Careers: becoming a residential claims adjuster
By Isabelle Ladouceur-Séguin|19 min|December 2021
Have you ever considered becoming a residential claims adjuster? Here's some advice from two experts.
Are you interested in the profession of residential claims adjuster? We asked two professionals, Marie T.* and André Beauchesne, to answer the most frequently asked questions about their field.
**Marie T. **is a claims adjuster working for an independent firm and specializing in home insurance claims. She asked to remain anonymous in order to express herself freely.
André Beauchesne has 34 years of experience as a claims adjuster. Although he now focuses on major loss liability cases, he has long worked in the home insurance sector. He also works for an independent adjusting firm.
*Not her real name
What does a claims adjuster do?
A.B. : The claims adjuster performs a number of tasks. First, he or she is responsible for securing the premises after the disaster. For example, by barricading the building or fencing off the area. In some cases, such as after a fire, he or she must commission an engineer to establish the cause of the disaster and collect witness testimonies.
At the same time, from day 1, he or she must take care of disaster victims. For example, find them a temporary accommodation or prepare emergency cheques for them if they have no money. Additionally, the claims adjuster must:
- have the disaster site cleaned up, debris removed and/or the land decontaminated
- commission an appraiser to determine the cost of reconstruction and have a contractor prepare an estimate
- make an inventory of the policyholder’s property
- calculate the amount of the claim settlement
- arrange for payment of the invoices for the reconstruction and replacement of belongings
As a claims adjuster, I have to settle the case according to the policyholder's insurance contract. And I must never forget that a claimant does not have the professional knowledge that I have. So it's up to me to educate and inform them so that they are able to manage their claim. And that, in the end, they have a fair and equitable settlement.
M.T. : The claims adjuster is like a project manager. He or she determines who should intervene when and offers support to the client.
Is there a demand for claims adjusters in the job market?
A.B. : From what I hear, there is some demand. Is there a labour shortage? I don't know. But there are always people retiring. We need a new generation of people - new blood - to replace them.
M.T. : Yes, there is a great shortage of claims adjusters these days. There are always positions to fill everywhere. So a skilled adjuster can have several offers in a year to go and work in different firms.
What made you want to become a residential claims adjuster?
A.B. : At the time - 34 years ago - I was 22 years old and leaving the Canadian Armed Forces because of a health problem. I didn't really know what to do as a career. My mother had contacts in the insurance business, so I went in as a filing clerk. That's how I got to know the claims adjusting business.
M.T. : My father was a manager in an insurance company. After various mergers and acquisitions, he decided to buy an adjusting firm. So from the age of 12, I started working in the clothes cleaning department.
One day, I got a fairly important job as a project manager. The claims adjusters I worked with would take me with them to see homes and meet clients. I didn't know anything about it - I didn't even have a home insurance policy in my name at the time! So I asked a lot of questions. "Why does one client get this and another doesn’t? I was told to "read the insurance policy". I decided to train as a claims adjuster instead.
What training is required to become a claims adjuster?
A.B. : When I started 34 years ago, we weren't given any specific orientation. You became a claims adjuster somewhat by accident. But it's different today. For example, my daughter is now a claims adjuster and had to complete a training programme, do an internship and pass exams.
M.T. : I completed my entire training remotely. In the evening, on weekends - at night, even. I think it was with Collège Montmorency or Rosemont.
I didn't have any courses with a teacher. In the old days (laughs), they would mail you your books and assignments. Then you would mail back your work. Remote learning was like that.
But these days, there are many ways to train to be a claims adjuster: online, in school, in a private college... There's even such a shortage of workers in the field at the moment that some employers are training people in-house.
That said, I believe the best way to complete training is the "normal” academic route. That way, you really get the full picture. Employers, on the other hand, will train their staff according to their needs.
How long does it take to complete the training?
M.T. : It depends on the programme. The most common is a college degree, which takes two years to complete. You can also get an attestation of college studies. Then there are companies that offer their own attestation.
Do you need a certification or licence?
M.T. : A claims adjuster must pass the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) exams to be licensed to work.
The AMF exams lead to a claims adjuster's licence, which has different options. You can get a licence to do just personal insurance or just commercial work. Finally, you can get a licence to do both.
A.B. : Back in the day, I got my licence by grandfathering. But today's young people have to go through the whole licensing process.
We are supervised by the Chambre de l'assurance de dommages and by the Autorité des marchés financiers, which issues our licences. We’re also required to earn continuing education credits every two years in order to renew our licence. And we have to follow our code of ethics.
How did you start your career as a claims adjuster?
M.T. : When I got my claims adjuster certification, I came to a point where I wasn't so interested in post-disaster cleaning. I saw myself moving beyond the cleaning company - without taking anything away from the people who work there.
So I called the claims adjuster who got me interested in doing this job and told him I had gotten licensed. I asked him, "Do you know of companies that are looking for a junior claims adjuster?” And that's how I got into the business. I started out on the phone working on automotive cases, then worked my way up.
A.B. : In the days when I started, you moved up the ladder much more slowly than today. After my first job as a clerk, I continued my career with another insurer. There, I worked on car insurance claims over the phone. My first cases were radio and hubcap thefts - we don't see that anymore!
Gradually, I started doing car accident cases, third party liability cases, then property cases. Small water damage, theft, then fire with major losses. I even investigated home damage related to illicit cannabis cultivation!
Many people start with car insurance before moving on to home insurance. Why is that?
M.T. : It's quite rare to start directly in home insurance. And in retrospect, I think it's a good thing. For one thing, it helps to get used to the customers’ mental state. A customer who has just had a major water damage or fire is going through an emotional rollercoaster. You have to understand the process and learn how to be there for them.
It would be difficult for a claims adjuster to start off with these types of cases. At the beginning, you don't have the right reflexes or the right words. You don't know the interventions that need to happen, and in what order. There are too many questions. I'm not saying that it can't be done - but it takes proper supervision by an experienced adjuster.
Starting out in car insurance claims gives you the right vocabulary. It allows you to get to grips with smaller claims, and build up skills. And it's a great career too!
A.B. : Today, you can transition into home insurance pretty quickly, in maybe a year or two. But when I started, it could take five or six years.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a residential claims adjuster?
M.T. : Many people think they will start the next day with a big fire, go on the road and do fieldwork. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. Again, unless you have a senior claims adjuster mentoring you. Or if your employer has a specific need or you got a referral.
My advice would be to persevere. Do your homework, get all the training and experience you can, and one day it will happen. The satisfaction of a client when you settle their case is worth it!
A.B. : You have to be willing to work in all kinds of conditions, sometimes with irregular hours. For example, if your customer calls at 4 p.m. on a Friday to report a fire, they don't want to hear that you were about to leave for the weekend. It’s not like a store with fixed business hours. A fire can happen at any time.
What qualities are important in a claims adjuster?
M.T. : Professionalism and listening. We often have to offer psychological support to policyholders. It’s no coincidence if insurance companies use the words "assistance and compensation" to describe their services. Assistance is just as important as compensation.
The majority of customers are first-time claimants. They are not used to it and do not know what to do. You have to be skilful, understand what’s going on and be well supported. As claims adjusters, we work with many different trades (e.g., plumbers, building contractors, engineers). They are all business partners, so you have to respect them and make a name for yourself. Above all, you need to persevere. That's the key.
I would also say that diplomacy and customer service are important.
A.B. : It's good to have some general knowledge of residential construction. Or if you don't have any, to educate yourself. If you're dealing with a sewer backup and you don't know what a French drain is, it’s a problem.
You also have to empathize with people. They’ve often suffered a huge shock that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Going through a fire and seeing your house completely burnt to the ground, sometimes with animals in it - or even humans - and having to rebuild everything from scratch, buy new furniture... This whole process takes a year, a year and a half.
And during this time, the claims adjuster is very close to his clients. Not only does he provide them with assistance to settle the financial aspect of the loss, he or she also (and above all) offers them psychological and moral support.
What do you like best about your job?
M.T. : For me, it's having the opportunity to work from home and have a flexible schedule. I work as many hours as I want, when I want, and make appointments with clients when it suits me. That flexibility is very important to me. When you start out in the business, it may not be the same. Junior claims adjusters tend to work on emergency hotlines, so they have to work a fixed number of hours per week.
In addition to the flexibility, there is also the interest you develop for other trades. Now I know a lot about construction (laughs). You're able to build up a body of knowledge that you wouldn't have in other fields.
A.B. : My favourite part of my job is feeling like I'm helping someone. The difference I can make by being empathetic and available, by giving what I think is the best advice to help these people... that's what motivates me.
When I come to work every morning, I am happy to do what I do.
Are you happy with your compensation?
A.B. : Yes, my job allows me to earn a good living.
M.T. : The pay is very attractive. Even though I don't have a university degree, I earn a good salary.
Are there any myths about claims adjusters?
M.T. : Yes, we often hear the infamous line "Everyone knows the insurers never want to pay!". But I think it's all the more important in these situations to explain and re-explain. We are there to suggest settlement scenarios: "This is what your insurer can do". But at the end of the day, it's the policyholder who makes a decision.
If we can get something for the customer, we will. That said, we’re not here to get their total satisfaction by saying yes to everything. Our role is to give them the money they are entitled to under their insurance policy.
A.B. : When I started in the business, over 30 years ago, there was a certain pressure to pay as little as possible. It's unfortunate because it wasn't adequate or legal.
But today, with the evolution of laws, contracts and rules issued by the Chambre de l'assurance de dommages and the Autorité des marchés financiers, insurers can no longer afford to have this mentality. Although there are sometimes cases that surface in the media, they are the exception to the rule.
I follow my code of ethics to the letter - it's my bible. The Chambre de l'assurance de dommages exists to protect the public and it's good that it's there. As a claims adjuster, I must protect the public. I need to have impeccable ethics.
When I settle a case, I have a legal obligation to the policyholder. So it's not true that I get a pat on the back from my employer if I have an $80,000 claim and settle it for $50,000. It doesn't work like that!
What do you need to know before you start?
A.B. : You don't become an accomplished claims adjuster overnight. You have to wade through it a bit at first, see what it's like. And see if it suits you as an individual. Because the job may look good from the outside, but you don't really know what it is until you get your feet wet.
And to be a good claims adjuster, you have to like it. If I didn't like my job, it would impact the policyholders I work with. Does a claimant who is undergoing all the stress of a claim deserve to deal with someone who doesn't want to be there? I don't think so.
M.T. : You have to know what you like. Do you like to solve problems or do you like when things are going well? As a claims adjuster, nobody is happy when I call them. They all want to skip this moment in their lives.
You have to understand that this is not an easy career. When you have to tell someone that, unfortunately, their loss is not covered, you hear all their emotions over the phone. That's why many people prefer selling insurance. It's perhaps an easier path.
But if you like a challenge, if you’re interested in the human aspect and in supporting people, a career as a claims adjuster can be very rewarding.
**Note: **The answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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