Is It Time to Dust Off Your Agency CAT Program?

By | July 11, 2016

Does your organization have an emergency response plan in case a massive hurricane devastates a coastal area and affects thousands of insureds? Is your staff prepared to handle the influx of calls after a tornado cuts across your coverage area, leaving broken buildings and homes in its path? How quickly can you ramp up your response to an earthquake that topples structures and injures thousands? Catastrophe (CAT) season is right around the corner; is your organization prepared?

Natural disasters – often sudden and overwhelming – bring added pressure to insurance organizations that are already embracing a “doing more with less” mindset and continuing to maintain a “run lean” staffing plan. In these emergency situations, timing is everything. Organizations must be ready to respond immediately and effectively, lest they find themselves unable to adequately meet the needs of their insureds.

A lull in disasters has made a number of organizations complacent in their CAT season prep. They are “rusty” in their ability to provide a seamless response to catastrophic events. We cannot let ourselves be caught off-guard. Dust off your current CAT program and make sure your organization is prepared for the worst.

Reassess Your Roster

Your organization’s disaster response is only as good as its staffing capabilities. Many organizations are challenged to find the resources necessary when disaster strikes. Because of “run lean” strategies, they often find organizational human capital tapped out. Disaster situations are one of the most common causes for insurance organizations to turn to interim staff for immediate support and assistance.

The big question becomes, “is your roster up-to-date?” Has your organization maintained contact information and refreshed work histories for your index of contract professionals? Are phone numbers and emails still active? Update and refresh your list to ensure that your organization can quickly reach out to its team when disaster hits.

This may also be the time to think about expanding your roster. The individuals your organization turned to in the past may no longer be available. The recent drop in high-cost, high-damage events has resulted in a lower need for temporary CAT professionals. A number of these contractors have turned to full-time employment and are no longer available to join your organization in your time of need.

This presents an opportunity to invite your recent retirees to stay on the docket and assist with short-term opportunities. They may not be available full-time, but are often willing to take on contract work throughout the year. Be aware that they may not be as “on call” as the rest of your list. Make a note of work preferences, locations, hours and needed accommodations before adding them to your CAT roster.

While evaluating your talent situation, you may determine you need an outside staffing firm. Begin building a relationship with a temporary staffing firm that can react quickly when the need arises. The key is finding a talent provider who staffs a broad landscape of interim professionals – from entry-level staff all the way to executives and subject matter experts. Research available service providers and ensure that they understand your business well enough to provide much-needed talent on an immediate basis. Consider a boutique firm that provides access to a database of insurance professionals; they will provide your organization with highly skilled contract professionals ready to jump right in and get started.

Revamp Your Training Program

The insurance industry has experienced a wave of retirements in recent years. The median age for claims employees is 43 years old – slightly younger than the overall insurance industry median age of 45 – so many claims organizations have found themselves faced with an aging and retiring workforce. As a result, the individuals your organization relied upon to assist in the previous CAT disaster may no longer be with the organization or able to help with current needs.

Training should be a top concern in preparing your staff for the upcoming CAT season. While many have already completed mandatory customer training sessions, it’s time to refresh. During a natural disaster, people are under stress and duress. Your staff and representatives must know how to deal with policyholders during what is likely to be one of the worst moments of their lives.

Your organization also should add ongoing refresher courses and continuing education. In-depth training will ensure that your operations run smoothly and that employees are well aware of their roles. Online training and updated manuals can provide flexibility, while enabling your front-line employees to be best prepared for any impending CAT disasters.

Rethink Your CAT Strategy

CAT season is no time to rest on your laurels. What was successful during the previous CAT situation may not work today. The world is constantly evolving, and your organization must evolve with it. We are now in an era of constant contact and social media. Your organization’s CAT strategy must adapt.

Be proactive. Review your practices and procedures, and see where updates are needed. Do you have a strategy for handling social media posts and commentary? Is there a plan to promote positive stories, including promotions of how your organization is serving those affected? Does your organization have innovative products available to assist in the efforts, including apps for claims reporting and tracking? Bringing your CAT strategy into the “now” may be key to ensuring that your organization is able to efficiently and effectively manage the next CAT event.

Preparedness is vital to successfully navigating CAT season. Only those organizations with current rosters, strategic staffing plans, revamped training and modernized strategies will be able to seamlessly respond to a disaster. Ensure your organization can answer a resounding “yes” to the question, “are you prepared?”

About David Coons

Coons is senior vice president of The Jacobson Group, a provider of talent to the insurance industry. Phone: 800-466-1578. Email: dcoons@jacobsononline.com. More from David Coons

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Insurance Journal West July 11, 2016
July 11, 2016
Insurance Journal West Magazine

The Disaster Issue: Insuring Natural & Man-Made Catastrophes; Recreation & Leisure