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Industry Updates
Almost Picture-Perfect

Photo estimating for auto claims increases during pandemic.
  • John Weber
  • January 2021
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Bill Brower

Bill Brower

About 60% of automobile damage claims are adjusted using photographs, up from 10% to 15% from last February, said Bill Brower, vice president, auto claims, LexisNexis Risk Solutions. However, he noted, it's not a smooth process yet.

Brower spoke with AM BestTV about how claims handling has changed in the time of COVID-19.

Following is an edited transcript of the interview.

What impact did COVID-19 have on claims automation?

It's really had a significant impact on claims automation. If you think back, with the changes that have taken place this year, it's just really amazing. A couple of areas that highlight the changes would, first, be the way auto claims are processed.

Today, they're primarily handled from photo estimating or what we call virtual claims handling. Today over 60% of claims are being processed with photographs from the customer. If you had asked me that percentage back in February, I would have said somewhere in the 10% to 15% range. It has dramatically increased.

The rapid move to virtual is very interesting. What was the impact to consumers?

Consumers receive faster claim settlements for auto claims today. Very interesting how this photo estimating has made that claims estimating process so simple.

A customer, as you know, today can simply take a few pictures with their smartphone, send those to their insurance company, and in a few hours, they will likely have the estimate for the repair of the vehicle and [can] go ahead and begin getting that car in a shop and getting the repairs completed.

Now, that's positive. In fact, a J.D. Power survey showed record results, the highest-ever results for customer satisfaction on auto claims. A good part of that had to do with convenience and ease of photo estimating.

There is a negative to this, and we've tried to make sure that our insurance partners are aware of this and taking action on it. The way we identified this is LexisNexis captures data from across the industry, the U.S., daily from many of our carriers. Most of our carriers provide frequent updates.

What we were able to do is take some of that data and look at claims to see if anything unusual was happening as we began to make this rapid move toward photo estimating. What we found was the claims that are paid quickly, less than 10 days—which tend to be the photo estimates—we're seeing a lower severity on those payments after COVID began, about 20% lower. It's pretty significant.

We follow the claim. As we see the car being repaired and the supplemental payments coming in later, we find that the supplemental payment is more than 20% higher than the previous payment.

The total payout on the repair of the car is actually a little bit more than it was before COVID began. You might think of it as the customer's really OK. As long as they're putting the car in the shop, getting it repaired, whether the money comes in the beginning of the claim or the end of the claim, they're still getting paid for the damages to the car.

The one area that we caution insurers to be aware of are those customers that may not want to get the car repaired. Perhaps, they tell their insurance company early on they're thinking of trading the car. They're just not sure they want to repair it.

In those situations, we encourage the insurance companies to recommend that those individuals take the vehicle by one of their direct repair shops or shop of choice for a personal inspection to make sure that that initial claim estimate is in line with the damages, because some of those damages are difficult to see with photographs.

We're getting better. There's actually some software available now in the estimating space called computer vision or AI that helps adjusters to identify damages that might be hard to see in the photo. We're not there yet.


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