By: Jeff Esper | December 02, 2016

Why You Need an Independent Review at the Start
Losses that appear to be under deductible always benefit from an independent review. Deductibles for CAT losses have become more complex over the years and interdependent operations spread the impact across the organization, so it’s increasingly challenging to have confidence in the preliminary evaluation, especially when informing key stakeholders. Those who have had losses know, with hindsight, there are gaps in understanding and initial questions that are critical to the deductible evaluation. Avail yourself of a candid, independent review from the start so that whether you have a recoverable claim or not, you’ll be prepared.
  
Many policyholders engage forensic accountants when they are confident the loss exceeds the deductible, but few think to involve help when unsure. Experienced, professional help can highlight the key factors in this evaluation, and will provide a result you can rely on to make better decisions and reduce potential wasted effort.

Here are three reasons to make this step a standard risk management protocol for your company:

1. Deductibles Require Measurement

Under or over deductible is the first question once you turn your attention to the financial response. Deductible policy language has evolved over the years as insurers respond to claim nuances and program needs. The professionals at RWH Myers have assisted clients with quantifying deductibles and preparing claims throughout these changing times. We understand the languages quirks and can quickly scope out the magnitude of applicable deductibles.


2. Insurance Accounting is Unique

Loss accounting is a different discipline than financial or managerial accounting. Misunderstandings waste time and create unwanted transactional friction. Breed process efficiency with the right questions and meaningful answers from a team with experience translating managerial accounting into insurance loss accounting for policyholders.


3. Consider Motivations

Are operations overly optimistic?  Is finance overly pessimistic?  Might reporting a claim impact contingent commissions? Independent expertise will navigate through any biases to pull it all together in a way that answers the important questions based on their merits, ultimately facilitating the financial recovery process. 

No one can anticipate a loss and policyholders actively work to avoid them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to plan for when you have a claim. A candid, independent review will give you the confidence of an appropriate deductible threshold evaluation and segue into a smooth and fair claim process.

by William A. Warren, CPA, CGMA

By: Jeff Esper | September 07, 2016

Once disaster strikes, the first priorities are always safety and preservation of property, but there are priorities to consider ahead of a loss to avoid unexpected surprises. Disaster mitigation and restoration is a critical service after property damage, and how you manage it may impact the outcome of your claim. Though there are many capable firms that specialize in property damage clean-up and restoration, there are some that will make mistakes and others may even take advantage of the situation. When it comes to recovering the cost of mitigation and restoration services for an insurance claim, any mishaps can create big problems that may leave you stuck with the bill. 


Here are some techniques to prevent potential problems before they arise:

  1. Vet your emergency response team prior to loss - Preparation is the key in any endeavor but with property damage claims, you cannot be too prepared. Recovery service providers should be identified and interviewed. Make sure the company you choose will be able to handle your potential issues. Involve your insurer during vetting. There are “approved” vendors that insurance companies recommend; however, just because they are “approved” does not mean there will not problems. Notify the insurance company of who you plan to use as well. 
  2. Clarify and document scope of work - Be clear on scope of work with the recovery firm and make the adjuster part of that conversation. Often, emergency response does not follow the normal protocols of a typical project. There likely won’t be time for detailed estimates, so try to get the adjuster to approve work in real-time to avoid second guessing. 
  3. Take a hands-on approach - Your property may still be underwater, but once access is granted, you must be hands-on. No one should have access to your facility without the presence of a company representative. Assign a property supervisor to the affected site to keep track of who is there and what they are doing. It’s your property and your responsibility. The bigger the loss, the more people coming in and going out, so it is vital to have a company representative onsite to observe and answer questions.
  4. Audit contractor charges before approving - The first weeks after a loss is chaotic. It’s important for policyholders to put controls in place to monitor activity and to verify work has been completed to specifications and according to the terms of the agreement. Reimbursable insurance expenses should be separated and audited prior to payment for proper detail and accuracy. This needs to be done efficiently in real-time. If you don’t have the resources, this step can be completed by your claim preparation accountants i.e. forensic accountants. Having forensic accountants on your team, along with your technical experts, can process this information in the context of insurance recovery. Don’t assume your forensic accountants will automatically audit invoices. Identifying errors or worse, fraud, is critical to avoid delays in payment or project completion. If you hire RWH Myers, we will discuss the proper protocol and work with you to establish the internal controls to intercept errors. 
  5. Address issues immediately - When the first invoice arrives, insurance companies may act surprised and even deny coverage, especially if the steps above have not been followed. Make sure to get the parties together to discuss the issues. Don’t procrastinate and don’t assume. It is important to be proactive with any potential discrepancies. The policyholder is responsible if there are unresolved differences. If the adjuster disagrees with the work performed and the invoices are paid, it may be difficult to recover everything your expenses. 

The immediate aftermath of a disaster is stressful and hectic. Preparation and communication can help you weather the storm and minimize unwanted surprises when you’re looking for claim payment. Having an experienced and independent forensic accounting team will reduce the stress, the workload and reimbursement issues. Per the tagline for one of the largest restoration firms, in the end you want it to be “Like it never even happened.”

Category: Insights 

Tags: Claims, Property Damage 

By: Jeff Esper | August 18, 2015

It’s okay to get help!
Recently, we hired a business development professional. In learning our business model and marketing strategy, he asked, “Who is your biggest competitor?” We said: our customers — the “do-it-yourselfers.” This struck him as odd, but it is the absolute truth.We are in the business of preparing property claims that usually involve physical damage and business interruption. This is a very specialized practice that is part accounting, part insurance and part art. However, the companies we approach often feel they are in the best position to handle this process and do not need outside assistance.

Why is that? 
When a claim is reported, the insurance company will assign an adjuster to the claim — either an inside adjuster or an independent adjuster — sometimes both. The adjuster is hired by and paid for by the insurance company to make sure the claim fits within terms and conditions of the insurance contract. The adjuster will rely on specialists of his own — usually forensic accountants and forensic engineers. The specialists allow the adjuster to focus on his job of interpreting the coverage, reporting back to the insurance company and negotiating settlement on behalf of the insurance company. The specialists are there to verify the details of the claim that is presented to them by the policyholder. The insurance adjuster alone cannot and does not take on all of the responsibilities. The adjusters are the experts at this process — it is their business and they do it every day — but they still get specialized help.

So if the insurer handles claims this way, why would the insured not get expert help?
Think of the “do-it-yourselfer” project at home. Let’s say you’re pretty handy around the house, so you look at that bathroom that needs remodeling and decide, “I’ll do it myself this weekend.” Technically, you CAN do it yourself — you can take your crowbar and sawzall and do the demolition; you can handle laying the tile; and, with a little research, you could figure out the plumbing. The first weekend you go out to buy the extra tools you need and some supplies, and you get to work. Maybe the demo will go easily, but if you’ve ever tackled a home project, you know nothing is as easy as it seems, and it always takes more time than expected.If you make it through the demo, you spend the rest of the weekend figuring out your strategy for the new bathroom. Because you have a day job, each evening that next week you try to make progress, but by the end of the week you are bleary-eyed from the stress of this unfamiliar work and the late nights of trial and error. 

The next weekend, you cannot get back to the work, because you have family activities. When the vanity arrives, you realize it does not quite fit the way it should. Next, you realize you need more tools. Your weekend project turns into months of disarray. If you stay the course, months later you’ll have a functional bathroom, but there are usually a few steps that you decide you’ll have to get to eventually. At this point, you’re getting busier at work, and you just don’t have the bandwidth to get back to the myriad of subsequent bathroom issues, so you consider bringing in an expert to bail you out.

Preparing a claim is very similar, if you do it yourself. In addition to saving time, stress and compromising the results, your claim preparation expert has the tools of the trade, the skills and the experience to achieve an accurate and timely recovery. In contrast to the home improvement example, though, your claim preparer’s fees should be covered, in part or in full, by your property policy. So, if you’re not saving time or money by doing it yourself, and an expert will get you a better result, why would you not engage a professional claim preparer?That question seems like a no-brainer, yet so many still take the DIY approach to property claims.

To sum up, it is okay to ask for help. The policyholder is not expected to be able to “do it yourself.” That is why you have professional fees coverage. The insurance company assigns its experts to adjust and audit your claims, and they’ll be better-equipped to meet their objectives than you will if you take the DIY approach. They are the insurers experts, so it is advisable for you to bring in your experts to represent your interests.Here are a few suggestions of what to look for in a firm to prepare your claims.


  • A loss accounting specialist, because insurance accounting is a unique trade. Typically, the firm will identify itself as forensic accountants.
  • Experience with the types of property claims you have, in your industry or similar ones, and with at least 10 years in the field.
  • Independence. This will ensure the firm is on your side with no conflicts of interest. Avoid allowing your insurer’s accountants to calculate your losses. The same hold for any other party that may have a conflict.
  • A firm that qualifies for professional fees coverage. The fees should be based on an hourly rating scale, not on contingencies. Property policies will have specific exclusions, such as public adjusters and broker affiliated services.
  • A firm that is respected by insurers, adjusters and brokers. Your accountants should not threaten your relationships to achieve the result.

If you see the benefit of engaging a team to prepare your property and business interruption claims, do your due diligence ahead of a loss. Interview any qualifying candidates and make your choice. The firm should be involved in your claim from the very beginning.If you take this advice, your claims will go much smoother, and the claim will be free of leaks and loose tiles.


Published 8-18-15: InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com

Category: Insights 

Tags: Property Damage 

By: Jeff Esper | May 28, 2015

The major storm and flood waters in parts of Texas and Oklahoma have caused death, destruction and despair affecting residents and businesses.  Those in Houston certainly remember similar experiences from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.  Just like Allison, the waters will eventually recede and properties will be restored, but the impact will be felt for years to come.

To rebuild and restore businesses after an event like this involves time, effort and a good strategy. When it’s time to file a claim, having the right strategy will relieve much of the financial burden to your business. Coverage for the property damage may involve FEMA, Commercial Insurance, and other forms of aid. Maximizing recovery from all applicable sources is a daunting task, especially in the aftermath of catastrophic events. This is why informed policyholders turn to RWH Myers.

Just like the rebuilding and recovery effort itself, the financial recovery requires a team approach, but involving the right team is imperative. There are always those looking to take advantage of a disaster, so be cautious of who you hire for any service. It is always best to work with people you can depend on and trust. It is almost impossible to completely prepare for a disasters like this, but when it comes to preparing your claim, involving an experienced team will make a huge difference in both the process and the outcome.

The partners at RWH Myers have been through every named storm in the last three decades-including Allison, Ivan, Katrina.  We know how to accurately measure your losses, prepare your claims and recover what you deserve. Recovery may not come easily, but with the right team, it will be easier on you and your organization.

If you are in need of financial recovery assistance - including the preparation of insurance and FEMA claims related to this event - please contact the specialists at RWH Myers.  We are independent and devoted to the policyholder.

For more helpful information or to contact us visit- www.rwhmyersinsights.com.

By: Jeff Esper | April 15, 2015

When a property claim occurs, with or without business interruption, it is very common to assume that it will be straightforward. Just submit your invoices, and your insurer sends you a check. You may think, “We can do it ourselves,” or, “We have it under control.” If this has been your approach, you need to read on.


There are many potential issues when preparing a property claim that are commonly overlooked or misunderstood. The challenge is even greater if there is a business interruption component to your claim.


From experience, my partners and I have identified the most common property claim issues that can slow down the claim process and have an adverse affect on recovery.


 


1. Repair vs. Replacement

Repair vs. replacement comes up in almost every significant property claim. The issue arises when it becomes a battle of opinions and assumptions. We all know the humor on opinions and assumptions — but your property damage claim is no laughing matter, so let’s explore what can happen.


If you have a replacement policy, you have the option to repair or replace. If it makes more sense to replace with a new and improved item, then you should do what’s best for your business. However, if repairs are possible and at a lower cost, the adjuster will undoubtedly dispute the claim, and you’ll be debating a matter of opinion. When the adjuster’s experts recommend repairs that you know are not guaranteed to work, especially long-term, you face a challenge. As a business, you cannot afford to risk a failed repair, so you elect to go with new equipment with a warranty. The repair option will now be a theoretical scenario that your insurer can leverage to adjust your claim payment. Regardless of the adjuster’s position, you did what was best for your business, but there’s a way to neutralize this potential adjustment.


    •    First, the worst thing you can do is proceed on a plan without sharing your logic with the adjuster. Include the adjuster in the initial assessment and decision-making process. While you have the right to do what is best for your business, the adjuster’s involvement and buy-in early on will make them part of the decision and can help to avoid an issue down the road.
    • Next, get several (at least three) independent quotes to repair or replace the equipment — these quotes should include the time, expense and predicted reliability of the repair. If you only get a quote from the original manufacturer, there could be a perception that it has an ulterior motive. Armed with data, you will have an easier time justifying your decision. For example, the repair option may be cheaper, but if it takes longer to complete, it will add to your business interruption claim and ultimately cost more.
    • Finally, perform a realistic analysis of various failed repairs scenarios and the potential impact on timing and costs. Discuss your findings with the adjuster to ensure any subsequent repairs and resulting business interruption would be covered as part of this claim and not a separate occurrence. After all, everything is technically repairable — it is just a matter of determining the most practical solution given all the circumstances.

2. Betterments

Losses often present opportunities to make useful changes and improvements to operations. Adjusters anticipate this and will be prepared with reasons to limit recovery by labeling certain repairs, reconfigurations, and replacements as betterments. Most of the time, newer is better, and that is why you pay for a replacement policy. However, just because something is better does not mean you should not get full replacement value.


Let’s say you are replacing a piece of production equipment that was damaged as part of your loss. In searching for a replacement, you find that the as-was capacity replacement for your equipment is no longer available and that the alternative equipment has a 10% greater production capacity than the damaged property. In this case, the adjuster may argue for a credit for the increased capacity. Though the new equipment is clearly a benefit to your business, because the exact model that is being replaced is no longer available, you don’t have an equivalent alternative. If required to justify and validate your decision, simply compare the cost/time differential between your decision and a custom order built to spec. In cases like this, you should not be penalized for the betterment.


There are valid adjustments for betterments, but it’s important to understand the difference between a betterment and your rights to a replacement of like kind and quality.


3. Property Damage vs. Extra Expense

From a policyholder perspective, the types of expenses related to the claim do not really matter because they are necessary to get back in business. The insurance company, however, needs to see expenses segregated into their proper insurance claim buckets. To ensure a smooth claim process, knowing how best to account for expenses is critical to the outcome of your claim. Let’s say you have payroll expenses for cleanup and remediation. If you consider that property and extra expense are subject to different limits and deductibles, it makes good sense to claim them according to your coverage limits. As a rule of thumb, look at the property bucket first for expenses related to cleanup and repair of the property because the extra-expense bucket will offset business interruption, thus allowing you to operate as normally as possible during the indemnity period.


As an example, assume you have production labor working overtime to keep production going and to clean up and repair damage from the loss. This time should be separated as normal labor, property damage cleanup and repair and extra expense. To complicate things further, both normal rates and overtime rates need to be factored into each calculation. Finally, you have to keep detailed records that document the who, what, when and where that is involved in the work being done.


Remember, when appropriate, it’s best to claim expenses as property damage, provided the costs can be documented. It is a more tangible approach and will avoid conflicting with the business interruption calculations for extra expense and inefficiencies, which are based on assumptions and subject to debate.


4. Actual Cash Value

Immediately after a loss, you are entitled to recover the documented actual cash value (ACV) of your damaged property. You may claim ACV as the amount you are due before exploring replacement options. This is a good tactic if you want to get the cash flowing early in the process while the replacement values are being determined and decisions on replacement are made. However, accurately determining ACV can be challenging.


Typically, the starting point is the asset ledger that shows a depreciated value of the asset. However, this number is usually used for tax purposes and may not represent the actual value of the asset. Other options to value the asset include pricing based on what a willing buyer would pay or replacement less physical depreciation based on the actual life of the asset. These methods vary state by state. Do your research to value the asset appropriately under the circumstances and know that there is not one right answer.


Additionally, some policies allow you to recover full replacement value for assets even if you do not replace them. The policies usually require that you spend the money on a capital project that was not approved at the time of the loss. The capital improvement does not necessarily have to replace capability of the lost assets. If this is of interest, check with your broker about adding this option to your program.


5. Period of Indemnity Impact

In general, the period of indemnity is the length of time it takes (or should take) to make property repairs. Once repairs are complete or should have been complete, the period of indemnity terminates. While you can, and should, attempt to settle portions of the property claim as you go, any agreements related to the property side of your claim can have a costly impact on the indemnity period for the time-element portion of the claim. It is critically important to address property issues in tandem with time element, to avoid unnecessary recovery issues.


This can be a little confusing. As an example, let’s assume you have a total loss to a piece of equipment, and the replacement cost is known. It would be reasonable to settle for the replacement cost of that equipment. However, the adjuster assumes an aggressive timeline to order and install the equipment, not considering how installation might affect continuing production. When this happens, make sure the timeline and assumptions for installation are clear and acceptable before settling on the cost to replace the equipment. Otherwise, you might get what you want on the property settlement and then lose on the time element.


If you have a separate team working on the property and time-element claims, collaboration is essential to avoid assumption-based adjustments, This becomes especially important when repairs are theoretical, as this will be the basis for the time-element recovery. Always remember to consider all assumptions needed for time-element claims as part of any property settlement.


6. Residual Value Adjustment

If you have a significant property claim, you may need to purchase equipment or supplies on a temporary basis. The validity of these purchases is not in question, but their use once permanent repairs are made is. For items such as this, the adjuster may look to take a residual value credit. Essentially, the adjuster agrees that you needed that item, but when the permanent repairs are made (and paid for), you will no longer need it. This may be true, but this does not always mean you should not get full value for the item.


For example, you have an electrical loss that will keep you out of business for an extended period. You purchase a generator to provide basic power to areas of your business. When repairs are complete and power is restored, you no longer need the generator but still have the unit. Because you still have it, the adjuster takes a residual value credit. Is that fair?


The first question you need to ask is whether you want to keep the generator. If there is some value to you, a fair credit can be negotiated with the insurance company. If you do not want to keep the item or do not feel the credit is reasonable, you can have the insurance company take possession — after all, the insurer paid for it. If the insurance company thinks it can get value from the generator by taking possession and selling it, the company will probably take you up on this. More often than not, this is not cost-effective, and you can minimize or eliminate the residual value credit.


7. Documentation

If you have never been through a significant property claim, you might not appreciate the level of detail that is required to document your claim. The general perception is that you gather some invoices and quotes on a sample basis, and that should be enough. Unfortunately, the requirements for an insurance claim are more detailed than most capital projects and audits. Quotes and estimates need to be extremely detailed, and proof of payment needs to be documented almost entirely — if you cannot properly document a claim, it will likely not be paid. It may not be acceptable to the insurance company to use a dollar threshold for charges because the company will insist on auditing 100% of the charges.


To demonstrate the level of scrutiny that claims come under, I refer to an experience I had on one of the largest claims I worked on. The property portion of the claim was close to $200 million. Months of work and tons (literally) of paper were presented to support this claim. During a meeting between the accountants and engineers, one of the engineers made copies for everyone of one invoice presented for payment. He adamantly pointed out that the invoice had been duplicated in our claim submission. It was for one $5 roll of duct tape.


The point is that handling and organizing all the documentation required to support your claim can be daunting. To avoid mistakes, it is advisable to assign a dedicated person or team to locate, scan, print and manage all the support documentation. Bringing in an expert forensic accountant is always a good option to consider, especially for larger, complicated claims or just to relieve your team from these tedious and burdensome tasks. Forensic accountants that specialize in claim preparation may be covered in your policy to work on your behalf. Though you will still have some work to do, your claim will go more smoothly, with fewer pitfalls.


Now you know why property claims are not as easy and straightforward as you might expect. After decades of preparing claims for policyholders, we can attest that what you don’t know comes at a cost in both time and money. We hope the information above can help you prepare for at least some of the issues you might encounter should you have a future property damage claim.



Published 3-31-15: InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com

Category: Insights 

Tags: Property Damage