Tue 20 Nov 2012 – As a loss adjuster based in Bangkok Tim Hollinrake has had the most challenging year of his career so far. The Thai floods, which peaked in October 2011, led to an unprecedented number of claims – many of them arising from seven of Thailand’s major industrial estates. On the ground, the challenge for loss adjusters was not just the volume of work, but the practicalities of how to access factories that were submerged under up to three metres of water for weeks on end.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your career so far
I studied Chinese at Durham University, got a scholarship to go to Taiwan, after which I was offered a position with a firm of brokers in Taiwan. Broking was not my scene, but it was a really good way to start a career in insurance. I learnt about the industry in a foreign language and in a very different cultural environment from that in which I was brought up.
I then spent about five years working in London, with Resolve International, a firm of loss adjusters that was taken over by Charles Taylor Adjusting shortly after I joined. As time went by it increasingly became a foreign role. I was then approached by McLarens to come out to Thailand. I moved here in 2006 and since then I’ve been based in Asia. The work I do is predominantly Thailand-based. That’s where I was when the floods hit last year.
Tell me about some of your career highlights
While at Charles Taylor I got my first taste of catastrophe work with Hurricane Ivan, which ripped through the Caribbean in 2004. Landing on the ground in Grand Cayman and going out to deal with multiple claims, where people were still fairly traumatised and where there had been a meltdown in infrastructure was a big challenge.
I enjoyed the camaraderie and the challenge of working in an environment where even simple things like an unpredictable power supply influenced the ability to get reports out. Even obtaining things like printer cartridges and paper proved difficult. I had never worked like that before in my life and I became rather like a processing machine. In the months afterwards if you’d asked me how much it would cost to build a 200 square metre clapboard house in Georgetown I would have told you down to the last piece of shingle and imported American oven.
Last year’s floods are definitely a career highlight. To put it into context, as you get more grey hair loss adjusters hope to get instructed on multi-million dollar claims. Something like $10m to $15m would constitute a fairly rare claim to handle. And the losses we’re dealing with as individuals and as a company as a result of the Thai floods exceed that number by tens of folds.
What are your lasting memories of the floods?
It was an event of biblical proportions, worthy of the Old Testament. And it was also a very unsexy event – it wasn’t sudden, it wasn’t dramatic, it didn’t hit a big city – although it lapped at the suburbs of Bangkok. It happened very slowly. The areas affected were the industrial areas and the suburbs out to the north and west of Bangkok. So we never really made the news – we struggled to find it on BBC’s Asia website.
It took people outside Thailand a very long time to realise just how big an impact this was going to have. I’m not sure how many people were aware of just how much Thailand produces. The very feature – the topography of the land – that made Thailand an attractive place to situate these industrial estates also made it its own worst enemy.
When the dykes gave way at the first industrial estate flooded I remember we sat there and said, “We’re going to be terribly busy”. And then the second and third went down and we said, “Perhaps we ought to think about getting other people in to help us”. And then by the end of it we were wondering how we would handle all the work, because we were all familiar with these industrial estates: the size of them, the complexity of the operations and the quantity of machinery in some of the factories. In common with many of our competitors, we thought we were sitting on the edge of a massive abyss.
How could you begin to assess the damage to sites that were literally under water?
With the floods we had an event that happened very slowly and then the waters just sat there. Insurers needed to have information and we were meeting factory owners in increasingly bizarre places, like hotel rooms and country clubs as people were being displaced from their factories. On a couple of the very large losses we did go out there and frankly just got into a boat and sailed through an industrial estate and looked at rooftops.
Generally speaking you start by looking at the property damage, because it’s far easier to look at something tangible. Most of the factories had between one and a half and three metres of water in them, and the industries affected were predominantly high tech. In a situation where you’ve got machines that operate to tolerances of microns in an ultra clean environment, if you’ve got three metres of heavily contaminated water going through it, it’s clearly a write-off. Obviously we had to properly assess these machines, but in most cases they were beyond repair.
The biggest challenge everyone has is getting the appropriate resources and ensuring continuity throughout the claims handling process. The adjusters visiting from overseas have got their own workload back at home and it has proved a huge challenge to ensure that all work, both flood related and other work, is properly serviced. Seeking to ensure that the quality of reporting isn’t impaired is also a great challenge when there is such a volume of work to process and given the values in question.
Thailand has been very active on the claims front in the last few years. We had the Bangkok Riots – the Redshirts – in 2010. That’s something I’ll never forget: waking to the sound of the helicopter gunships going over the house and seeing plumes of smoke rising in the distance. Then we had various flood events. So it has been one hit after another and it has kept us very busy.
What do you do when your iPhone is switched off?
I still love my travelling and Asia retains a huge appeal. I get a frisson of excitement whenever I go anywhere in Asia – the sights, sounds, smells, the different languages and the chaos – I love it. There hasn’t been a huge amount of downtime recently, but there has been the odd weekend away at Khao Yai National Park, north of Bangkok, for a good hike.
(source: Lloyd’s of London site)