Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bashing the Claims Department

As I was sorting through some old reference materials a few weeks ago I came across an article I had written for Best's Review Property Casualty edition way back in February, 1990.  At that time I had been in the Claims business for about sixteen years, and I was in my third year as the Chief Claims Officer at Providence Washington Insurance Company in Providence, RI. Unfortunately, Providence Washington was destined to cease operations and head into runoff mode in 2004, after 205 years in business.  I would be long gone by then, but I wasn't terribly surprised it worked out that way.  We had a CEO who had been a university professor--he was smart and entertaining and engaging, but he had some blind spots about certain parts of the insurance business.  I still remember the time one of our managing directors presented to the executive team a potential MGA program deal involving waste haulers in New York city.  Following the presentation, the CEO went around the table, asking each of us to comment.  The Chief Underwriting Officer was against it, and I was against it, but everyone else thought it was a great opportunity.  Without missing a beat, the CEO announced: "Excellent.  Let's do it."  That deal, and the many others like it that followed, helped seal Providence Washington's fate.

I had written the original draft of the article, "Bashing the Claims Department", in early 1987 when I was working for Commercial Union Insurance Company (CU) in Boston.  Years later CU merged with General Accident (1998) to form CGU Corporation, then White Mountains Insurance Group, Ltd. acquired CGU Corporation in 2001 and changed its name to OneBeacon Insurance Group.  But two things happened in 1987 that influenced the final draft of the article.  First, as a newly minted CPCU I was pondering my career options so I asked our CEO for advice on how I might begin to shift my career path from Claims to general management in a profit center.  His response was that there had never been a claims person born who could run a profit center.  Second, I had to get the article approved by someone in HR or Legal, but it didn't get approved because of the concern that readers might misinterpret it as critical of CU.  So, with the benefit of fresh and vivid clarity on my career path options,  I accepted my first Chief Claims Officer position at Providence Washington Insurance Company a few months later and filed the article away.

I pulled out the article again in 1989 and rewrote it, this time with the full support of my new employer.  It is fascinating for me to re-read it after all these years, because even though it strikes me now as a bit idealistic and shrill, I still remember the angst I felt while writing it.  I was trying to describe situations that didn't seem fair or right, but I really did believe they could be remedied with positive results.  One of the early paragraphs helped set the tone:

Like most people I know in this business, I stumbled out of college and into the employ of a major insurance carrier purely by chance.  Given the opportunity to get involved in either claims or underwriting, I chose claims because it sounded more interesting and, if the truth be known, it included a company car.  It took me only a few years to realize that I had inadvertently become part of what seemed to be a disadvantaged (and frequently maligned) class of insurance company employees.  It took about the same amount of time for me to get promoted to an inside position, at which time I had to turn in the company car.

Denise Gordon at AM Best was kind enough to provide me with a scanned version of the original article, so I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my own personal 1990 Claims time-capsule:  Bashing the Claims Department

Dean K. Harring, CPCU, CIC is a retired Chief Claims Officer and an expert and advisor on Property Casualty insurance claims and operations. He can be reached at or through


  1. Speaking of old articles, I have a copy of your "Keeping Score: Efficiency and Effectiveness in Claim Handling" which was published in Claims Magazine in March 2005. It is one of the best I have ever read - and may be the only one I ever saved.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. That article is one of my favorites.