General Insurance Surveyors; Who should decide on the survey fees?

General Insurance Surveyors, also referred to as Surveyor & Loss Assessors, or SLA in short, are qualified, licensed & independent professionals.   The Surveyor & Loss Assessor’s license is granted by Insurance Regulatory & Development Authority (IRDA) as per the provisions of section 64UM of Insurance (Amendment) Act, 1968 and amended later during 2002.

Section 64UM (1) (A) of Insurance Act reads as – Save as otherwise provided in this section, no person shall act as a surveyor or loss assessor in respect of general insurance business after the expiry of a period of one year from the commencement of the Insurance (Amendment) Act, 1968, unless he holds a valid licence issued to him by the Authority.

Further section 64UM(1)(D)(ii)(G)(2) reads as – No claim in respect of a loss which has occurred in India and requiring to be paid or settled in India equal to or exceeding twenty thousand rupees in value on any policy of insurance, arising or intimated to an insurer at any time after the expiry of a period of one year from the commencement of the Insurance (Amendment) Act, 1968, shall, unless otherwise directed by the Authority, be admitted for payment or settled by the insurer unless he has obtained a report, on the loss that has occurred, from a person who holds a licence issued under this section to act as a surveyor or loss assessor (hereafter referred to as “approved surveyor or loss assessors).

Thus licensed insurance surveyor enjoys a statutory position as per law and his report, called as survey & loss assessment report, is required by the insurer’s and forms the basis to settle any claim where the value of the loss is equal to or exceeds Rs. 20,000.00.

Insurance Surveyor acts as a link between the insurers and the insured’s when there is a claim.  The insurance surveyor’s job is to study, analyze and assess the loss on fair lines without prejudice and bias thus paving way for smooth settlement of claim.  Insurance surveyors get paid by the insurance companies who utilize their services on case-to-case basis.

There are at present 12,000+ full time, dedicated and professional insurance surveyors located in various parts of India to render prompt services to the insurance companies and to the insured clientele in distress in any corner of India, if a loss situation / accident / some sort of calamity arises.

Insurance surveyor when assigned with a claim by the insurer, visits the insured client in distress in shortest possible time and attends to the claim on behalf of the insurer and makes all possible efforts to control and contain the loss.  Infact, insured gets to see only the insurance surveyor who reaches the site of loss first on behalf of the insurer.  Most insurers prefer to call the surveyors as their company’s ambassadors.

As the company’s ambassador, befitting the image and reputation of the company, every professional insurance surveyor is expected to maintain high level of professional integrity with the insured client, in addition to certain status and standards in the society.

Insurance Surveyors are fully dependent on the income earned from the insurance companies who utilize their services.  And from such income earned, they are not only to make a decent living, but are also to equip themselves with an office premises and support staff, office furniture & equipment, computers for office, laptop units, cameras, vehicle for conveyance, telephones, internet connections, etc. which involve huge cost in buying, hiring, maintaining & operating, upgrading and also in replacing such facilities with the changing times, obsoletion, technical developments and changing needs.

Most importantly, they have to continuously upgrade themselves professionally by attending training programs, seminars, workshops, etc. at huge cost, both in terms of money and valuable time. In addition, the surveyor has to sufficiently provide for his own welfare and also welfare of his dependents, plan for his and his spouse’s sustenance after his retirement and during the twilight years.  And also for any unforeseen calamity that may befall on him and/or his family.  For the surveyors are not backed by any pension scheme, or terminal benefits, or medical allowances, etc.

Survey fees and expenses have been rarely revised by the insurance companies though inflation index and living expenses have been rising at an alarming level.  The revision in survey fees was once carried out during 2002 (effective from 01st Nov. 2002) and later during 2007 (effective from 01st Feb. 2007).

The revision carried out during 2007 was done in a highly casual and lackadaisical manner, most impractical and just not in tune with the rise in inflation and CPI between 2002 and 2007.  This was because there was no surveyor’s representative body functional or was present during such finalisation of revised survey fees schedule.

It was clearly a one sided affair, and unilateral decision taken that was forced down on the surveyors.  The earlier Institute of Insurance Surveyors & Adjusters (IISA) became defunct and the new Indian Institute of Insurance Surveyors & Loss Assessors (IIISLA) conceived was yet to take a shape.  Severe damage was done to the surveyor’s community during the 2007 survey fee revision for the surveyors were delivered quite a raw deal.

Added to this, the in-house survey concept adopted by most of the private insurance companies have taken away most of the survey jobs which otherwise were outsourced to the independent surveyors leading to severe erosion in the quantum of jobs carried out and thus total income earned. Most surveyors today earn much less an income compared to what they were actually earning earlier in relation to their income in relation to maintaining lifestyle and in their purchasing power as was prevailing prior to 2002.

The survey profession has become most insecure and also unremunerative vis-à-vis the educational qualifications required, the experience & skills put in or gained – both before joining the profession and during the period as a professional surveyor. The nett results – while some of the surveyors have given up the profession and have taken up better rewarding alternate jobs or business activities, some retired, some more are planning an early retirement and some have reached god’s abode (may their soul rest in peace).

While the number of practicing surveyors leaving the profession for various reasons as stated above is on the rise, there is no replacement taking place at the same rate with no new entrants being channeled into the profession.  Youngsters and fresh candidates and even the persons with good technical background and experience are not in favour of taking up the surveyor’s profession.

There is going to be severe shortage of independent surveyors in the coming years if corrective actions are not taken from now on and without further loss of time. Particularly in view of increase in insurance awareness among the consumers, increased competition and penetration by GI companies, and with the 2 digit projected growth annually in the underwriting income in the coming years.

One corrective action is to make the profession remunerative and also secure to the new entrants to attract fresh talent into the profession and also experienced persons from diversified fields to service the clients and also to meet the challenges that the market is likely to offer in the diversified fields of business in the coming years, in all the departments.

By: S. ANOOP KUMAR, SURVEYOR/LOSS ASSESSOR, Hyderabad, Published in “The Insurance Times” October, 2012

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