Skip to content

Customer Service & Communication: A Conversation with Mary Porter, former EVP and Chief Claims Officer, Selective Insurance Group

The Inside SPOT: An Interview with the former Chief Claims Officer for Selective Insurance Group.

The Inside SPOT profiles our industry leaders and executives. In these discussions we explore how these dedicated leaders began their careers and how they see the industry today. In this interview, Mary discusses how she leveraged experience gained over a 25-year career in private practice and claims legal executive positions into an EVP and Chief Claims Officer role with Selective Insurance Group.

The Claims SPOT: Where did you grow up? What part of the country?

Mary Porter: I grew up on Long Island NY, and moved to the Washington DC area to attend law school.  I now live in Annapolis, MD.

The Claims SPOT: When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grow up?

Mary Porter: I decided when I was 12 years old that I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought the idea of being paid to talk and argue was very enticing!

The Claims SPOT: Tell us about your first claims job

Mary Porter: I spent 12 years in an insurance defense private law practice working closely with claims professionals until 1993 when I joined USF&G to manage the new Claim Legal national coverage program. I really enjoyed being a part of a claims organization where I could participate in the business of claims management and in guiding the direction of the organization. While I had not planned my career path to work in insurance claims, my experience as a defense attorney gave me a great background in a wide variety of claims and an understanding of damages and liability issues as well as a sense of how cases look to a jury.

The Claims SPOT: What was the most unusual claim you ever worked on?

Mary Porter: The most unusual one arose under a unique construction policy designed to provide a guarantee of subcontractor’s work on a job site in lieu of a surety bond. It was challenging to determine the coverage available under the policy for the first claim and to learn about the construction and financial issues associated with building and operating a major Las Vegas casino.

The Claims SPOT: What was the best result you remember achieving as a claims handler?

Mary Porter: When my kids were young, many of our dinner table conversations started with ‘Tell us about your cases, Mommy.”  I would describe claims I was working on and often they would make very perceptive comments about why someone was at fault and how they saw the situation. As I began to describe one claim, they knew what was coming: The plaintiff pulled up to a local gas station owned by our insured, a family business. His older model truck’s gas gauge was not working. After he filled the tank with some gas, he tried to look inside to see if the tank was full, but it was dark in there. So, he flicked his Bic lighter to get a better look. And yes, as my kids predicted, there was an explosion and he was thrown several feet and the pump caught on fire. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished quickly. The plaintiff was injured, but fully recovered. When he sued the gas station owner, our insured was outraged. His equipment had been damaged and he knew he had done nothing wrong and was not responsible for the man’s injuries. The plaintiff claimed that the standard sign on the pump stating that gas is flammable should have been much larger for him to pay attention and be warned. He did offer to take a settlement to dismiss the case. Our insured felt strongly that he did not want to settle the matter since he had done nothing wrong. We supported him in his defense and the court granted summary judgment and dismissed the case. This was not a very high dollar matter, but I have always remembered how thankful the insured was that the company stood with him and he was not blamed for an accident he did not cause.

The Claims SPOT: When did you realize that you wanted to stay in claims and make it your profession?

Mary Porter: Not long after joining USF&G, I worked closely with our property adjusters in our response to a significant hurricane. Working with them and our insureds on claims that needed a quick response made me think about what we really do as claims professionals. We fulfill the promise the company makes when someone buys a policy. We are there to help put people’s lives and property back together when disaster strikes, we make sure claimants get fairly compensated for their injuries and we defend companies when claims are made against them. Insurance companies and adjusters often get a bad rap, but the claims people I worked with really cared about being there to help and doing the right thing. I was hooked.

The Claims SPOT: What do you think are the biggest roadblocks for people entering the profession now?

Mary Porter: First, I think we in the P&C industry need to do a better job in marketing and outreach to colleges and graduates so that they know about the opportunities and advantages of a career in insurance claims. I don’t think there is a lot of awareness about the challenging and rewarding careers available in our business. As a result of financial pressures and budgeting issues, many companies have reduced or eliminated the intensive claims training programs that were previously standard for new claims hires. People entering the profession now must seek out opportunities to learn as much as they can on the job. The increase in specialization of claims handling makes it more challenging to get varied experience early on, so new employees need to find ways to broaden their exposure to many types of claims, sign up for any training available and look for an experienced mentor willing to share his or her knowledge and experience.

The Claims SPOT: When you got your first management job, what was your biggest concern? How did that change as you moved up through management ranks?

Mary Porter: Like many first time managers, I was unsure how to make the transition from doer to leader. Most of us got our first management opportunity because we were technically strong, successful individual performers. There is a lot to learn as a new manager. Letting go of the feeling that you can do everything, delegating to your staff and allowing them to handle things on their own was not easy at first. As time went on and my management responsibilities increased, I learned that the key to successful management, as in most things, is clear and constant communication. Setting clear goals and objectives, talking to staff frequently about what they are working on, always having an open door for questions or concerns, seeking input before making decisions are all important in leading a successful team.

The Claims SPOT: If you could look into the future, what do you see claims organizations in the future looking like?

Mary Porter: I think claims organizations will increase their ability to triage claims so that high frequency, low severity claims can be handled quickly and efficiently in a centralized fashion, while higher severity claims handling will become even more specialized. Claims in the technology, construction, medical, manufacturing and other industries are becoming increasingly complex and our adjusters need to develop a depth of knowledge to handle these claims effectively. That said, there will always be the need for well-rounded adjusters who can effectively handle the most frequently seen property damage and personal injury claims.

The Claims SPOT: What are your thoughts about the role of technology in claims today? Is there too much of it? Does it create challenges? Opportunities? Does it take away from strong claims handling skills?

Mary Porter: The use of claims technology will greatly increase in the next few years and presents us with many opportunities if we employ it in the right ways. I have seen new claims handling programs that place incredible resources at the fingertips of an adjuster. The screens are easier to navigate than those in the past and many integrate jurisdiction-specific requirements into the information in each claim file. A big benefit I see in the new generation of claims software is the ability to have real time collaboration by several adjusters on a file no matter where they are located.  A local adjuster can do a scene investigation and attach video to the file. Recorded statements can be part of the file and shared with adjusters’ supervisors and defense counsel without the risk of tapes being lost in the shuffle. Supervisors can get a complete view of a file even if they are not at the same location.

While the opportunities presented by technology are tremendous, there are many challenges. It is important that we gear the technology to support effective claims handling rather than mold our claims handling to fit the technology. We must be sure that the adjuster always has the discretion to do the right thing to advance the investigation on a file and they are not required to fit their activities into an inflexible system. We can advance our claims handling abilities if we use technology to streamline documentation of files, effectively calendar necessary file updates and allow for increased collaboration among adjusters with specific skills, freeing our adjusters to use their skills in investigation, evaluation and negotiation to resolve claims quickly and appropriately.

The Claims SPOT: Is there a particular innovative technology that you’ve seen in the claims industry that you think is absolutely game-changing? That really impressed or surprised you?

Mary Porter: While predictive modeling has been around for a while on the underwriting side of the business, claims analytics is starting to take off and I believe it will have a great impact on how we handle claims in the future. There is an unbelievable amount of data that is collected in the handling of claims files every day that is beginning to be harvested through claims analytics programs. If we can triage incoming claims by predicting the likely severity of the damages based on past outcome data, if we can estimate a return to work date in workers compensation files or predict which claims are likely to go into litigation, we can proactively tailor our investigations, distribute resources and assign files to adjusters with the right skill sets much more quickly and effectively. Claims analytics will, I believe, also help us make great strides in combating insurance fraud. Patterns of claim activity can be analyzed across all files and potential fraud indicators can be identified that would not be apparent to adjusters handling smaller groups of files in different units or locations.

The Claims SPOT: If you were giving advice to claims executives in today’s environment, what would you stress? What should they be focused on?

Mary Porter: Focus on people. We need to attract a significant number of new claims professional into the industry. Demographic statistics show that a large percentage of the current population of claims professionals are in the baby boom generation. We need to get more of the “GenYs” and  “millennials” into the field so that we have a well-trained, experienced pool of talented claims professionals ready to advance in the industry in the future.

The Claims SPOT: Are there any specific “keys to success” that you’d recommend to a brand new claims professional just entering the industry? What should they always be focused on?

Mary Porter: New claims professionals should be focused on customer service and communication. They should also look for any opportunity to broaden their skills. They should become well versed in policy language and coverage and look for opportunities to handle many types of claims in all lines of business to get a diversity of experience that will allow them the flexibility to advance as opportunities arise.

The Claims SPOT: As a last question, and on a lighter note, is there anything about you that very few people know on a personal level that you’d be comfortable sharing with our audience? Any interests or hobbies or likes or dislikes that few people know about you?

Mary Porter: I had a number of jobs while in college and law school to pay for my education. One in particular motivated me to continue in school and so I passed up an opportunity to join the meat wrappers union. I was a meat and chicken wrapper in a grocery butcher department. Chickens are very cold when they arrive in big boxes! I did learn a lot of skills that I have used in cooking, one of my favorite ways to relax. I can cut up a whole chicken to add to paella faster than anyone I know!


Mary Porter PictureMary is the former EVP and Chief Claims Officer for Selective Insurance Group, a holding company for seven property and casualty insurance companies rated A+ by A.M. Best. Before Selective, Mary served as vice president and claim group general counsel for St. Paul Travelers, and as group counsel, claim legal for USF&G. Previously, she worked in private practice for 12 years with Mahoney, Hogan, Heffler & Heald. Mary is a graduate of the National Law Center, George Washington University.

Posted in Mary Porter (former EVP and Chief Claims Officer of Selective Insurance Group), The Inside SPOT.

Tagged with , , , .

One Response

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Taylor Smith interviews Mary Porter, Former EVP and Chief Claims Officer, Selective Insurance Group ‹ Revere Advisory linked to this post on March 14, 2011

    […] (Nov 30, 2010) Taylor Smith of Revere Advisory has published an interview with Mary Porter, former EVP and Chief Claims Officer of Selective Insurance Group. The interview can be viewed here. […]

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.