For Making Swift Payments of Insurance Claims
Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake - For Making Swift Payments of Insurance Claims
Immediately following the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011, Tokio Marine & Nichido established Disaster Management task forces, one in its head office and one each in the disaster-stricken areas, and sent staff from throughout the country to the local branches to make swift payments of insurance claims and smoothly provide relevant services to earthquake victims. We asked Yasunobu Hanada and Yukari Tsuda of the Sendai Branch of Tokio Marine & Nichido about how business processes have been executed in the devastated areas, what comments we have received from customers and what they have felt in performing disaster-related work.
- QHow did you perform your assigned work, and what points did you keep in mind while working in the devastated areas?
Hanada: The Great East Japan Earthquake caused tremendous damage to Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Our Sendai Central Branch alone received about 20,000 earthquake insurance claims. Performing appraisals and completing payments of these numerous claims were a real challenge. Naturally, there was a serious shortage of appraisers and we had to redirect sales and other personnel, including myself, to the task of loss adjustment. We set up a system in which anyone can process claims appropriately and efficiently by sharing the procedures for claims payment and important points to be noted while performing these procedures.
Moreover, we made adjustments to our system as needed to speed up claims payment operations. For example, arrangements for home visits were made to the extent possible through the agents who have had regular contacts with customers. This allowed us to reach customers more easily and visit many of them at the earliest possible opportunity.
Moving into April, we began to receive about 100 loss adjusters every week from throughout Japan, and the increased workforce enabled us to organize a more efficient claims settlement structure. What all of us kept in mind was to make an honest response to disaster victims from their perspectives. Although we had to process many claims, which require greater efficiency, we tried to remember that there was a life behind every case. We had a meeting of loss adjusters every evening to share information relevant to the task of loss adjustment. The meeting also gave us a valuable opportunity to encourage our willingness to help and share customers' comments and feedback.
Through these efforts, we paid about 80% of the claims submitted by the end of April and 90% in early May. Since then, we have been continuing our efforts to accelerate the payment of claims. At the same time, we have been performing follow-up activities for customers who have not yet submitted claims and making refunds for cancellation of fire insurance policies for cases in which houses and buildings were washed away by the tsunami.
Tsuda: I am usually in charge of providing support to agents for processing customer policies. March is a busy month because we have to handle a number of policy renewals. That meant that we had to settle claims submitted by disaster victims and simultaneously handle renewal and other related procedures that had been delayed or disrupted by the disaster.
Immediately after the disaster when power supply and communication infrastructure were not yet restored, customers were having difficulty in contacting their agents. So, we made direct contact with customers to provide agent services, thus attempting to avoid any delay in our work and policy-related procedures.
The disaster greatly affected our customers, disrupting normal life. To respond to the emergency situation, Tokio Marine & Nichido devised a number of special measures concerning policy procedures. We needed to keep up with these procedural updates made one after the other and disseminate the latest information throughout our organization and to our agents. We had to provide accurate answers to inquiries made by agents based on the latest updates.
- QWhat were customers' reactions to your post-disaster operations and procedural changes?
Hanada: We were feeling extremely regretful for not being able to visit customers early or make prompt payments of claims because of the disaster. It turned out, however, that we were able to pay insurance claims rather quickly, and we received words of appreciation from many customers. Some commented that they were at a total loss, but receiving insurance claims gave them a great sense of relief. Their comments have made me recognize the significance and importance of insurance products and the responsibility we assume as an insurance company.
On the other hand, there were customers who appeared to regret not knowing about earthquake insurance. They said they would have purchased it if it was recommended by us. Customers of course make the final decision, but our role is to show what coverage is possibly available or needed by them. I have recognized the necessity for properly identifying the needs of customers and providing more detailed suggestions and explanations through our sales activities.
Tsuda: Because I work in a back office, I don't usually interact with customers. But after the earthquake, while I was helping our agents, I had many chances to talk with customers over the telephone. Several customers were really grateful that they have followed the advice of their agents and purchased earthquake insurance.
That made me realize the importance of having close communications with customers in our daily operations, mainly through our agents, and making proposals for adequate products and services based on an appropriate understanding of customers needs.
- QWhat have you learned while responding to customers affected by the disaster, and what issues are you going to focus in the future?
Hanada: Non-life insurance supports customers in case of a disaster or accident. After a disaster of this magnitude, we have to respond to customers quickly and appropriately from their perspectives and make efforts to help them restore their normal lives or business activities.
I expect that the devastating damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent tsunami will give rise to social discussions on how future earthquake insurance should be. Earthquake insurance is an insurance scheme stipulated under the national law. I would like to share what I have experienced in the aftermath of the disaster, including what we have done to make swift payments of insurance claims, what we've heard from customers and what I have personally felt, to contribute to the enhancement of the scheme in the future.
Tsuda: When something we have not experienced in the past happens, like the disaster in March, there will be a number of cases to which we cannot automatically apply our normal business processes. While I was working at a sales base in the disaster areas, I had come to realize the importance of keeping ourselves accurately informed of what was happening, making an adequate judgment best suited to each customer, and responding in a quick and flexible manner.
I would like to share my experience within the company and make the most of it in our future operations to achieve better services for customers.