Responding to Harvey and Irma
QBE North America calls upon a dedicated team of claims professionals when a hurricane is first detected. The claims team works with colleagues from underwriting and disaster modelling to monitor the path of a weather event and assess the risk associated with insured locations potentially in harm’s way. Based on projections, the team estimates the resources needed to handle the expected claims volume.
In addition to internal capability, the claims team draws upon a network of contracted independent service providers. Overall, these external vendors handled more than 4,600 independent adjuster assignments for Harvey and Irma.
Effective communication was critical for co-ordination of our catastrophe response in 2017. Daily calls involving claims, underwriting, modelling, IT and facilities kept all efforts aligned and ensured issues were solved quickly. Proactive communication to agents and brokers ahead of the hurricanes assured them of our readiness and provided safety advice and claims reporting information. After landfall, the claims team proactively called customers where the storms hit hardest – even though they hadn’t yet reported a claim. Claims senior leaders travelled to Florida post-Irma to meet with customers, complete inspections along with field adjusters, and survey impacted areas from the air.
Our dedicated crop team, a pioneer in the use of drones, assembled from all parts of the country to apply their skills in hurricane‑affected areas. The drones proved invaluable for reconnaissance missions to assess the damage to commercial nurseries insured by QBE, enabling workflow mapping and more efficient deployment of resources.
Overall in 2017, QBE North America responded to 51 events designated as catastrophes. Harvey and Irma were the most challenging events and at the peak of these events we received 500 claims lodgement calls a day during Harvey and 200 during Irma. The average time it took to answer a First Notification of Loss call for the two weeks after Irma was eight seconds. For both Harvey and Irma, 100% of customers were contacted by a claims professional within 24 hours of reporting a claim, and it took 14 days on average for us to inspect a claim. We approved damages estimates on average less than two days later.
Applying technology to natural disaster response
We are always experimenting with technology to improve QBE’s catastrophe claims response process.
In Australia, drones were used for the first time to visually inspect areas affected by Tropical Cyclone Debbie. We now have plans to use high-resolution aerial imagery to view widespread damage caused by cyclones and are trialling a number of platforms to enhance the claims triage process.
QBE’s Digital Innovation Lab is in the experimental phase of using satellite imagery to accelerate disaster response. We know that for some losses and geographies, being able to access satellite imagery will allow us to make better claims handling decisions. Work is also underway to automate analytical capabilities and improve the customer experience, with recent hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico used as test cases for the technology.
Hurricane Maria was particularly devastating for Puerto Rico and our 180 employees on the ground were not immune.
We mobilised support from QBE’s North American and global teams to assist. Our specialty Aviation business in North America worked with a QBE customer, MillionAir/American Jet International, to organise emergency airlift responses. Risk and business continuity teams from Latin America and North America partnered to create a communications system to locate all staff across the Island and ensure their safety.
Employees volunteered in Miami to organise and distribute donated and company-purchased emergency supplies including water, medication and food to our Puerto Rico colleagues.
Tropical Cyclone Debbie
Tropical Cyclone Debbie made landfall in Queensland in March 2017 with damage and flooding recorded from the Whitsunday Islands down to central New South Wales.
Debbie ranks second only to Cyclone Tracy in 1974 in terms of collective insurance losses caused by a cyclone in Australia.
The high claims volume proved challenging for insurers looking to access resources to complete repairs. QBE set out to give work to local suppliers, but the objective of supporting local industry had to be balanced against a desire to get the job completed quickly.
As at March 2018, QBE had closed more than 85% of claims relating to Tropical Cyclone Debbie, with the vast majority of remaining claims relating to large, complex losses.