting grievances (some of which run deep) and alerting us to certain other "deficits," you are empowering other professionals and helping to facilitate fair salary negotiations.

The virtual ballots have been tallied. Without further ado, we are happy to report what we believe is an accurate reflection of current claim professional compensation trends.

Going Grassroots

Given the fact that this year's final figures were similar to that of the 2007 salary study, some might lobby that a "more of the same" attitude pervaded the air. However, implicit in the deluge of statistics is the good news that, after years of bad press, there's definitely something good to talk about.

The overwhelming majority of all respondents--insurer claim staff and independents alike--would heartily recommend the profession to others. Sixty-eight percent voiced enthusiasm about the opportunities it affords.

'Adjusting is a great way to learn about insurance," said one seasoned risk manager with 35 years of industry experience. "For me, working in claims offered a great introduction to risk management. I love the work, the controversies, and how much you have to know to become an excellent adjuster."

Generally speaking, however, claim staffers-at-large stand somewhat divided in terms of the future outlook of the adjusting profession, with 50 percent reporting positive feelings, 25 percent negative, and 24 percent adopting an apathetic viewpoint.

Cheers and Jeers

As in all past incarnations of the survey, two divergent schools of thought continue to resurface: those who regard monetary compensation as sufficient and those who remain less than impressed. While a fair number of survey respondents characterized the profession as "steady pay for humane hours" others disagreed, painting a more dismal view of a career path plagued by scrimpy wages and a perceived lack of recognition for contributions.

"Compensation has gone down, work demand has gone up, expenses have exploded; I am considering leaving the business," blasted an independent adjusting firm owner who reports making $100,000 annually and has five years of industry experience.

Another independent adjuster concurred by saying, "the expectations for service, quality, and results continue to increase the workload," while an insurer claim manager who has put in 34 years of experience offered searing commentary of his own and accused those at the top of the managerial food chain of being out of touch.

"Salaries have not kept pace with technical and legal requirements of the job," he said. "Advanced knowledge and experience about a span of subjects do not appear to be acknowledged and appreciated by upper management. I feel that management wants a Cadillac product for a Chevrolet price."

For the vast expertise required and the encompassing spectrum of subjects, claim salaries have always been considered low. Although this sentiment of being "overworked and underpaid," has resonated throughout the industry for years, it seemed more pronounced for certain members of our readership, namely independent adjusters.

In fact, one owner of a West Coast independent adjusting firm with 40 years of experience seemed to say what is on the minds of masses: "For an owner, compensation is relatively good," he said. "For an independent adjuster, a lot of effort is required, arguably more than many employees are willing to give, in order to make a desirable salary."

"Independent adjusters are not compensated adequately in regard to the expenses incurred, including gas and other necessities," said an insurer claim staff manager who has logged 18 years of service and makes $68,500 annually. "Too many independent adjusting firms are billing the carrier for certain charges but are not passing reimbursement on to the adjuster who has incurred these expenses."

The situation seems to be even direr for those who charge that low pay and unmanageable workloads are leading to a higher incidence of unprofessional behavior and "little or no educational possibilities."

"For my position, I am underpaid significantly. I train, handle claims, and my knowledge is vast," a Nevada claim manager lamented. "Unfortunately, my employer does not appreciate the difficulty in training the next generation, and does not properly compensate."

"Several of the many independent adjusters that report to me express burnout because of the workload with which they are burdened," reported one senior vice president based in the South. "Some have been in the business for many years and are fed up with a workload of more than 100 claims, some being multi-million dollar losses. For an independent to excel, he should customarily handle a maximum of 60 to 80 claims. I've talked with other independent adjusters hundreds of miles away from the overloaded adjusters, and they are hungry for business. The ones who are overloaded tend to reside near large cities."

In a sagging economy, workers across all industry lines--not just this segment of insurance--are being asked to assume heavier responsibilities without being adequately compensated for them. No one is immune to this predicament. Although a sizeable percentage of our constituency in particular seems to point to current wages that are not congruent with current expectations, it is probable that a certain level of dissatisfaction will invariably exist in any career.

It is somewhat surprising then that this year's numbers indicate that, for many, workloads are manageable or at least as manageable as they have been for the past couple of years. No significant leap in overtime hours was reported; 59 percent of the insurance claim staff and 55 percent of independent claim staff said that they spent about the same number of hours working in 2008 as they did during the previous year. Perhaps one respondent said it best when he proclaimed that "few people believe they are overpaid."

Beyond the Rhetoric

The flexibility to establish one's own schedule and work one-on-one with policyholders are perks of the profession. More tangible benefits include medical, dental, and life insurance, all of which are readily accessible to the average claim professional. Other benefits are becoming more accessible still, as our survey indicated that the availability of 401k to independent staffers has increased from 36 percent in 2007 to 48 percent this year. More independents than ever report having short-term disability benefits, as well. In fact, 45 percent of those independents polled have coverage, whereas only 19 percent reported coverage in 2007.

The numbers also seem to suggest good news for insured staff adjusters. Nearly 39 percent of insured claim staff report being offered company cars, and 63 percent are provided with laptop computers to conduct business. Of those in managerial positions who chose to participate in the survey, more than half agreed that it was a top priority to equip staff with the appropriate technology and tools, including educational opportunities (when possible) and telecommuting.

"Nowadays, an adjuster can easily provide customer service to the client from any location," said an insurer staff vice president. "Some have even said that the productivity of 'office' employees is waning. My resident employees work circles around those of us in an office with the constant interruptions of the chit chatters and the office politics. Telecommuting may be a way to save on the bottom line, not only for the company, but also for the employee. Aren't we all looking for that one edge to make sure we can keep our top employees?"

Better, Not Bitter

On a routine basis, most claim professionals must effectively cope with the whims of Mother Nature and the inherent unpredictability of the job. In the practical sense, this resounding resilience serves the industry well, and it also contributes to a healthy, if not downright optimistic, outlook that many survey respondents seem to convey.

Despite the rising fuel costs, few independents seem deterred. In fact, only 26 percent of the independent adjusters we polled said that they would either reconsider switching to a staff adjuster position or leave the independent adjusting profession altogether to pursue other career avenues because of the exorbitantly priced commodity. Seventy-four percent said they planned to continue to forge ahead regardless of the pinch, which, barring divine intervention, shows no signs of subsiding anytime soon.

Aside from burgeoning expenses, the issue of attracting fresh talent is worthy of attention, especially amid the mass exodus of retiring boomers. One way to get rookies in the door is to demonstrate the allure of the intellectual component of claim adjusting, which has always been a source of pride for the discerning professional. Yet some respondents feel that element is waning. "Companies are depending more on telephone adjusters who are not field-trained and rely on contractors," charged an insurer claim staff adjuster with nine years of experience.

He went on to discuss the "dumbing down of workforce," citing limited educational opportunities and a drone-like existence that is not as rewarding as it once was. "Some feel that senior management sees the role of an adjuster as something that a monkey can easily execute," he continued.

To that end, the assertion that there is a lack of young qualified adjusters in today's claim workforce should be given credence. A proactive approach will involve a reevaluation of the treatment and regard for those in this profession. Without a reality check, qualified and talented adjusters could grow despondent and exit the industry, which is not advantageous for anyone.

"The claim profession seems to have lower salaries compared to others within the insurance family, such as underwriting and so forth," said an independent claim manager with just over 20 years in the business. An insurer claim manager residing in Kansas agreed, saying that the insurance industry needs to take a hard look at the business environment and its staffing issues. "While I make a decent salary, with the rising costs of commuting and the minimal raise amounts, something is going to have to give soon," she said.

United, We Stand

Invariably, there will be uneasiness as wages shrink or remain stagnant as time investment and complex duties soar. But given these obvious factors--increasing operating expenses, more work, the perceived lack of respect--why stay? For some, the benefits of helping a diverse populace and enjoying a dynamic work environment outweighs the less-appealing aspects of their respective positions. To combat burnout, some approach the profession with renewed zest, citing its altruistic nature.

"It is a rewarding profession to have the opportunity to impact lives when someone is suffering from a loss," said one Arkansas-based independent adjuster.

"I love being in the insurance industry," commented an insurer claim staff adjuster. "It's not every profession where you have the chance to help someone each day. Many times, we take what was a bad day and hopefully can make it better or at least let them know that they are not alone and that we are really there to help them."

Yet another enthusiastic professional eloquently wrote, "Insurance fraud and claims affect us all, and we need to be concerned and educated because insurance is a way of life from the car we drive, the house we live in, and the life insurance for when we die."

Unlike the "die has been cast" nature of the next four-year presidential reign, we have the ability to garner the feedback necessary to perpetuate noticeable change on a yearly basis. Inventorying the current strengths and weaknesses of the system will allow employers and dedicated professionals to weather financial storms and thrive. Participating in this survey and sharing your vision for the future of the industry represents a very personal choice, and we thank you for doing so.

SALARY SURVEY METHODOLOGY

A random sampling of 800 Claims subscribers was sent our salary survey in Aug, 2008, and a link to the survey also was published on claimsmag.com. We received 220 usable responses, a response rate of almost three percent. Insurer claim staffs were well represented, with a 53 percent response rate, while independent claim staff responded at a rate of 32 percent In addition, risk managers accounted for 9 percent of our sampling,

BY CHRISTINA BRAMLET, SENIOR EDITOR
AVERAGE SALARIES

Insurer Claim Staff

Officers                  $156,735
Managers/Supervisors       $90,677.69
Adjusters                  $65,570.59
AVERAGE                   $104,327.76

Independent Claim Staff

Owners                     $98,159.08
Officers                   $92,605.64
Managers/Supervisors       $78,436.41
Adjusters                  $69,532.86
AVERAGE                    $84,683.50

Note: Table made from bar graph.

CLAIMS CONSITUENCY

Demographic breakdowns of this year's survey respondents.

Sex

Female   32%
Male     68%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

2008 AGE RESULTS

Insurer
Claim Staff

65+          5%
55-64       28%
45-54       37%
35-44       26%
Under 35     4%

Independent
Claim Staff

65+          8%
55-64       32%
45-54       41%
35-44       13%
Under 35     6%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

BENEFITS OFFERED

Life Insurance
Insurer Staff: 94%
Independent Staff: 48%

Medical Insurance
Insurer Staff: 98%
Independent Staff: 59%

Dental Insurance
Insurer Staff: 93%
Independent Staff: 49%

Pension, 401(k)
Insurer Staff: 94%
Independent Staff: 48%

Profit Sharing
Insurer Staff: 40%
Independent Staff: 27%

Employee Stock
Purchase Plan
Insurer Staff: 20%
Independent Staff: 17%

Short-Term Disability
Insurer Staff: 84%
Independent Staff: 45%

Long-Term Disability
Insurer Staff: 91%
Independent Staff: 48%

PERKS AND WORKD TOOLS OFFERED

Laptop Computer
Insurer Staff: 63%
Independent Staff: 44%

Cellular Phone
Insurer Staff: 60%
Independent Staff: 45%

Home Phone/Internet
Insurer Staff: 32%
Independent Staff: 23%

GPS/Navigation
Insurer Staff: 14%
Independent Staff: 14%

Company Car
Insurer Staff: 39%
Independent Staff: 23%

Air Travel
Reimbursement
Insurer Staff: 45%
Independent Staff: 30%

Deferred Compensation
Insurer Staff: 15%
Independent Staff: 7%

Supplemental
Life Insurance
Insurer Staff: 62%
Independent Staff: 34%

Supplemental
Medical Insurance
Insurer Staff: 16%
Independent Staff: 4%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

WORKING HARD FOR THE MONEY

Overall, survey respondents did not report working a substantial
amount of extra hours in the past year.

Insurance Claim Staff

Substantially decreased      5%
Substantially increased      6%
Decreased somewhat           7%
Increased somewhat          23%
Stayed about the same       59%

Independent Claim Staff

Substantially decreased      6%
Substantially increased      7%
Decreased somewhat          10%
Increased somewhat          12%
Stayed about the same       55%

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Article Details
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Author:Bramlet, Christina
Publication:Claims
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Words:2544
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