Smart home technology is growing by leaps and bounds, while houses using green materials are booming. So it makes perfect sense that insurance companies are training their claims adjusters on everything from keyless entries and water sensors to bamboo flooring.

American Modern Insurance Group, which specializes in residential property such as manufactured homes as well as recreational vehicles such as motorcycles and boats, has taken its claims training to new heights to reflect this new high-tech reality. It recently completed construction of what they call a “LivingWise” smart home, built by employees to use in their 50,000 square-foot claims training center in Amelia, Ohio.

“We see how risks are changing and evolving,” says Shannon Lewandowski, Training Specialist at American Modern. “We really wanted to do a project to help train our adjusters on what they might currently be seeing in the field in terms of smart, sustainable and secure residential lifestyle features,” she says, adding that adjusters need to take the time to understand how to estimate and make repairs to these features, “so when they go in a house, they recognize a smart outlet, for example.”

Sister company Hartford Steam Boiler contributed and installed the smart home technologies. Both companies are members of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), which is also a partner in the company’s LivingWise initiative.

The LivingWise home features a smart thermostat, a doorway with keyless entry, water sensors and carbon monoxide/smoke detectors, among other devices. There are also sustainable materials including bamboo and cork flooring as well as a concrete countertop in the first-floor bathroom. Finally, the home's garage was built to meet the IBHS's FORTIFIED construction standards,  which will make it more resistant to high winds and hail.

American Modern is well-versed in getting down-and-dirty with claims training: Before the LivingWise home was constructed, there were already training versions of a manufactured home, a commercial space, a motorcycle and watercraft. A two-story dwelling, however, was missing.  “We decided to build on that need, and incorporate green materials and smart technology,” says Lewandowski. 

While other insurance companies may have training facilities, American Modern's adjusters-in-training go far beyond just learning about a home’s parts and pieces. Actual damage is caused to the homes so they can be estimated and repaired by the trainees. “It’s very hands-on,” Lewandowski emphasizes. “it’s not just instructors saying, ‘This is a sheet of plywood.’ Students are actually tearing off siding.”

For example, in the new LivingWise home, a portion of the home will be flooded from the top-down from the laundry room,  so adjusters can see how flooding on the second floor affects the first floor. Smoke damage will also be created in the kitchen, and trainees will need to clean and restore it.

“On the top floor, we’ll also stage claims,” says Lewandowski. “We’ll have some furniture in rooms with different claims scenarios, perhaps vandalism in one room, denial for a water leak in another room. Students will actually measure around furniture, look at policies, make assessments and estimates.

As the technology evolves, American Modern plans on adding to the LivingWise house. “We’ll add more to learn and understand how it can sustain damage and whether it can be repaired or needs to be replaced,” she says. “There’s still a learning curve so we can identify those materials and accurately estimate the claim,” she says.

The curriculum is "exciting and scary at the same time," Lewandowski adds, because of the vast number of high-tech and environmentally-friendly products that can be found in a home today. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg with ours — so it’s about getting them comfortable with it so that they know what they’re looking at and asking the right questions,” she says.

American Modern also shares LivingWise tips with its clients and prospects, through a blog, videos and a Facebook Page. Overall, whether offering consumer advice or employee education, it’s all about keeping up with the pace of change:

“This technology is evolving, we’re seeing it more and more,” says Lewandowski. “We want to get out on the front of it.” 

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