Claims Investigations Using Social Media

I had a very interesting discussion with a claims investigator last Thursday at Celent’s industry networking event in London (New Rules of Engagement: How Digital and Social Innovation Challenge the Insurer Business Model – see Nicolas’ summary of the event on the Celent Blog). He went into some detail about how they were using social media in their claims work.

As background, this gentleman is the Managing Director of an independent investigation company based in London which serves the UK market. His company has expertise in both personal and commercial claims and is hired by insurance companies to detect and research suspected claim fraud.

He confirmed what I have heard from other claims investigators – their first step in an investigation is to check the social networking sites for information. What he added was a richly descriptive context in which this information is used.

The interview sounds as if it is out of a television script. Paraphrasing his comments, they went something like this:

“After obtaining some interesting information from social sites, we bring a claimant in to the office for a chat. I often say “May I make you a cup of tea?” I then lay a folder on the desk and say “Have a look at this whilst I get your drink”. I then leave the room and they invariably open the folder. In it, we have screen prints of Facebook postings, pictures, Twitter feeds, etc, all of which refute basic facts in their claim statement. Many times it is not the pictures that are most incriminating, it is the text that they have posted themselves. For example, we have discovered postings that read: “I had a great time in Ibiza. I danced all night!” (This can cast some suspicion on the status of a back injury that is paying disability!) I return with their tea and say “Have you had a look? Great. Super. Now, there are only a couple of ways this can go…one, you can sign a paper that relinquishes your claims payments and agrees to pay my fee or two, don’t sign it and we will hand this information over to the police who will begin a criminal investigation.” Obviously, almost all sign.

I felt as though I was in a television show, but a couple of specifics really intrigued me about his comments. First, when I have seen the “have a look at the folder” technique on TV, it almost always contains pictures that someone has taken without their knowledge, or transcripts of wiretaps – both collected by a third party. What is very different about this “evidence” is that the claimant posted it him/herself and offered it freely for the world to see. Something to be said for the efficiency of self incrimination.

Second, I agree that there is an uncomfortable, “big brother”, “Orwellian” aspect to this type of monitoring. I have seen some opinions that criticize insurance companies for using such tactics. My stand on this issue is that insurance fraud costs all of us money and if someone who is adding to my insurance costs can be found out through their own hand, I am all for it. Invading privacy is not acceptable, but using what is voluntarily placed in the public domain should be employed to its full use in order to match insurance rates and coverages with actual exposure.

Facebook Cap tweets your thoughts

A new product – as yet unnamed but dubbed ‘The Facebook Cap’ – is every social networker’s dream. Fitted with 3G, GPS, and a digital camera, the cap keeps all of your friends up-to-date with your location and pictures of what you are doing uploaded to every 3 minutes. A 16 core computer and a web of sensors built into the cap utilize the latest advances in neuroscience to determine which parts of your brain are active. With some training it can tweet what you’re thinking about as you’re thinking it! Sounds like science fiction? Actually much of the technology already exists. But perhaps even more surprising is that this type of product would likely find a sizable market. A group of social networkers Celent categorizes as “over-sharers” will jump at the chance to share even more data about themselves. They will look to consumer electronics goods to enable this. Look out for Celent’s upcoming reports on social networking and digital marketing to find out more. Happy April Fools day.

Twitter, meet "specialised" insurance

Social networking was in the headlines again this week with an Insurance Times article on the marketing angle of this nascent phenomenon. I was interested to read that Direct Line plans to use Twitter to communicate with customers, and the process was deemed useful as it had a potential to enhance brand image. As many of you know, I take a curmudgeonly attitude towards the short and medium term impact of social networking in insurance. And you can extend that attitude to my experiences in insurer customer communications, and so the idea of Twitter playing a role in communications intrigues me. Personal experience as a weary consumer shows that customer service in the UK for personal lines has been homogenized and streamlined. It’s at a point where if I have to talk to an insurer staff member (and yes, brokers aren’t any better), I spend more time on hold accompanied with muzak than I ever do talking to staff at an insurer. I wish I had better things to do than play games with a complicated call centre, but I have the misfortune of a “difficult” house that has a dark history of possible subsidence. Reports now show this is not the case, but the question is raised in every quote, which puts me in the “special underwriting” bracket. I’m now up for renewal on my house insurance, and now have further supporting surveyor documentation to support the point of no subsidence, I am forced to “communicate” with my insurer. I call, wait 5 minutes whilst “all advisers are busy” and appreciate that I am “a valued customer” and hold on for a further 5 minutes as I have no alternative. Listening to the tinny voice that tells me to “use our website” increases my blood pressure as I sarcastically snap back at the phone “I would if I could!”. Eventually, I speak to someone who tells me to send in the documents, and expect a response in 3-5 days. No awards for speedy response there. Don’t get me wrong – shopping for personal lines in the UK is a breeze as long as you aren’t a specialised risk. Direct and aggregator options really put the buying power in the hands of the consumer. And fair play to the insurers — they’ve responded to the challenge of low cost channels with aplomb. Being a specialised risk means you get stuck with one insurer, as if you are like me, you become overwhelmed with going out to the market for new quotes each year and having to deal with all those call centres again. Can Twitter save the day in specialised risk? I’d like to think it could play a role, but then I’d also like to think I could pick up the phone and talk to my insurer. We all have dreams. If the call centre model is challenging, which insurer staff is behind the twitter responses? This grumpy old woman remains unconvinced.

Answer the emails before you Twitter

If you think twittering is for the birds, then think again. US President Obama and Stephen Fry (a renowned British actor) are both active users of the micro-blogging website – Earlier this month, Stephen Fry was stuck in lift in London and used Twitter to talk to his followers – all 180,000 of them – about his predicament. Ever helpful, his followers offered advice on surviving in broken lifts and generally uplifting comments. Welcome to the world of social networking.

But it’s not all fun and games. Recently, a US congressman took to announcing in detail his movements on a visit to Irag. This caused an outrage over the unintended security risk he caused for himself and his delegation.

Companies are using Twitter for their own purposes. You can follow the CEOs, hear what employees are saying about the company or interact as a customer. Twitter has caught onto this corporate surfing and has made mutterings about charging corporate users. Clear benefit of this channel remains unproven and such a move would certainly dampen corporate interest.

In the corporate world, Twitter is said to be able to play a role in customer feedback, queries or product questions. However, these activities could just as well be served in on-line forums which are better at structuring and associating data. Twitter boards can sometimes look like random streams of the unconscious that can only make sense to the Twitter owner. Most companies will allow you to submit queries to them via email but either don’t respond, or respond in a useless timeframe. I’d happily use alternative channels (email, twitter, skype) to communicate with companies instead of having to deal with those interminable call centres. But then the company must actually respond.

The Wall Street Journal noted “… some users are starting to feel ‘too’ connected, as they grapple with check-in messages at odd hours, higher cellphone bills, and the need to tell acquaintances to stop announcing what they’re having for dinner”

I’m with WSJ on this one. Twitter is yet another communication channel in an over-communicated world. The technology may be a viable consumer communication channel but it competes with alternative and more established channels. My message to firms considering this is to get your other channels working first.