Interview: Robert Keaney Senior Public Adjuster

The Insider Speaks...
(20 Years Traveling the Insurance World)

Introduction (who I am): 

I’m Bob Keaney. I’ve been in the insurance claims business for approximately 45 years. Up through the ranks from adjuster to executive general adjuster, traveled the country and the Caribbean and parts of Europe adjusting claims.

And then semi-retired and ran into John Giordano who asked me if I’d be interested in joining forces with him. After six or eight months, we got together and formed an alliance.

Interviewer: What did you learn during all those years?

Bob Keaney: It’s an ongoing process. You learn on a daily basis. Every claim is new. Everyone is different. It requires research of policies, determining what the damages are, preparing the claim, all facets of it, and presenting it to the insurance company. Our main focus is on the client, hopefully to obtain the best possible recovery we can.

Interviewer: I look at it from a customer, consumer perspective. Like I mentioned earlier, I watch all the ads and all the ads tell me that the insurance company is going to take care of me. That’s not always true.

Bob Keaney: I don’t see that much anymore. It used to be those insurance companies and their claims departments were very conscious of the plight that the insured and their client would go through. They were very sympathetic. Now, the insurance companies are not so sympathetic. They are big conglomerates one. Two they are investment-oriented and they don’t really care so much about the client and being paid. They’re more looking at their bottom line for the investors.

Interviewer: Things have changed in the 40 years or so you’ve been around?

Bob Keaney: They really have.

Interviewer: In the past, it was true to say that they were looking out for the insured?

Bob Keaney: That was our main focus as a claims department, to look out for the client.

Interviewer: When did you see that start to change?

Bob Keaney: I would say about 15 years ago. There are some companies that always had that idea or that framework behind them that management would tell our adjustors to keep the claim payments limited and only pay what they had to or what they felt was realistic, not equitable.

Interviewer: You think it changed when the investors came in and it became more of a big company corporate environment?

Bob Keaney: I would say most definitely yes. Most of these insurance companies have been gobbled up by bigger companies. Over the years, the smaller ones are just gone by the wayside.

Interviewer: The phrase these days tends to be ‘corporate greed.’ Would you agree?

Bob Keaney:  I would say that it’s accurate in a lot of respects because the main focus is the bottom line. If they don’t turn a profit, then the investors are not going to be happy.

Interviewer: Now, instead of being a person-related company, it’s more dollars and cents?

Bob Keaney: Correct.

Interviewer: How has that affected your job or your business?

Bob Keaney: Well, we have to work harder to obtain that equitable settlement for our clients and it drags the claim out. It takes longer to settle claims nowadays than it used to.

Interviewer: Would that be different if you weren’t involved? Do you think that people would just get a lower rate?

Bob Keaney: They would probably get a lower settlement and not be able to perform necessary tasks without adding to the settlement of their own funding.

If you don’t research the policy, and 99 out of 100 people don’t, they’re too busy to look at it; it’s not easy to understand. And if you don’t do it thoroughly, you’re not going to get paid for items that the adjusters may not tell you were includedMr. Bob Keaney

If you don’t research the policy, and 99 out of 100 people don’t, they’re too busy to look at it; it’s not easy to understand. And if you don’t do it thoroughly, you’re not going to get paid for items that the adjusters may not tell you were included.

Interviewer: Can you give me some examples of that?

Bob Keaney: There are limits to the policy and then there are additions to the policy. That probably isn’t the right word to use. I’m trying to think of a word that would help you understand that a little better.

Interviewer: It’s not really an addition but it’s something that’s there that I don’t know about?

Bob Keaney: There are amendments to each policy and those amendments sometimes come with limits such as a policy that’s enforced where a fire exist. There’s a certain limit for firearms, jewelry, gold, silverware, those kinds of things. People are sometimes advised that for a fire, they’re limited for a payment of silverware, for instance, or limit for jewelry.

However, that’s only for theft and they aren’t advised of that. They’re advised that it’s limited. I see this more often than not when people put their inventories together, they’re told that once you hit a certain dollar amount, we can’t pay any longer or any further. However, that doesn’t have any effect on a fire. Some of those items are unlimited.

Interviewer: How would I know that?

Bob Keaney: You wouldn’t if you were advised improperly. You would just go with what you were told.

Interviewer: Based on your experience in the business, you realize that what they’re telling you isn’t necessarily true?

Bob Keaney: That is correct.

Interviewer: So when you go to a limited amount of recovery to unlimited, that’s a big step.

Bob Keaney: It’s big difference.

Q -  Can you share an example of misleading copy?

I had one recently where the insured had a fire and was told that their silverware and jewelry was limited. So they didn’t pursue it any further. However, there were two items of heirloom silver that exceeded $25,000-$30,000 and they were told that it was limited to $3,000. Consequently, we were able to get them the value of that silverware and of jewelry.

Interviewer: That’s like 10X.

Bob Keaney: It is.

Interviewer: So if they looked at their policy, it wouldn’t necessarily say that that would be what they’re due unless you know what you’re looking at?

Bob Keaney: Correct. It does say in the policy for theft, limited for theft but it doesn’t say limited for fire or water.

Interviewer: That becomes unlimited?

Bob Keaney: It becomes unlimited to the limit of the contents portion of the policy.

Interviewer: I see. But if you don’t know that and you’re thinking you’re only rendered $3,000, wow.

Bob Keaney: Correct.

Interviewer: If I were your brother-in-law, and  I just had a claim for $100,000 or more, and you weren’t able to  help me, what would you tell me to do?

From a public adjuster standpoint, from your 40 years of experience, knowing that we have dinner at holidays, what would you share with me to make sure I was safe?

Bob Keaney: Well, I could advise that relative. I could not formally put their claim together but I could advise them. If I couldn’t advise them, then I would recommend someone in the area where they lived.

Interviewer: What makes a good public adjuster? Why would I choose you as an example?

Bob Keaney: Well, experience is a big plus. Knowledge of policies and values, whether it be residential, commercial, building repair, contents replacement, additional living expenses, whatever you deem fair and equitable is what the client should receive.

Interviewer: Well, I guess I’m asking, why you? If I have this claim and I get to meet you or someone recommends you, and someone recommends someone else, why would I choose you over them?

Bob Keaney: Well, I think it’s not a beauty contest, number one, but it is an advantage to have years of experience in any business. We have a wealth of clients that we’ve done business for over the years. We would recommend that our potential client seek them out and obtain information from them as to how we did on their individual claim.

Interviewer: If I could rephrase that, it’s not only the quality of your past business but it’s the experience that you’re able to compile over all those years in the business.

Bob Keaney: I would say that that’s accurate. We have to keep up with cost and certain measures that are expected of the individual adjusters to be able to speak on their level.

Interviewer: What does that mean?

Bob Keaney: Well, the average individual doesn’t know insurance speak. So we can interpret for them the policy, number one, and what the adjuster means by the comments they make to the insured.

Interviewer: What’s the best time to contact you? If I have a claim, do I wait until I have a problem with the insurance company before I look for a guy like you or is it better to contact you right away?

Bob Keaney: It’s extremely important to contact us right away.

Interviewer: Why?

Bob Keaney: Because we can meet with the adjuster and explain what caused the problem and how we would like it rectified. We don’t want the adjusters from the individual insurance companies to tell the insured’s how they want it done.

It does help. Sometimes, we get in after the fact, when the adjuster has been there already. Already made his decision as to how he wants this claim to be settled. And then we have to turn it around a bit. It takes inspection, research, and we have to determine what repairs or replacements are actually going to cost.

Interviewer: As an example, if I have a home that had a buyer and it was from the 1960s and I needed to become whole again and it’s 2017. I’m thinking things have changed a little bit?

 Bob Keaney: Things have changed greatly from the ‘60s to present day.

  • The first thing we do when someone does have to rebuild under those circumstances is look at the local codes to see if those have changed.
  • In some areas of our state, there were no building codes in 1960.
  • They’ve changed greatly because building departments became a factor and they require certain things that didn’t exist.

Interviewer: There really are some substantial rules and regulations these days that may not have existed in the past at all?

Bob Keaney: Definitely.

Interviewer:  Give me a story or two about water, some of the experiences you’ve had either commercial or residential.

Bob Keaney: We’ve had occurrences where we’ve had water back up from roof systems causing considerable damage because you can’t stop it. You can stop a fire with water but you can’t stop water. It has to run its course and it seeks its own level. I’ve had collapsed buildings that are a challenge, hurricanes, worked many hurricanes.

Interviewer: Whenever I think of a hurricane, I think of a total disaster like a storm and later disaster.

Bob Keaney: It can be. We see that quite often, almost every year. We’re in the middle of hurricane season right now. Earthquakes are another thing that is a total disaster, very difficult.

Interviewer: You’ve been involved in all of these?

Bob Keaney: I have.

Interviewer: Tell me about a hurricane.

Bob Keaney: The worst one that I saw was Hurricane Andrew in the ‘90s. I worked in Florida at the time and it destroyed many, many buildings, many homes, power was out for weeks on end, total buildings destroyed. One of my clients was Toys R Us. In South Florida, they had four buildings that were completely totaled. It was hard to get around. You couldn’t drive because there were no street lights, so you had to be extremely careful. There were downed wires everywhere. You didn’t know whether wires were alive or dead. It was a challenge.

Interviewer: During this whole process, you need to go in and look at the damage and then you have to figure out how you’re going to approach the insurance company.

Bob Keaney: Correct.

Nowadays, they aren’t so conscientious about the client. They are more conscientious about the bottom line and they really don’t feel obligated to keep that client anymore because the underwriting departments are pressured to sign new business every day.Mr. Bob Keaney

Interviewer: The kinds of people you’re dealing with aren’t just normal residential mom and pop, it’s that and the major corporations.

Bob Keaney: It is a lot with major corporations.

Interviewer: Why would they come to see somebody like you?

Bob Keaney: Well, they’re running a major business, number one, and they don’t have the time or the manpower to put a claim together.

Interviewer: You said a time or two, what does it mean to put a claim together?

Bob Keaney: If we’re dealing with building and contents and a commercial loss, it’s our job to prepare a repair estimate or a replacement estimate in the instance of a total loss. And then prepare a complete inventory of the damaged or destroyed items.

Interviewer: That doesn’t come easy?

Bob Keaney: No. It’s very time consuming.

 I don’t know whether it was too unusual but one of my clients was Vermont Teddy Bear and they had a horrible water loss from an opening in the roof and we had to inventory all the damaged teddy bears. It was cute for the people in the office to put that together. It wasn’t too critical but it was interesting because all those items are handmade.

Interviewer: Are they really?

Bob Keaney: Yes.

What was the water damage?

Bob Keaney: An opening in the roof. I believe it was wind lifted part of the roof where they manufactured up in Vermont and water poured in.

Interviewer: So they had damage and they called you in to come in to do the inventory.

Bob Keaney: Yes, they did.

Interviewer: I want to touch more on the differences when you first started and the differences now. Tell me more about that because I don’t know too many people that had the kind of experience that you have.

Bob Keaney: Well, when I first started, as I said earlier, the insurance companies had their own underwriting departments, their own claim departments, and they staffed directly. They only sent claims out to be handled by independent adjustors if they were overworked. But every company that I worked for was very conscientious about their individual clients because they wanted to keep them as clients.

Nowadays, insurance companies aren’t so conscientious about the client.

They are more conscientious about the bottom line and they really don’t feel obligated to keep that client anymore because the underwriting departments are pressured to sign new business every day.

Interviewer: Things have changed.

Bob Keaney: They have, greatly

Interviewer: One thing I don’t understand is, I look at the lifetime value of a customer, especially in the insurance businesses, and it’s a continuity model. Every month or every year, they get a premium or some sort of money from the people they insured. So that’s going to go on for quite a while.

Bob Keaney: You would think. We think that way too because we want to retain our clients. Every claim that they have, they’re going to use us again.

Interviewer: If they’re happy with you, they’re going to tell other people.

Bob Keaney: They are.

Please share an example of someone you helped and then how they introduced you to someone else?

You know how they talk about the six different touch points? You could essentially get to meet anybody with just six contacts.

Give me a story where you started with one claim and how they may have recommended you to someone else and how that claim started.

Bob Keaney: I had a fire with the largest building owner in Danbury, Connecticut. He was very satisfied with the end result. About two or three months later, the second largest building owner in Danbury called me on the first person’s recommendation. We settled their claim as well and since then, we’ve had recommendations ongoing from both of those clients and repeat work. It’s like a domino effect and it just continues as long as we do a good job.

Interviewer: We’ve talked about the most interesting inventory. What has been the most challenging for you? Which one sticks out in your mind the most for whatever reason?

Is there a claim that is personal to you or more personal to you than another?

Bob Keaney: I feel and I treat our clients the way I would treat my own family. I want them to be successful in their endeavor in replacing what they’ve lost. The ones that stick out are the ones that people have lost everything. I have one going now with a deputy fire chief who lost everything, home, contents, everything he had in it.

He and his wife are both originally from different countries and they were passed down heirlooms by both sides of the families and they’ve lost all of that. No one was hurt which is the best thing but they can repair what they’ve lost but they can replace everything. So it’s very difficult for them and those are the ones that you feel really need the handholding and as much help as you can give them.

Interviewer: How did that end?

Bob Keaney: It hasn’t yet. It will. It’s been very traumatic for his wife because of all of the heirloom items that she’s lost, were passed down to her by deceased relatives. It’s been tough to get that claim completed.

Interviewer: How do you put dollar amount to that?

Bob Keaney: We can do some research and see what we can find that’s online, that’s one tool we have now which is pretty helpful. One item that was lost was a World War I musket. We’ve had to research that and try and determine the value.

Interviewer: That’s amazing. It’s funny what people have.

Bob Keaney: It is.

Interviewer: We’ve talked about teddy bears, we’ve talked about muskets. What other unique things in all your years have you come across?

Bob Keaney: I did a lot of work with fine art and some of those can be precarious especially when you’re dealing with a multi-million dollar piece of art and someone drives a forklift through it. But it can be repaired and it will lose value of course. We’ve had those items, sculptures. We’ve had to send certain sculptures all over the country to get them work done and see of those can be repaired.

Tell me more about this story with the forklift.

Bob Keaney: I believe it was a piece of art that was being offloaded from France at JFK Airport. It was boxed and crated, so it was rather stable but the forklift driver went to pick it up and the forks were too close and he drove one of them through the piece of art. That happens often.

Interviewer: You’re kidding.

Bob Keaney: No, it does happen quite often.

Interviewer: So your responsibility at that point since you’re working let’s say for example I was the guy that owned that art, you need to make me whole for as much money as and how does that work? I guess I’m trying to understand.

Bob Keaney: We can make you whole for the stated value of the item. In this case, it was well over a million dollars. I think it was several million dollars. However, like I said, it could be repaired and at that time, if the owner wanted to keep the repaired piece of artwork, we would obtain the best recovery for the loss in value. That’s exactly what the owner did.

Interviewer: So the loss of value?

Bob Keaney: Correct.

Interviewer: Now, who handled finding the person to repair it?

Bob Keaney: We did.

Interviewer: You do all of that?

Bob Keaney: We do.

Interviewer: If I have a challenge like that, it’s not just fighting the insurance company to get the money that is due. It’s also going through the process of whatever is necessary, sounds like.

Bob Keaney: Correct. It’s either locating someone who will give us a value of the item in its entirety if it can be repaired. And then if it can be repaired, it’s finding the proper person to make the repairs and then to give us a loss in value.

Interviewer: I’ve never heard of that before but it sure makes sense in that case a loss in value.

Bob Keaney: It does because a lot of the people that won these pieces of fine art or sculpture don’t want to relinquish them to the insurance company if they pay them a total loss.

Interviewer: So if I get paid a total loss, the insurance company owns it?

Bob Keaney: They have the right to the salvage.

Interviewer: I guess what I’m trying to go with that is, how do I know I need you? At what point do it? If I’ve never heard of you before, what would make me realize I need to meet a guy like you?

Bob Keaney: If you’re not being treated fairly by the insurance company or their adjusters, you’re probably going to search out an attorney who in turn can recommend a public adjuster. Or if you tend to do some research or speak to your friends about an issue, your friends may have known someone that used someone like us, and they will say you need a public adjuster.

Interviewer: So it’s either through an attorney or –

Bob Keaney: It can be contractors. It can be cleaners. There’s a wealth of people out there that have associations with us.

Bob Keaney: We do now. You know what you see especially now? A lot of people don’t believe what they read. The old adage, believe half of what you read, or none of what you read, I guess it was, and half of what you see. But it’s hard to get people to understand that they’re not going to be treated as fairly as they think. Some people wait too long to realize that and then it’s almost too late. But usually, we can convince adjusters that they haven’t treated their client fairly.

Other than the fact that we try to obtain the best possible recovery for or clients as we can. Many times, 99 out of 100 were very successful. Sometimes even more successful than we believe we can be.

Interviewer: That’s interesting. Give me an example of that.

Bob Keaney: Well, it has to do with the tools that we have. We have estimating programs and we use those. I don’t like to make promises to people. I like to give them hard facts and show them what we think we can do. And then if we do better, so be it.

Interviewer: So you had tools. I’ve never heard about the tools.

Bob Keaney: Sure. We have building and estimating programs. There are inventory programs out there. We have those at our availability.

Interviewer: That’s something that the average homeowner or commercial –

Bob Keaney: No, no, no. They wouldn’t pay for that. The average homeowner wouldn’t spend the money to have that. The average homeowner doesn’t have claims.

It’s a tool that the industry knows that they use but you have the same tools.

Bob Keaney: We do. And we try to use the same tools that the industry uses. That way, there’s no confusion when you submit a claim.

Interviewer: It’s essentially; you’re working for the insured. Legitimately, you are working for them. Keaney: Sure. Correct.

Interviewer: Tough for me to get my arms around it because after all these years, I would think that the insurance company is going to take care of me. I’ve been marketed to so long that I’ve been tainted.

Bob Keaney: Well, the other thing is I like to inform people that if you see on television a football game or a basketball game or a baseball game and the major advertiser for that program is an insurance company, they’re doing very well.

Interviewer: They have the money to spend on marketing.

Bob Keaney: They do.

Interviewer: And the way they do well is to not pay –

Bob Keaney: Pay less in claims.

Where do you see the future in the industry?

Bob Keaney: It looks like it’s going to be more automated on the insurance company and I see that now. It’s extremely difficult to get to adjusters especially for the individual. The individual will give up trying to contact an adjuster.

There are two companies out there right now that I’ve seen a lot where they use a toll-free number and the extension for the adjuster is seven more numbers. It’s difficult for the individual to dial that toll-free number and then have to dial seven or more numbers to get the adjuster. And then it often doesn’t go through the way they want it to so they get frustrated and give up.

Interviewer: That takes somebody to think about the process, to make it more difficult rather than to streamline.

Bob Keaney: And it’s done purposely. I know you brought up Google. I have friends that work for Google. Their extension is four digits.

Interviewer: Pretty simple.

Bob Keaney: And they have more employees than some of these insurance companies but they make it more difficult to get to.

Interviewer: That’s the kind of interesting information that people online are going to love to read.

Bob Keaney: Yeah. And they won’t accept too much content by email either.

Interviewer: What does that mean?

Bob Keaney: If you want to send them a claim, sometimes you have to fax it because it will bounce back if you send too much content to them. They can only accept the minimum content.

Interviewer: If I have to go with a fax machine, then you’re making it even more difficult in the hopes that –

Bob Keaney: If you don’t have one, sure.

Boy is that interesting. In the old days, you help your customer have a better experience but in new days, you try to make it more difficult so they go away.

Bob Keaney: They are.

Interviewer: What other insight do you have like that? That’s fascinating to me.

Bob Keaney: Well, in the old days, 20 years ago, when fax machines were just coming of age, you would send you claim by fax or mail it to the insurance company. Now, we have the internet and you have an email address but if you want to send an inventory, let’s say, I think the most they will accept would be 25 megabytes. Anything over that, they reject it. It gets kicked back, so then you have to fax it.

It’s pretty archaic, if you ask me. But that delays the process because you’re faxing it to a general sorting facility nowhere near where the adjuster is. They scan it and they email it to the adjuster. So it delays the process and delays the claim payments.

Interviewer: And the reason that is, the longer they keep the money, the better, right?

Bob Keaney: True. Even on Yahoo, you can send more content than they accept and receive more content that they accept.

Interviewer: That’s incredible.

Bob Keaney: It is.

Interviewer: So it’s not necessarily the lack of technology. It’s just the way that they decide to do it?

Bob Keaney: I think it is, yeah. I can’t tell you how many people just give up and say, “I’m not going to bother.”

How do I make a decision out of good insurance company?

Bob Keaney: The best way to pick an insurance company is to go an agent that has multiple insurance companies that they represent. Of course you want to select the best coverage and the best price but you also want to know from that agent who handles their claims with the best service. Most agents will tell you. But you have to understand too that the agents work for the insurance companies but there are still a few that relish their clients and want to keep them as clients.

Interviewer: That’s so powerful in every industry.

Bob Keaney: Of course it is. We’re a service business. We are part of it, the insurance company is part of it, the adjusters for the insurance companies, they’re in the service industry but they don’t service their clients. There are times that I make calls to adjusters. I got one client right now where I’ve made 60 phone calls, backed it up with 60 emails and 60 texts and he has yet to return a call.

Interviewer: Why do you think that might be?

Bob Keaney: I don’t know.

Interviewer: That’s 180 point of contact.

Bob Keaney: And I do it purposely just so I have a record of all of it.

Interviewer: That’s incredible.

Bob Keaney: Could be that he’s not seasoned and they don’t train adjuster like they used to. There were tremendous amounts of training for individual adjusters. You wouldn’t want to make mistake. Today, they make so many common mistakes, it’s unbelievable.

Interviewer: Training cost money.

Bob Keaney: It does.

Interviewer: Mistakes on the insurance company’s behalf or?

Bob Keaney: It could be either-or.

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