When Michelle Canniff joined SMW as head of Forensic Accounting, she immediately assumed leadership of the SMW teams focusing on commercial losses, business interruption, extra expense and time element claims. That was back in March of 2022. Since that time, she has had a chance to really get to know the insurance world from the public adjusting side. We recently caught up with Michelle and checked on her past experience and her new perspective from the public adjuster’s side of the table.
That Was Then
I was a forensic accountant for 25 years, working for a global consulting firm that provides specialized technical, scientific, financial and advisory services to insurance carriers. My focus included analyzing and measuring commercial insurance claims. These claims typically consisted of business interruption, extra expense, property damage, inventory, and fidelity losses – from small to complex matters. In addition to these services on behalf of our insurance carrier clients, I also wrote reports, visited sites, attended meetings, provided testimony in litigation matters, and maintained communications with the various experts on a claim – including engineers, architects, attorneys, other forensic accountants, and – of course – public adjusters.
I decided to move to the PA side for a lot of reasons. I’ve always liked working with policyholders. For one thing, the focus isn’t about driving up a claim – it’s more about trying to get a good number for the policyholder. I find that aspect really appealing, because in my experience in the insurance industry, I saw firsthand how much people needed help and representation. With my personality and knowledge of business interruption matters, and my understanding of how carriers operate, I really thought I could add value and find great professional satisfaction. I have had consistently good interactions with PA firms in the past, and I had been really impressed by the team at SMW. They really have the best relationships in the industry. I liked that their process wasn’t adversarial – that it was more collaborative and focused on achieving the best outcome for the policyholder.
This Is Now
I’m finding life in the public adjusting world incredibly rewarding. I really revel in the positive feedback and gratitude I get from policyholders, and I absolutely love the team at SMW. We bring vast and broad guidance to every claim. I’m especially pleased that I’m able to make a contribution right away. Based on my experience with carriers, I know the type of help a policyholder will need to rectify or finalize a claim. All too often, an insurance claim is just a vast ‘unknown’ for a policyholder, and SMW can guide them through that otherwise potentially complex process. The expertise we offer really is invaluable to policyholders.
I’m also learning new skills, including dealing with the different demands that carriers routinely place on policyholders that I was unaware of when I was on the carrier side. Insurers, for example, issue requests for an overwhelming amount of information. The burden to produce falls squarely on the policyholder, and that can be onerous for any individual. And yet the carrier’s view is that it’s easy for policyholders to produce this voluminous information. When I worked with carriers, I never knew about that maneuver.
I’m actually handling a claim now; it’s a relatively small matter involving a loss through business interruption. The carrier is asking for so much information, and most of it doesn’t seem necessary at all. They ask for all this info, and often it seems like they don’t even know why they’re asking for it. They have no idea how hard claimants have to work on the policyholder side. Public adjusters come in and provide services to level this otherwise uneven playing field.