The Silicon Review
Insurance is a financial product that reduces or eliminates the cost or effect of loss caused by different types of risks. It is important as it mitigates losses and provides security to the individuals who are insured. However, anybody who has insurance can testify to the fact that filing claims can be cumbersome and takes time to process. When it comes to obtaining benefits after a damaging event such as a storm or fire, the devil is in the details, and insurance claims adjusters may deny you what you truly deserve and may tell you the damage was preexisting or was the result of lack of maintenance. This is where iStorm Group comes in.
iStorm Group has extensive experience in risk management, large loss consulting, estimating, construction consulting, project monitoring, and quality assurance services across the U.S.
In conversation with Mark A. Deddens, Founder and CEO of iStorm Group
Q. What was the motivation behind starting iStorm group?
In November 2011 my wife, Tammy, discovered an open opportunity with a storm damage restoration company that specialized in roofing. While I wasn’t captivated by the idea of getting into the roofing business, I was intrigued by the fact that the job had a lot to do with the insurance side of storm restoration. At that point I had no roofing experience, but I did have a 13-year background in physicians practice management and insurance around those services. My role was straight forward; get on the roof, find damage, and write claims. If no damage had occurred, keep a log, wait for another storm, and then go back and approach those folks again. I was not fond of that as a comprehensive solution; there had to be a better way.
After only a few months in the role, I couldn’t help but notice the various pretenses the insurance companies would use to get out of paying a legitimate claim. They would call out things like improper installation, manufacturer’s defects in the product itself, past its useful life, and no functional damage. Since I had over a decade of experience dealing with insurance, I knew those pushbacks were nonsense because that language was nowhere to be found in most policies. However, the insurance companies would have grounds to avoid paying a claim in the case of two things. The first is calling it failure to report the damage in a timely fashion, and the other, which was the biggest arrow in their quiver, was to call it “old damage.” By identifying an old storm date and assigning that as the cause of the damage in question, insurance companies could get out of payment because it fell out of the statute of limitations. In property insurance, old damage equals no obligation to pay.
So, I thought, if you are a multifamily property owner who is guaranteed to deal with storm damage at one point or another, how do you protect yourself against insurance companies who are looking to avoid paying a rightfully owed claim by all means necessary?The first step was obvious. Make sure you have someone by your side who understands insurance and can weed out the illegitimate reasons insurance companies will use to get out of payment. Then I thought about the argument of old damage. First, underwriting by the carrier is not very comprehensive. What if I performed an initial detailed, proficient (Baseline) inspection of the exterior of each property, especially noting the lack of presence of storm damage, then re-inspected (Post-Storm) every time a weather event allegedly passes over each property? I could then send that straight back to the insurance company as visual proof when they tried to argue old damage.
This was my “aha” moment that led me to the start of iStorm Group. It was identifying that there was an effective way to put a stop to insurance companies claiming “old damage” without repercussions, and in turn, offering a comprehensive inspection service complete with photos and a baseline report to property owners as a risk management solution.
Q. Can you tell us about your service in brief and the industries that you target?
We provide the service of inspections and ongoing risk management to multifamily property owners so that not if, but when, a large loss occurs, they have the protection they need and can settle their claim in the shortest time possible.
Our inspections cover everything exterior: Windows, doors, awnings, shutters, brick, siding, roofing, gutters, downspouts and so on. If it’s on the outside, we want to document the condition of that component. This includes what it’s made of, whether it was installed properly or not, if it needs repairs related to previous storm damage or not, and useful life remaining. We take time and date stamped photos and compile all that information into one of two reports. If we are inspecting the property for the first time, our initial report is considered a Baseline report. This is our snapshot of the property in its current condition and is the tool we will use to compare all future inspections against. When a storm comes through, we will reinspect, and if damage is found we will compile our second type of report which is the Post Storm report. This report includes the scope of the damage and showcases the before and after damage photos.
As a result of these detailed reports, we have an indemnification rate of over 95%. Meaning, if we tell our client they you should file this claim, over 95% of the time we’re going to settle that claim.
After the claim is filed, we handle the settlement with the insurance company on behalf of our owners. Once we have the insurance company’s approved scope and rates and figures, a project settlement is given out to an certified iStorm Group certified contractor, and they begin the work to repair the damage. The entire process is hands off for the owners, and that is the entire point of what we do.
Our focus is to handle all losses for our clients, specializing in the complex large ones. Our target clients are the multifamily property owners who have a portfolio of assets they are looking to protect.
Q. How are emerging technologies contributing to the success of your business?
Two of the most important technologies that we invest in are our proprietary weather tracking systems and our forensic weather engineering program. To run our business efficiently, and to protect our clients to the best of our ability, we need up to date information, and access to detailed weather reports that give us the full scope of a past, present, or future storm.
We implement a weather tracking system at each property we inspect and input specific wind and hail parameters. When a set threshold is breeched, our system is notified, and we can schedule an on-site inspection to check for any new damage. In the case of identifying a date of loss, our forensic weather engineering program is an invaluable tool for us. The team of weather specialists within the program will look at Doppler radar, weather patterns, NOAA reports, etc., and give us a detailed report of the storm’s impact over a select range of dates. This information is collected and added into our post storm inspection report, as further proof to the insurance company to say, “Look, we did our research, and we have the reports to prove it.”
We continue to look for new technologies that will enhance our services. Right now, we are exploring the installation of rooftop motion sensor cameras on the properties that will give us a real time feed of a storm’s impact on a property. We are also exploring augmenting that with installation of rooftop hail impact panels. These panels can detect and determine the size, density, and speed of the hailstones when they strike the property. When it comes to filing a claim, the devil is in the details. If the insurance companies are looking for proof, we can give them exact time and date of impact, before and after pictures, a detailed look at items like building materials used and expected useful life, and on top of that, here is video evidence of the damage occurring. In these scenarios I typically just need to ask the adjuster “Do you want to write the estimate, or should we?”
Q. How do you source the right talents to maintain the quality of your services?
Referrals, networking, and word of mouth are all ways in which I build my team, especially on the contractor side. When someone that I have established trust with vouches for another team or praises their services, I take them seriously. That being said, every contractor I bring onto my team, no matter if they are public adjusters, roofing experts, appraisers, engineers, etc. will go through an iStorm certification process. The referral gets them in the door, but the certification process allows me to fully vet them myself before they can represent iStorm Group in front of our clients. My brand is my DNA and so the team that I build around me is of utmost importance. We’re recognized as phenomenal communicators and exceptional professionals, who know our stuff, and most importantly, deliver what we promise. When I connect with people who live and breathe that same business approach, then I know we are in for a mutually beneficial partnership.
My immediate team consists of myself, my wife Tammy, my son Seth, who serves as a risk management consultant, and my director of operations, Liz, who is invaluable in every aspect of our business. At our core, we are a family business, and while a large part of our team is contracted out for their services, treating them like family is how I run my business.
Q. Do you have any new services that are ready to be launched?
There are two we are heavily focused on. The first is a policy review. Rather than doing it on a client property by property basis as we did previously, we are making it a standard procedure moving forward. It may sound extraneous, but the work effort we provide for our clients at no charge is indispensable.
The second is moving more into due diligence work. If an owner is buying a property and has moved passed the offering memorandum and agreed on a price, they will enter the due diligence period. During that time, the owner can perform any research they would like before closing the deal, and that is where we come in. We can be onsite to perform one of our comprehensive baseline reports and identify any red flags on the exterior or existing wind and hail damage that may have previously flown under the radar.
If damage is identified, we can advise our client to return to the seller with two options. The first is to reduce the price. The second is to file a claim and do an assignment of benefits to the client at the closing table. If we go with option two, the seller gets the money he thought he would get, and my owner, the new purchaser, doesn’t inherit the damage and the insurance burden that would come with it.
Q. Can you tell us what the future holds for your company and its consumers?
Our immediate strategy is to continue to be curious and be of service and value to our clients. Right now, we are in 36 states and have just under 2,000 apartment complexes represented by our owners and property management owner clients. We pride ourselves on the fact that that our owners can put their head on the pillow at night knowing that their properties are protected and that we’ve got them taken care of.
The goal is to end the year with around 2,500 properties and look to double that total in the next 1-2 years. We are currently building a phenomenal team which has given us the space for growth and expansion of our services across the U.S.
I am incredibly proud of the impact and success iStorm Group has had over the past 10, going on 11 years, in business. Whilesuccess in business is important, real success in life is how you prioritize your time with your kids, your family, your spirituality, and anything else that holds importance in your life, and that is the most important standard I can hold myself to.