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Clipboards to Drones *Cough*

Adjuster Dave | February 9, 2016

Let’s be honest, what’s not cool about drones? As someone who religiously follows all technology and more specifically P&C related innovation projects, I’m extremely excited about the potential insurance application of several up-and-coming technologies.

“Ma’am, I’m not a Claims Adjuster, I’m a Certified Pilot for the CAT Drone Squadron!”

“Do you have what it takes to be a Top Gun Adjuster?”

What do P&C industry insiders think about the drone hoopla?

Well, that depends on who you ask. Some folks think the drone programs are a helpful catalyst for other secondary technologies. Others think the industry is deflecting focus to bright and shiny things, rather than tackling more core basic issues around outdated loss documentation methods. One thing cannot be ignored: drones are getting a ton of press and if press is the objective then drones are certainly the best tool.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell:

To me it feels like the industry is diving head-first into drones without asking critical questions:

  1. What are the most pressing pain points currently? (e.g. long cycle time)
  2. Will drone initiatives provide relief on key pain points? (e.g. reduce cycle time)

When policyholders are asked about their claims experience, they often cite that it was overall negative and generally attribute that to frustrations surrounding the inspection/estimation process and the lack of quality documentation and communication.

“The adjusters estimate was missing several things, so another adjuster had to come back out.”

“The person in the call-center couldn’t work with my contractors supplement because they didn’t have the right information from the inspection.”

In the thousands of claims I’ve either worked on personally or discussed in some manner, I cannot think of one situation whereby a negative claims experience could have turned into a positive one, had only a quadcopter been present.

Adjuster Dave’s Take:

Even the most technically inclined adjusters are going to require significant training before they can use drones efficiently and effectively in the field.

Investing in equipment, training, practice flights and pilot licenses for a workforce that is notorious for its employee turnover needs to be approached thoughtfully. Ramping into the digital inspection age with mainstream mobile devices feels like a logical first step. The policyholder is expecting an iPad, they are not expecting a drone.

I think there’s no question that drones will have a place in the property inspection workflow. I foresee drones being used sparingly and situationally for specialty tasks like post-catastrophe assessment, steep/high roofs and large commercial risks. I personally don’t see any scenario, short-term or long-term, where drones will become a standard tool for your average adjuster handling your average claim inspection. I think usage among additional parties like GC’s and roofing contractors will be sporadic at best.

Drones are successfully propelling the industry forward in terms of digital technology initiatives. Drones are not propelling the ever pressing customer satisfaction component forward.

The most logical way to utilize a drone in an inspection is to let the drone run constant video during flight and have the pilot take still photos from that video feed. Video feeds from today’s drones are generally in 1080p (Full HD), this is important because the actual raw file sizes of the drone video feed and the still photos being taken are significant.

There are basically two-ways to get the files off of the drone and into a usable format. You can utilize the SD Card (Secure Digital Memory Card) or you can utilize a cloud sync infrastructure that must be able to store locally in offline scenarios. The field adjuster most certainly needs an iPad/tablet to be able to efficiently take still photos during flight, furthermore the adjuster also needs the capability to rapidly document notes, building material specifications and scope of work details. To utilize an iPad for the drone portion of an inspection and then resume the remainder of the inspection with a digital camera and graph paper is downright comical to me personally but I have seen carriers that are planning to do just that.

The real opportunity that drones bring to the industry is the realization that the overwhelming majority of inspections by adjusters and contractors are still conducted using clipboards and digital cameras. There is no time like the present for the industry to acknowledge its reliance on analog capture tools and outdated technology (#2 pencils and SD Cards). Smart organizations have begun to think about real-time cloud sync infrastructure and the quality control that comes with being able to execute business rules at the point-of-inspection.

What’s interesting is that drones are likely to be the accelerant that forces the industry to rapidly shift from digital cameras and paper-based scope notes to tablets and digital inspection reports.

Important questions for 2016:

Might it be time to show up to a loss with a professional capture tool like an iPad or Surface?

Is there anything that’s more timely than drones? For example, ensuring that every claimant receives a digital inspection report that not only demonstrates policy commitment, transparency and representative competence but also unlocks real-time collaboration with all parties involved.


I think Ernst and Young nailed it in their 2016 US Property-Casualty Insurance Outlook.

“Insurance firms need to build a roadmap for strategic transformation aligned to new customer imperatives. Refining legacy products and approaches is not enough — what is required is a fresh outside-in approach that starts with the customer and carries through to digital trends and market shifts, both inside and outside the insurance industry.”

Drones are worth exploring, IOT devices like smart sump pumps are worth exploring, any new technology is worth exploring. Just because a technology is worth exploring doesn’t mean it’s going to help retain customers, nor does any specialty piece of technology stand to make a meaningful difference without it adhering to a broader technology objective (try to find a policyholder that stayed with their carrier because the adjuster used Google Glass).

Today’s customers are demanding and expect the best customer service. A quality claims experience requires that the individuals who are conducting the inspection be able to gather and share information that not only justifies what’s in their settlement but also provides transparency and demonstrates professional competence.

Drones are cool, drones are neat, drones aren’t what policyholders care about after their home is damaged. Policyholders are looking for a positive and professional interaction with their insurance company and its representatives. Policyholders are also looking for a fair shake and some form of value coming from filing a claim against the policy contract. Even a denial scenario presents an opportunity to show value to a policyholder. Let’s continue the innovation efforts without losing sight of the real needs of those who pay the bills. If you’re going to “buzz the tower” at least share the drone video and photos with the homeowner. Not putting the policyholder first is perhaps the biggest risk.

References: Ernst and Young - 2016 US Property-Casualty Insurance Outlook | DJI Phantom App Screenshot

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Adjuster Dave
David Cockrel
Claims Professional
Co-Founder of Spex