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🤳🏽 Virtual Mobile Inspections for Property Claims: Boon, or Detriment?

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

As the insurance industry becomes more digitized, companies are looking for new ways to streamline the claims process. Mobile technology is playing a big role in this transformation.

A phone with an image of three buildings on the screen.
Virtual inspections: coming to a claim near you?

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OK, Sarah: what’s the story?

When you file a property claim with your insurer, your insurance company will typically send out a person to perform an initial damage inspection. This person could be an insurance company employee (staff adjuster, or claims representative) or a 3rd-party insurance company representative or contracted expert (independent adjuster, or other professional).

While in-person inspections are the still norm, remote video inspections—often called virtual, or mobile inspections—are becoming more common.

Is this a good thing, or a bad thing for you, and other policyholders?

Well, it can be both!

Let's take a look at some of the possible variables.

The good

I'm a huge fan of the use of technology, where it ethically serves humans, and the Greater Good.

Cost-savings, environmental relief, reduced stress for humans... There are many, many ways in which improvements in technology—especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation—can improve your personal and business lives. This includes where these two spheres of professional and personal matters intersect: within property claims.

The claims department is a service department. It siphons money out of the company, rather than in. As a practical matter of business, ensuring that this department is streamlined (while still providing excellent service to policyholders and other claimants, and keeping with compliance), is of great importance.

There are newly-emerging, professional standards for remote video inspections, specifically. These come in the form of published guidelines from a few of the many not-for-profit code, certification, and testing standards organizations like the International Code Council (ICC), and NFPA 915.

This is good news, as insurance companies have a monumental task at hand, when it comes to running efficient claim departments. Published guidelines may help insurance companies reduce the burden of researching, creating, implementing, and auditing standards such as these.

In general, the following are just a few examples of what improved technology within claims might result in, when used ethically and responsibly:

  • Faster response and communication times

  • Improved methods, types, and volumes of documentation and data

  • Reduced operating costs

  • Less manual tasks, which could result in less data entry errors, and less stress on employees, vendors, and claimants/policyholders

Now, the key, guiding principles here are “ethically and responsibly”. With this in your mind, let's now look at what happens when these two principles are seemingly not guiding the process.

The bad

In all its forms, technology relies upon humans to create a standard, or threshold.

For specialized technology like AI, it requires prompts and a starting dataset to work, operate, and eventually learn from.

When these technology standards are set, the humans creating and curating this information must take great care to ensure that their myriad cognitive and other bias' are not inadvertently included, as well as other "human" factors or errors. This can help ensure that the technology is more helpful, than detrimental, for its end purpose.

Within claims, the technology used for property inspections can be as simple as using your mobile phone's camera, as complex as a drone using an artificial intelligence software to detect probable damage anomalies, or as revolutionary as immersive telepresence technology; whatever that means (I read this term in a sales brochure, written for property insurance and real estate applications. It is beautifully, yet ambiguously worded. I assume that it means Matterport's and other companies' interactive 3D model mapping).

While mobile inspections can streamline and introduce some possible improvements to the inspection process, there are also risks introduced, and related possible detriments to accurate loss scoping. Here are just a few of my initial thoughts on that:

  • How accurate is the visual or measurement technology being used? Is this accuracy impacted by the technology, insurance, and/or construction knowledge (or lack thereof) of the user?

  • Who determines what is inspected, and what is not? When creating these guidelines, are the parties involved qualified in loss investigation for the loss and property type, and common construction practices for each locale?

  • How lenient are each carrier's mobile/virtual inspection guidelines, when it comes to deviating from the guidelines, and/or discovering possible errors and unintentionally omitted information?

  • What about types of damage that may be hidden, such as in cases with water or fire damage?

  • What information is assumed about the loss by the claims representative, when the policyholder is guided through an inspection?

I'm sure you could add more to this list. Until the end of the article, where you'll have a chance to share your thoughts, let's move on to what (probably) should be your biggest concern.

Poll: Have you ever participated in a virtual property loss inspection?

  • Yes

  • No

The ugly

Humans still need to use common sense (or, human sense, as it were), when it comes to observing, reviewing, and appropriately intervening with technology and processes, as necessary.

What inspired me to write this article, was that someone from Arkansas, called me in Minnesota, to tell me about a then-recent mobile inspection. This was for an exterior hail loss to a residential property, and performed with a mobile phone, and an app that the remote insurance company representative asked the policyholder to download.

During this mobile inspection, the claims representative allegedly instructed the policyholder to review specific things from a checklist. According to the direct account I received, when the policyholder brought up loss facts that deviated from the checklist, the claims representative at first refused to document them.

Apparently, when the policyholder insisted on a thorough inspection, and that the claims representative record the information they wanted to provide to them about their loss, the claims representative then said they would have to perform an in-person inspection. They said that the insurance company would now send out an inspector to look at the damage, in-person.

Overall, I'm certain that mobile inspections can, and will be effective for some property claims. Where only specific or preliminary, and/or small details need to be documented—without the need to test, sample, smell, hear, account for visual variables like light variations, or detect hidden damage—I feel that this will be especially helpful.

Customer Satisfaction with Digital Claims Declines Again: J.D. Power

The Insurance Journal published an article titled, Customer Satisfaction with Digital Claims Declines Again: J.D. Power, on December 21, 2022. Here is an excerpt:

Customer satisfaction with insurers’ digital claims systems declined for the second consecutive year, according to a J.D. Power survey of auto and home policyholders.

The results of this survey is concerning. Many states continue pass laws allowing virtual inspections to be performed, in lieu of an in-person inspection, for everything from building official inspections, to property insurance.

For property insurance, my hope is that the use of technology will be used not just for cost-savings, but to truly improve the process and experience for policyholders. However, no policyholder would be in charge of how an insurer chooses to implement digital claims technology, and the feedback is clear: the current digital claims handling processes for some claims, are at detriment to customer/claimant experience.

Guide to Mobile/Virtual Inspections

Read my full Guest Blog article about these types of inspections, and get specific guidance, at policyholder nonprofit, United Policyholders’ website:

Have you ever participated in a virtual mobile property inspection? Tell us about your experience, in the comments below!

Thank you for reading,

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