Episode 082 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Optimizing Insurance Field Inspections: How Technology Can Help


On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds interviews Jim Gardner about how Jim’s company, ViewSpection, uses digital technology to optimize field inspections. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • How traditional field inspections cause operational friction that wastes agency resources, delays the binding process, and frustrates the customer
  • How technology can streamline field inspections by delegating them to policyholders or agents, guiding everyone through the process, and assembling a report on the go, saving time and money

To attain operational excellence, agents and brokers have to be on guard against operational friction. Some friction is inevitable, and a little friction is perhaps a good thing—but anything that holds up operations for too long is suspect. And when it comes to insurance, you’re unlikely to find a process that creates more friction than field inspections.

Let’s look at the ways how. First, an agent or someone else tasked with the inspection, has to drive out to the site, which can take hours. The inspection itself is usually no briefer—some inspections can take up to 30 days. Unexpected inspectors are sometimes mistaken for intruders or other nuisances, making for a world of misunderstanding. If there are multiple people on site, e.g., an agent and an inspector from separate companies, they could end up squabbling, looking bad in front of the customer. Even after the inspection is over, the work isn’t. Agents have to make the trip back to the office, comb through all the material they collected, and assemble a report for an underwriter.

There’s no getting rid of field inspections—they’re a critical part of loss control. It’s no surprise, however, that everybody passes them around like a hot potato. Field inspections used to be an agency’s responsibility, until the agents got tired of them and handed them off to the carriers. None too thrilled with the inheritance, carriers have been known to outsource inspections to loss control specialists like Jim Gardner, who is this week’s guest on The Digital Broker. Gardner and his team did their work quite well, but they were not impervious to the challenges that had made field inspections unpopular in the first place. It was frustrating, for example, to repeatedly have to drive for hours, on a weekend, just to take a picture of a wood burner. For years, there had been no simple remedy to this—until smartphone technology came along. One day, someone on Jim’s team had an idea: couldn’t the policyholder take a photo of the burner and send it to the company, without anybody from the latter having to make the drive?

That idea gave way to a creative outburst. Gardner and his team began to wonder how else they could employ technology to make inspections easier. Their ideas culminated in the founding of ViewSpection, a provider of apps and services that enable agents, brokers, and policyholders to carry out inspections with the help of a mobile device.

It works like this: a ViewSpection app guides the policyholder through a routine field inspection, delivering instructions on where to go, what to check, and which photographs to take and submit. The information then travels to the agency or the carrier. This is easier for the agent and the policyholder alike: the agent does not have to drive out to the site except as a final recourse, and the policyholder, who is most familiar with the site, can breeze through the inspection at top speed. Some might wonder if it’s prudent to allow policyholders to do their own inspections, but Jim doesn’t see a problem with it. If anything, he says, “policyholders are the best inspectors,” because they have the most to gain by securing proper coverage.

Agents, too, can carry out inspections with the help of ViewSpection. Similar to the previous app, an agent-facing version of ViewSpection guides the agent through the process and solicits images and information that are then organized automatically into a report. This means the agent no longer has to dread the follow-up work at the office. With ViewSpection, a report is essentially assembled on the go.

Whether the policyholder or the agent carries out the inspection, speed wins. Traditional field inspections have a way of holding up the binding process indefinitely because underwriters have to wait for ages before they receive all the material they need. It is hard to justify this kind of slowness to the customer nowadays. Jim has found that keeping inspections brisk is both gratifying to the customer and profitable for the agency. “When an agency invites a policyholder to do the inspection, the initial completion rate is about 70% to 80%. The longer you wait, the lower the rate becomes. You lose that energetic flow; everybody’s moved on to something else.”

We usually encourage progressive attitudes on The Digital Broker, but who says a little tradition is such a bad idea? Jim reminds us that field inspections were once a province of insurance agencies, and we think it ought to be that way again. Agencies are closer than carriers to the policyholder, geographically and interpersonally. Field inspections, and loss control services generally, are a significant value add and differentiator. In the past, agencies could forego them: they were expensive, they took too long, the agency was already pressed for time, etc. But with the advent of Insurtechs like ViewSpection, field inspections are now easier and more affordable. Many agencies could now perform them. Can yours?

Feel free to debate that question at the Digital Broker LinkedIn group, where we continue the conversation with our guests, our host Ryan Deeds, and our community of insurance agents, brokers—and inspectors!

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