From the time she tended her first tobacco plant, Laurie Walker knew that whatever her future held, it would not involve the crop that sustained two generations of her family. The executive vice president of Granite Claims’ client services division shares her journey from farmer to female executive in the claims-adjustment industry.
Advantage: How does a farmer’s daughter find herself in the claims-adjustment business?
Laurie Walker: I grew up on a tobacco farm in southwestern Ontario. While other kids went camping or played sports, I did manual labour—a great motivator for me. I said over and over, “I will never be a tobacco farmer.”
I did what I had to, to get through high school. A guidance counsellor encouraged me to consider marketing. I qualified for the program at Fanshawe College in London and did extremely well, surprising my parents and even myself. As soon as I graduated, I was broke. I had to go back home and live with my parents.
A friend from high school clued me into a local insurance company that was hiring. I walked into their office, filled out an application, and had an interview less than a week later. That was my first claims job.
Despite your professional success, do you ever miss the agrarian life?
I really do miss those days of being able to be outside and being in control of the business. We produced and sold and did it our way. The business I’m in now is very much dictated by the client.
What does the Canadian market for claims adjustment look like right now?
Ontario’s one of the larger and more active markets. We run our business on the history of claims. We’ve always had significant snow-related claims come to us in winter. Coupled with Ontario changing auto-insurance legislation and new cyber policy that protects people and businesses from hacking, we’re dealing with new variables all the time. One portion of our business is third-party administration, an in-house claims department for clients and insurers that are foreign to Canada. We look after more than 250 contracts here. Because of judicial limitations, a foreign insurance company can’t adjust claims in Canada, so they need us, or someone similar, to handle them. Lloyds of London, one of our clients, loves insuring Canada, but because they don’t have a license here, they give us a trust fund and ask us to handle all the claims.
Studies marketing at Fanshawe College in London, ON
Lands her first claims job with Otter Dorchester Insurance Co.
Returns to London to underwrite for Anglo Canada General Insurance (now known as INTACT Insurance), transitioning into accident-benefits claims adjustment
Moves to ClaimsPro and develops a reputation as an exemplary claims adjuster
Reaching her apex at ClaimsPro but wanting more, Laurie accepts the directorship at Granite Claims
After proving herself in client services, Laurie becomes executive VP of the division
What’s your favourite part about this industry?
You can handle the same insurance policy over 100 claims, and not one will ever be the same.
You worked in adjusting accident benefits injury claims for more than 23 years. What did you take away from that experience to help you today at Granite Claims?
I worked with catastrophic injury losses such as blindness, brain injury, and spinal injury. I learned the importance of delivering service not only to the insurance company but to the insured, by reassuring them of their benefits and, when their check was coming, explaining the claims process or helping them through their recovery. The patience, empathy, and attention to detail I mastered all lend themselves to what I do as an executive each day. Operating on an ever-changing schedule, juggling projects, and still being able to delegate and support my staff on the floor are all tasks that call upon my previous experience.
What is your favourite part about your job?
Winning a contract. I described my office not long ago like the one from the TV show The West Wing. It’s very fast paced. The COO and CEO, along with the sales division, are constantly interacting and working on the fly. A new client may call and request a proposal on Tuesday and ask us to be there Friday to present—that happened this morning. A lot of time and work from the entire team goes into it. We know we’re competing against all our colleagues in the industry, so when we win one, I almost want to do a little dance in my office and say, “We did it!”
What would you say is your defining quality?
When I was at ClaimsPro, I started to develop this reputation of being one of the best automobile-accident-benefits claims adjusters in Ontario. If I’ve said it will be done, it will. A client has high expectations. I have them, too. I expect my team to achieve highly. I think Granite Claims is starting to get some traction because of that reputation, and that’s phenomenal. Instead of knocking on doors, people are coming to us.