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California Independent Insurance Adjuster

Sams & Associates

The ongoing theme of this feature is experience in the insurance industry, and the subjects of this month's feature have years of expertise to utilize and share. They are the management team of Sams & Associates, an independent adjusting firm that has gathered these professionals to direct the operations of a network of offices and resident adjusters throughout California and Nevada. They are a group that works hard and likes to have fun. Family is an important part of all of their lives and in fact, they consider the Sams associates to be a 'family" in the emotional sense. We talked one day in their newly expanded office space about the insurance industry and the role of independent adjusters in today's quickly changing business world.

Jerry Wells started working as an adjuster for Royal Insurance while still a student at Sac State. Later he moved to Truckee and with Glenn Stice, operated the Stice-Wells Insurance Agency which was sold to a large insurance broker after many successful years. He also had front line experience as a first responder as a fire chief and EMT for Tahoe Forest Hospital. He was one of the founders of Truckee River Bank which was later sold to Bank of West. Jerry returned to Royal Insurance as a regional claims manager and worked there until they ceased operations. While at Royal he recalls encouraging Don Sams to leave Brown Brothers Adjusting to go out on his own. He has been a Regional Vice President for Sams & Associates since 1994.

Bob Lund was given the responsibility for many new projects since he joined Sams & Associates in 1995, some of which he previously knew little about. He taught himself expertise in computers in order to lead the way to Sams & Associates' utilization of cutting edge technology, for instance. "Bob" says Don Sams "has responded to the needs of the company by learning to be good at whatever we needed to excel." Bob started in the insurance business as an adjuster for Progressive Insurance after a 14 year stint as a restaurant District Franchise Training Manager. His focus on training stems from his years of seeking the right people with good work ethics and organized work practices to fill the positions that rely on these traits.

Jim DeVard got his start at the Title Insurance and Trust Company as an escrow and title officer before trying his hand at sales. Finding sales not to his liking, he accepted a job at CSE and stayed for 38 years. He started as a trainee adjuster and ending his career with the same company as a Regional Vice-President. Jim sees the challenges of the insurance industry the same as most industries in that quality people are hard to find. "When I was coming up the AIC course was the only training that was available for insurance people and I only knew a couple of people who had the CPCU designation." He stated. "Now there are many options available including on-line courses for study, but the basic qualifications remain…Communication; Organization and Time Management. These attributes will determine the successful adjuster."

It is telling that Don Sams is the last to weigh in on the question of the state of the insurance industry today. While the discussion swirled around the room, Don leaned back and let his team take the lead while he contemplated their remarks. It seems obvious that he respects the opinions of the team that he has gathered, and openly says that he seeks their advice before moving ahead on new projects or directions. Don credits the team with the company successfully competing in the electronic era to work smarter and cut the costs to the levels that the carriers demand. The decision to consolidate the operation to Sacramento was based on a more affordable lifestyle for the families that comprise Sams and Associates and more affordable offices. There are four Sams and Associates divisions serving specific contracts and Time and Expense clients throughout the California and Nevada territories. Through improved technology, including a virtual private network, they are able to monitor and mentor the claims process and product. This allows for the use and success of resident adjusters, they are able to reduce commute times for their employees and travel time for their clients. When the reports come in there are 5 managers available to review the file which improves quality control. The 6 clerical staff people are able to process the work effectively in a timely manner. "We are proof that you can teach old dogs new tricks", Don laughs. "I believe that we are a viable option with the current carrier concern about employee overhead and benefits, not to mention the overtime exposure."

Bob said "the carrier staff and experience levels are shrinking so it's difficult to do so much more with so much less."

"Carriers cannot afford to have adjusters everywhere their policy holders have losses so the employee costs drive the claims to independent adjusters" Jerry added.

"Some of the carriers have worked hard to develop a corporate culture that will retain their employees", Don continued "the most effective of these companies see the results of their efforts, while others just don't go there." "We like to feed our company's growth by carefully fitting new employees to the position." "Our hiring process is rigorous and the emphasis is on finding people with skills who will fit in with our organization. It is so important for us to have the person fit with our corporate culture that their ability to get along with the team is almost on a par with their skill level." "The resident adjusters who work from home are a great example of how a good situation for some is just not workable for others. It must be a win-win."

Don finds this process of fitting the person to the task so compelling that he regularly finds himself in the position of helping adjusters who are down sized become successful employees of other companies through his extensive network of contacts. "Don is The Grid", Bob interjects, referring to his bosses' ability to network for and find opportunities for his adjuster acquaintances. Don brushes the compliment aside with a smile, "I have found that if one takes care of family, friends and clients- all else will take care of itself to have a productive life and business success." Sams and Associates is an active participant in charities and the list of the recipients of their contributions is considerable. WEAVE and the American Diabetes Association are just 2 of the organizations that have benefited from Sams and Associates contributions. Don was an organizer of the first annual Father of the Year Award in Sacramento and Jim was on the committee. They also worked on the Bobby Jackson Breast Cancer Foundation and Jim was a volunteer with the Suicide Prevention Hotline. Don has also worked with youth organizations through his church to provide humanitarian aid in Mexico. 2 of the more diligent workers on those trips now work in the Sams and Associates office in Sacramento.

All of the management team are regular attendees at the Sacramento Claims Association meetings and generous sponsors of CCNC and SCA events. Jim DeVard says "The speakers have almost always been helpful in providing information that adjusters need to do their job." Jerry adds "On some subjects, this may be the only training they get." "The various topics are a key to global understanding of the insurance business and peer to peer solutions to problems that adjusters face may be more helpful than a chapter in a book" according to Don. "The key to attending is for the adjuster to view their career as more than just as a job and gaining more knowledge leads to personal growth." Bob added.

Sacramento Claims Association News Network newsletter - November 2006

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