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Collision Industry Conference: Photo-Based Estimating Is a ‘Deficiency’

When Allstate last year downsized more than 500 claims adjusters, the insurer said shifting to its QuickFoto Claim tool would make the estimating process more efficient. But at least one repairer doesn’t see it that way.

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Josh Cable has 17 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers, B2B publications and marketing organizations. His areas of expertise include U.S. manufacturing, lean/Six Sigma and workplace safety and health.

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When Allstate last year downsized more than 500 claims adjusters, the insurer said shifting to its QuickFoto Claim tool would make the estimating process more efficient. But at least one repairer doesn’t see it that way.

“Currently, we’re not seeing any efficiency,” said Ron Reichen, owner of Precision Body & Paint in Oregon. “In reality, it’s a deficiency, just because of the pure lack of thoroughness.”

Reichen’s comments came during a panel discussion at the Jan. 18 Collision Industry Conference in Palm Springs, Calif. He was responding to a question about states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia enacting laws that allow insurers to rely on photo-only damage appraisals.

“Every accident is different,” Reichen added. “The things that we need to look at – angles of impact, energy path – [require repairers] to scan the car. The car, in many cases, needs to tell us what’s wrong with it.”

A photo-based estimate might be OK for a minor repair, Reichen said. But as vehicles become increasingly computerized – and repairs become more technical – how much insight can a few cellphone pictures provide?

“How do you see the hidden fault codes without scanning the car?” Reichen asked. “How do you see 2 degrees of negative camber on a front tire with a photo taken by a housewife? No offense intended.”

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Clint Marlow, director of claims innovation for Allstate, acknowledged that disassembling a vehicle is the best way to assess the full extent of the damage. However, unless insurers rewrite their policies to mandate that every vehicle gets repaired, “that’s not going to be possible.”

Consumers are demanding a quick, easy and painless claims process, Marlow noted, and insurers such as Allstate are embracing that trend. Consumers also want to be educated on whether or not it’s worth it to file a claim.

“Some people choose not to repair,” Marlow added. “Some people choose to trade in damaged vehicles to buy new ones. Some people choose to partially repair. [Insurance regulations don’t] require repairs.”

When consumers decide to have their collision-damaged vehicles repaired, photo-based estimates might not provide a complete assessment of the damage. In those cases, body shops have to submit supplements – which flies in the face of insurers’ stated goal of making the process more efficient.

Marlow, though, said Allstate is equipped to “handle the vast majority of our supplement requests virtually.” (The insurer has been using a video-chat app called Virtual Assistant to review supplements with repairers.) He said the virtual technology can reduce the estimating cycle time “from multiple days to hours.”

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