Financial Forensics Blog

How Forensic Accountants Help Businesses Recover in the Wake of Hurricanes and Natural Disasters
August 28, 2019

Business Recovery

Q&A with Danielle Gardiner, Senior Vice President, Lowers Forensics International

Hurricane season is upon us. This year, NOAA predicts a near-normal range of 9 to 15 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 4 to 8 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 2 to 4 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher).

2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

As we have experienced in years past, it’s not always the number of storms but the size of damage that is difficult to predict. Just two years ago, we witnessed three of the top five costliest hurricanes in United States history in terms of estimated insured losses.

As forensic accountants, our primary concern is to ensure that the claims that result from natural disasters like hurricanes are paid out efficiently and accurately.

To better understand how the Lowers Forensics International team works with insurers to resolve business interruption claims resulting from hurricanes and other natural disasters, we sat down with Danielle Gardiner, Senior Vice President at Lowers Forensics International. Danielle heads up a team of forensic accountants who specialize in handling claims that result from catastrophic losses.

Q. How does the Lowers Forensics team prepare for hurricane season?

A. This time of year, we are watching the weather constantly and tracking what’s going on. As a collective group, we are in constant communication with clients to let them know our availability and readiness. And we make sure our team is set to deploy where a storm has the potential to reach landfall. In some cases, we may even secure temporary housing ahead of a storm since that becomes a difficult issue to address in the heat of the moment. Securing temporary housing and work space allows us to offer lodging to our clients when they are in need. Something as seemingly minor as being readily available can make all the difference and is crucial to our clients.

Q. What about events that aren’t predictable like hurricanes, but still catastrophic?

A. Events that happen suddenly with no warning are obviously more difficult to plan for. But the reality of today’s world is that we have to expect the unexpected. When we get a call about a major event with the potential for great exposure, the insurance companies aren’t always immediately aware of what their needs are going to be. They have to identify their needs as the event unfolds, as the days go on, and they start to assess damages. When we get that kind of phone call, a professional on our team will make themselves available to go meet with the client to get a pulse on the situation. What is the client aware of? What do they think they might need from us? We use our experience to adapt to the situation and are flexible in the face of uncertainty.

For example, in the beginning, the client might not yet know the entire scope of damages and may believe it to be minimal. But that can very quickly evolve into much more. So we have to be able to change and adapt to the needs of the client. If they tell us on Monday, they need one or two of us, and by Thursday they need a whole team, we have to be ready to pack our bags and go — possibly for an extended period of time. That’s the reality of what we do.

Q. Are there nuances in claims accounting based on the type of catastrophic event (fire, hurricane, etc.)?

A. The real nuances come down to the coverages and causations involved. For example, across the board with earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes, there might be more of an impact on ingress/egress and the related coverages, deductibles, and waiting periods. So the event that causes the loss then dictates what the specific coverages will be.

Q. What makes Lowers Forensics unique in terms of responding to catastrophic events?

A. A high availability of quality, experienced, credentialed staff is one of the key things we offer to our clients. We don’t just hire bodies to have a specific number of people on a job. We hire and bring in the best people and have found that one quality forensic accountant can do the work of three people because of the experience they bring. More than that, is the cohesion of our team and their ability to really support one another under strenuous work situations. We are often working very long hours, away from home, and we actually get a thrill out of delivering great work under these circumstances. LFI truly embraces the core value of “family” to help work through the challenges that we face.

Through Lowers Risk Group we are able to offer a number of complementary services such as, Special Investigation Unit (SIU), asset tracing, and public records research to name a few. With such a wide ranging offering, Lowers can truly provide for any needs that might arise in response to a catastrophe.

Q. Are insurance companies evolving in the wake of recent disasters?

A. They should and they are. What we see our clients doing is hiring in house accounting groups who can fulfill the majority of their work. But when a catastrophic event comes in, they need our team to fulfill that overflow work.

We also see a real demand for AI-based solutions to help with, for example, hurricanes that come up the coast and hit so many of the same types of businesses. These businesses, such as quick serve restaurants, all have the same type of pro forma financial reporting. AI-based solutions, like our Stratis software can come in and make the claims calculations so much quicker and less expensive. It assists our forensic accountants by automating certain aspects of our calculations and reporting, without cutting out the expertise of the accountant. The generation of a report can be reduced from an hour down to 60 seconds. It’s a real game-changer.

In the end, it comes down to a trusted partnership between insurers, insureds, and the forensic accountants who are called in to deal with the stressful circumstances of a catastrophic loss.