- Photo via iStock

Photo via iStock

The changing expectations of consumers affect the automotive industry in more ways than one. Car buyers want to research, shop, compare, and make deals online. Dealers and software experts are finding new ways to bridge the online-to-instore gap and maximize efficiency and transparency throughout the car-buying process. 

This shift affects F&I product providers and administrators as well. Over the past several years, the P&A segment has seen the increased adoption of online claims platforms, including web portals and mobile apps, all designed to create direct connections to consumers, dealers, and finance sources while streamlining the claims process. 

To learn more about online claims services, including how they work, their intended audiences, and the full scope of their functionality and potential, P&A met with experts representing four major providers: Jardon Bouska and Kaizer Siraj of Safe-Guard Products International, Kumar Kathinokkula of F&I Administration Solutions, RoadVantage’s Randy Ross, and Jason Winchester of Warranty Solutions. 

Connecting With Dealers, Customers, and Finance Sources

Safe-Guard currently offers 19 products, and each is tied to the company’s online claims platform, according to Kaizer Siraj, who serves as the company’s CIO. Customers can select “File a Claim” from the “Customer Support” dropdown on Safe-Guard’s homepage. The company also operates a self-service claims microsite for its GAP product, which contract holders, dealers, and banks and finance companies can do “everything from initiation to close,” including submitting a claim, uploading required documentation, and tracking their claim’s status. 

“Contract holders who need to make a claim for GAP are dealing with some serious circumstances, either with a bad accident or a stolen vehicle,” Siraj says. “The self-service claims microsite was developed to give clarity and transparency to the process in those often-stressful circumstances, and ultimately improve the customer experience.”

Safe-Guard also offers a mobile app designed specifically for dealers. By scanning the VIN, users can check coverage and manage tire-and-wheel and prepaid maintenance claims. Dealers are no less interested in a more efficient process than end users, he points out, and they have embraced the app’s ability to generate an approval within minutes of submitting a claim. 

“The mobile claims app works especially well for dealer staff in the service drive, as everything can be handled from a mobile phone or tablet, and they don’t need to leave the customer’s side,” Siraj says. 

Jason Winchester says adoption of Warranty Solutions’ online claims system has been “very successful,” noting that its target audience of dealers and repair facility personnel appreciate the benefits of a quick and efficient submission process.

“The dealer can go in through our website and submit the normal claims information and our adjusters handle those claims as a top priority to ensure prompt turnaround times,” says Winchester, who serves as the company’s vice president of operations. “It definitely saves service advisors a great deal of unnecessary phone time and allows our adjusters to process the claims quickly.”

At RoadVantage, claims can be submitted through an online portal or a recently released app, which is directed primarily toward dealership service advisors offering RoadVantage products, “since they typically handle ancillary claims,” notes Randy Ross, the company’s president of sales. “The adoption of our online claims portal and our claims app has been on the rise, with the app being the more popular option. … Change takes time, but as the service advisors experience the efficiency of using either the online portal or the app to file a claim, they quickly adopt it as the mode of choice.”

Kathinokkula, who serves as F&I Admin’s COO, says his company accepts online claims for service contracts, tire-and-wheel, and prepaid maintenance. PPM claims can be fully adjudicated — including payment — online. A mobile claims app integrated with the company’s core claims administration platform can handle claims for appearance protection, dent repair, and other ancillary products, and a GAP claims portal is in the works. 

Winchester feels encouraged by the adoption rate for his company’s platform among its target dealer audience, noting that online claims now account to up to 25% of Warranty Solutions’ volume. 

“We have worked on the process over the years to make it simple and easy while ensuring we get the proper information needed to handle the claim,” he says, and continually leveraging new technologies and adapting to new ideas will help promote more widespread adoption. “I think a great example of what’s possible is how business is processed in F&I today, through DMSs and menu providers, there’s similar ideas to apply in the service drive. If we can get rates and contracts submitted electronically, we should be able to get repair order information submitted that way as well.”

Getting Products and Users Onboard

Kathinokkula describes adoption as “a function of any organization’s ability to drive end user behavior through various avenues.” For online claims, that requires an appealing interface and a clear demonstration of efficiency throughout the process. “So long as those conditions are fulfilled via technological implementation, training, and process changes, adoption will happen to the same extent, whether it is the dealer, service center, customer, or lender population.” 

Widespread adoption also may depend on users’ ability to process claims for service contracts online. Kathinokkula points out that would require, at a minimum, the integration of claim origination systems — such as DMS and shop repair systems — with claim adjudication systems. 

“That is a prerequisite to ensure that the service advisors and technicians realize efficiencies compared to today, where a highly efficient but complex conversation allows medium-complexity claims to be processed in a matter of three to five minutes,” Kathinokkula says. “Further adoption from there will occur with automated business rules that enable self-authorization of ‘typical’ mechanical claims while ‘atypical’ claims that require manual adjudication would be routed to mechanical claims adjusters. And finally, fast payment processing, is essential to replace the manual verification that occurs today when the repair is completed and ready to be paid.”

Ross notes that, in RoadVantage’s experience, the company’s web portal and mobile app work “very well” with single-component claims, listing paintless dent repair, windshield, and tire repair or replacement as examples. 

“A more complex claim with multiple components or special circumstances usually requires more direct interaction with a customer,” Ross adds. 

Winchester believes online claims servicing will ultimately work for most F&I products. Safe-Guard’s Bouska said any claim can be initiated online and many — including those relating to tire-and-wheel, windshield, or prepaid maintenance products — can be resolved online as well. 

“If the process to file a claim doesn’t have many requirements or can be done in a simple manner, the ability to file and complete a claim online provides a simple and transparent customer or dealer experience while simplifying administrator operations,” Bouska says, noting that, while some claims can be automatically approved, most still require a manual review. It all depends on the product and the dollar limits or risk rules that come with it. “More automated claim initiation, review and approvals will continue to grow over the next few years as contract holders and dealers continue to ask for convenience, transparency, and speed, and as more robust technology is built to deliver on these needs.” 

Approval automation is a feature Warranty Solutions is “constantly” evaluating, Winchester says, but accuracy would require buy-in from the dealer, the underwriter, and the administrator. “I know some companies offer it today; ultimately, it comes down to what the partnership requirements are and finding the right way to achieve them.”

F&I Admin’s Kathinokkula describes automatic approval as the “holy grail” of any claims application. For mechanical claims, that feature is likely to remain out of reach for the foreseeable future. He says there are simply too many variables requiring too many system and data-model changes among disparate platforms and entities. 

“However,” he adds, “the inexorable force of continuous improvement and pressure to lower claim processing costs will lead to the inevitable need for everyone to adopt increasing levels of automatic adjudication. It is hard to contemplate exactly when that will be, but I do not foresee fully automated adjudication of mechanical claims in the next 18 months at least.”

“We’ve done some limited testing of automatic approval for certain claims with success. For some products, the concept is perfect. Other products do require more interaction to properly adjudicate a claim,” Ross says. “We think that the development of artificial intelligence platforms will one day offer a claims process that is much less ‘hands-on,’ but the technology isn’t quite there yet.”

Ultimately, Siraj says, greater adoption of online claims services will be driven by continued investments by administrators with a laserlike focus on improving the customer experience and improving operations for every user. 

“As the solutions are built, administrators need to continue to explain to dealers the different tools that are offered, and how they will help the service lane or business office improve their operations and customer service,” he says. “Consumers will continue to demand it, and dealers need it, so administrators just need to make sure they’re building to meet those needs.”