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From catastrophe to recovery

How a hurricane produced a rapid claims response.

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When Tropical Storm Ian formed innocently in the Caribbean Sea on Monday, September 19, 2022, little did we expect the mass devastation and turmoil that followed. On Saturday, September 24, the National Hurricane Center changed its forecast to a potentially catastrophic, Category 4 hurricane with winds between 130-156 miles per hour. A state of emergency was declared for Florida. Hurricane Ian was gaining intensity and was projected to make landfall near Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday, September 28. People on Florida’s Southwest Coast quickly prepared and anxiously waited as Ian barreled toward them.
The CAT plan is ready and teams are prepared for a catastrophic event.
As a commercial insurance carrier with experience in catastrophic weather events, FCCI knows that preparation is critical. To ensure its teammates were safe and operations were ready to help customers, the company implemented its formal Business Continuity Plan. FCCI’s senior leadership team activated its CAT plan and mobilized five catastrophic event and support teams to respond to imminent claims. FCCI was poised and ready to assist our agency partners and policyholders, particularly in the Florida-Georgia, Gulf Coast and Mid-Atlantic regions and the Sarasota home office.
“Catastrophic weather events are when we put our promise into action,” said Nick Smith, Vice President of Claims. “We work with our partners internally to estimate the volume and location of claims, ensure we have the resources to deploy, plan travel and book hotels. Our trusted adjusters and vendors understand our expectations and requirements.” FCCI teammates are dedicated to initial contact and triage, file setup and coverage verification, allowing the adjusters to be in the field, assessing the damage and getting the necessary funds to the policyholders as soon as possible. “This allows us to help our policyholders move forward, put the event behind them and focus on their businesses,” said Nick.
FCCI was poised and ready to assist our agency partners and policyholders, particularly in the Florida-Georgia, Gulf Coast and Mid-Atlantic regions and the Sarasota home office.
FCCI’s CAT team comprises about 30 employees, including executive, regional, claim leaders and others. The claim department, led by Director of Property Claims Mark Winters, and the Claims Technical Unit are responsible for maintaining and executing the CAT plan. “The claim department meets annually and reviews the CAT plan each spring before hurricane season. We update volunteer lists, training materials, workflows and schedules and finalize vendor agreements with our independent adjusters who are critical to the plan,” said Mark.
The CAT plan is a playbook for how FCCI handles a catastrophic event. That could include hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, natural disasters, or accidents. In this case, the CAT team started tracking the storm 10 days in advance and met daily five days out. “At that point, we get a better picture of the hurricane’s direction and intensity. We start seeing the cone and where it might impact land. Then we can take specific actions,” said Mark.
The CAT team also gets valuable input from home office Underwriting which forecasts the number of potential claims. FCCI has an experienced team of internal adjusters and established independent adjusters ready to deploy on location. “It’s important to match the right adjuster to the right claim to ensure we have the most qualified person on each case. We also use specialty adjusters who focus on agriculture and farm claims,” said Mark.
Hurricane Ian hits Southwest Florida
The storm briefly intensified offshore to a Category 5 hurricane, before ultimately arriving as a Category 4 – roaring ashore with 150 mph winds shortly after 3:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. But rather than striking Tampa, it struck further south on the barrier islands of Captiva, Sanibel, Pine and the mainland of Fort Myers Beach. Dozens of other Florida cities and towns were severely impacted. Winds, storm surges, building collapses, trees falling and flooding caused 144 deaths, destroyed or damaged 35,000 homes, knocked out power to 2.7 million people and disrupted businesses and infrastructure across the state. When the winds and rain subsided, the total financial impact was estimated at over $50 billion in insured and uninsured losses in what would be the costliest Florida weather disaster in recorded history.
FCCI responded immediately after Hurricane Ian. “Our top priority is ensuring our CAT team is staffed, and everyone knows their role regardless of department. Our goal is to pay what we owe quickly and fairly to our policyholders and get them back to business,” said Mark Kwiatkowski, Vice President of Claims.
FCCI teammates answer the call
Executing FCCI’s CAT plan is a team approach where everyone pulls together to answer the call when agents and policyholders need us. This includes teammates in claims, risk control, business development and underwriting. About 25 volunteers from various departments also worked many hours on the event while performing their regular jobs. Numerous teammates contributed to FCCI’s Hurricane Ian response. The subteams assembled to execute the CAT plan were first contact, policy retrieval, notice of loss reporting, claim services, adjusting and recovery. “Our team collaboration allows us to respond faster than our competitors and resolve claims quickly, restoring our policyholders so they can get on with their business. The fact that FCCI claims stayed under $30 million is impressive and a testament to our catastrophe modeling used by underwriting to keep business concentrations to acceptable levels,” said Garth Crow, Executive Vice President and Chief Claims Officer.
Claims adjusters respond with speed and results
FCCI deployed five adjusters to handle Hurricane Ian claims. Alec Harmer, Mike Roeper, Chuck Street, Matt Raab and Montie Smith were the faces of FCCI on location, meeting with policyholders, assessing damages and starting the recovery process. For the first couple of weeks, this included working seven days a week for up to 12 hours daily to get the job done.
Alec Harmer recounts that claims were coming in steadily throughout October. “We had internal teammates triaging the losses before being dispatched to the adjusters. Those first few days were a balancing act between assessing damage, assigning resources, making contact and helping policyholders understand their coverage,” said Alec.
Mike Roeper commented that policyholders were prepared to wait for damage assessments but were glad to see FCCI arrive early and get to work. “They were surprised to see us so soon conducting our inspections. We listened and assured them we would help get their businesses up and running. It’s what we do every day. By being local, we quickly responded to our customer’s needs,” said Mike.
Chuck Street traveled from Texas to work on-site in Florida. His contacts were amazed that FCCI was setting up appointments so soon after the storm. Some policyholders said they had not heard from their homeowners or flood carriers.
“We met with agents at the more significant losses who were amazed that I had the authority to direct contractors to start the needed work,” said Chuck. One of the policyholders even called to thank Chuck after their settlement payment was hand delivered by an FCCI employee rather than by mail. Chuck said the most rewarding experience was being part of a team with the same goal — to get those businesses back to pre-loss conditions. “Even through all the chaos, we kept our promise,” he said.
FCCI partners with select independent adjusters with particular expertise to assist in handling CAT claims. One, in particular, was Eric McGehee, Partner at Midwest Claims in Lexana, Kansas. “Working with FCCI is more of a friendship than a business relationship. The big thing that sets FCCI apart from other carriers is communication and teamwork. FCCI’s communication is second to none,” said Eric.
According to Mark Winters, FCCI sent enough resources to the affected areas to handle claims quickly. Each adjuster had fewer claims than most carriers, allowing for faster resolutions. “One of the most rewarding aspects of an adjuster’s job, especially with an event like Hurricane Ian, is to meet with the policyholder, talk to them, listen to their stories, understand their challenges and solve their problems with a quick and appropriate settlement,” said Mark.
Exceeding expectations in many ways
The scars of Hurricane Ian are still visible today on Florida’s Southwest Coast. And for many residents and businesses, the wounds are still healing. The weather can be a fierce and uncontrollable force. But how we react to it is entirely within our control. FCCI’s careful planning and human response to Hurricane Ian demonstrated that we were more than prepared and able to handle this catastrophic weather event.
The numbers speak for themselves: FCCI opened 722 Hurricane Ian-related claims (507 property and 215 auto-related claims) for $25.4 million in Q4 2022. Amazingly, 633, or 87% of those claims, were closed by year-end 2022, with none in litigation. By comparison, the rest of the insurance industry closed an average of only 33% of Ian’s claims by year-end 2022, according to the Florida Department of Insurance Regulation.
Hurricane Ian highlighted many ways FCCI exceeded expectations for our agents and policyholders. Whether establishing personal connections, getting there fast, being visible, assessing damages quickly and fairly, hand-delivering payment checks, or showing care and compassion, these actions made all the difference to those who matter the most.
It was comforting to know that FCCI guided our policyholders through one of the worst disasters they may ever face as business owners. Any carrier can write policies and collect premiums, but at FCCI it always comes down to keeping and fulfilling our promise to be there when our policyholders need us.
We listened and assured them we would help get their businesses up and running. It’s what we do every day. Mike Roeper, Senior Claim Adjuster