How to become a claims adjuster in home insurance
By Nathan Guss|13 min|January 2023
Being a claims adjuster can be a rewarding career. Claims adjusters need to possess expertise in a wide array of fields and excellent interpersonal skills.
Are you interested in construction, negotiations and the details of insurance policies? Do you have strong soft skills, such as communication, listening and time management? Do you enjoy travelling? If so, you may want to consider becoming a claims adjuster. This article provides a summary of what the job entails and an interview with a seasoned claims adjuster.
What claims adjusters do
Claims adjusters can work for an insurance company or independently. Some work on behalf of claimants. They investigate policyholders’ claims to assess insurers’ liability, ensure that claimants receive a fair settlement, and prevent fraud. They work on property claims involving structures, third-person property damage, and liability claims related to personal injuries.
Claims adjusters play a complex role and handle many different tasks, including the following:
- Inspecting damages
- Talking to claimants
- Reading police reports
- Consulting with and coordinating the work of experts, such as contractors, doctors, mechanics and architects
- Reviewing a claimant’s previous insurance claims
- Writing reports to the insurer
- Analyzing the claimant’s insurance policy
- Negotiating settlements
Education and training
Although the minimum educational requirement is usually a high school diploma, most claims adjusters hold a bachelor’s degree. Many states have their own licensing requirements that can involve classes, continuing education, and exams. Some insurance companies provide training.
In the United States, the average salary is $64,073 according to Indeed.com. Senior claims adjusters with more than ten years of experience earn an average of $76,134.
Working as a claims adjuster
We interviewed someone with experience in the field to find out what it’s like.** Ashley Holifield** has been a claims adjuster since 2008. She is currently an independent claims adjuster.
How did you become a claims adjuster? What about the career drew your interest?
**It was actually by chance for me. **My mother, sister, grandmother, and aunt all got a job with Pilot Catastrophe Service. It was their first time working claims, and I was going just to get out of the house. I was a housewife, and I had an opportunity to get out of the house and just have fun with my family while they were adjusting on the road.
When I got there with them in Texas, they were still looking for more people, so I figured while I’m here I may as well go and work with them too. So I walked in, and I asked if they needed any additional help, and they hired me right on the spot. I started working and have been working claims ever since. What keeps me in claims is I like working with people in a time of need—just the compassion aspect of it.
What skills and personality traits should a claims adjuster have? I imagine strong communication skills must be important given all the different people that you work with?
Maybe I don’t think I have great communication skills, but what I do have is strong empathy. And I have a lot of compassion, so I’m patient with people. You get people in their worst time. Most of them have just lost their home. They have just suffered from some type of loss whether it’s minor or severe. And when your home is disrupted, even in the slightest, your entire world is disrupted. Your home is where you go at the end of the day. And after work, if you don’t have a place to go to relax or if your home is not the way you pay for it to be, it’s bothersome. I’m not a great communicator, but I will take time with you.
You need to be quick on your feet. You need to be able to move quickly and think quickly because you are getting a lot of claims in a short amount of time. So if a tornado or a hurricane hit, you have got to be able to take on 30 claims, be able to call people, get them scheduled, and they all want you there yesterday. They are going to be upset with you because you are not going to be able to get there. So, if you have that mentality or that personality that says, “Oh, you are not going to be upset with me. I’m not going to handle that,” then this is probably not for you. You have got to be able to take it with a smile because they are all going to be upset with you, and you have to figure out a way to get it all done. And of course, the carrier you’re going to work with, they are going to have a timeframe. They will want you to get it done. So, it’s demanding.
Carriers always have a deadline. I had a deadline today. I had to be done by 12:30 because there is a mediation scheduled for 1:30. And I just got the file yesterday, so I was up all night working on it. You absolutely have to be flexible. You can’t come to the job expecting to have a nine-to-five Monday through Friday. You might find some carriers that put you on that time. You can have some desk adjusters that actually work that schedule, but if you are in the field or you are working catastrophes. . . Fires, they don’t just happen Monday to Friday. Someone’s house could burn down on a Saturday. They might be out of their home Saturday 1:00 a.m. You have to be able to put them somewhere Saturday at 1:00 a.m. There is always someone in the field who has to be available to handle those types of catastrophes.
And you definitely have to have thick skin. I have had contractors who belittled me and questioned my IQ and how long I have been in the industry because they were upset with what the insurance is willing to pay. You can’t take that stuff personally. They are trying to do a job, trying to get their money that they need to get the repairs done, and they feel like they have been shortchanged. And they will go after you personally, and you have to have a very thick skin, not just for the empathy portion of it, but because of contractors who are upset or insureds who are upset because they were not paid as much as they thought they were supposed to be or should have been.
What is your favorite aspect of the job?
My favorite aspect of the job is the compassion and the empathy. I had an insured one time who left the hurricane, he and his children evacuated for the hurricane. His wife had died of cancer previously, and it was just him and his sons. His sons had taken his car. They had taken a separate vehicle on their way back, and they got into a car accident, and they both passed. His wife was gone, and his sons were gone during the hurricane. When the power came back on, it surged, and his house caught on fire.
So, at the time, I was working fire losses. When I called him to discuss the damage caused by the hurricane and the ensuing fire, he did not care. He said that he lost everything, “forget my house. I don’t want to discuss my house.” So, you just have to be patient with people like that because not only did he lose his house, he had lost so much more.
And you have got to have compassion because you are dealing with people at their worst moments. And they are not always going to be happy to talk to you. They are not always going to be smiles and sunshine. Sometimes, they are angry and upset because they don’t know why it’s happening to them. You have to be very patient and get your job done while being compassionate.
Are there any misconceptions or myths about claims adjusters?
Some claim adjusters, when they start, have been told that you make so much money being an adjuster, that it’s easy money, and you are going to be able to get money quick. And yes, sometimes it can be quick money, but it’s not easy. You can come into a claim or come into a hurricane or some type of catastrophe, and insurance companies will need an adjuster. But if you don’t have the right personality or if you don’t have the right skill set, you are not going to make it.
It’s not an industry you can just come into, especially if money is your motivator. Very, very rarely do I see an adjuster make it if money is their motivator. You have got to like something else on the job, whether it’s compassion like me or the empathy, or maybe it’s the skilled adjusters, who like the travelling aspect. There has got to be something else that you want other than money.
How did you learn about all the diverse areas of expertise required in claims adjusting?
When I first started in insurance in 2008, I did not know anything. I did not know anything about construction. I did not know anything about insurance. Honestly, trying to read a policy for me was like trying to read Greek, and I don’t speak Greek. There was a lot of reading policy and going over it with my manager and trying to absorb all the knowledge like a sponge. And of course, just gradually, it went from there.
Throughout my career, I’ve learned different aspects of insurance. And I like to learn. I love obtaining new knowledge. So if there was something that I did not know, it was fascinating to me, and I would research it. At first, I learned small claims. The very first thing I learned about was claims under $5,000. And then progressively, I got better and better. And I started learning the mitigation and litigation side. For me, my career just evolved, my skill set evolved with what I was needing to do. Every time I saw a need, I wanted to learn how to fill it.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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