Where else are you going to be involved in American lava flow claims other than Hawaii? What is really going on following the Maui wildfires? Restoration contractors who are thinking of becoming public adjusters, public adjusters who are sole practitioners, and those new to the public adjuster business will appreciate the story and my interview with Robert Joslin. Robert is self-made. He had a very successful construction and insurance restoration contracting business before becoming Hawaii’s first full-time resident public adjuster. His website noted the following:
In July 1979, Robert Hugh Joslin began his journey in insurance claim work as a contractor in the Brazoria County/Greater Houston, Texas area, following the devastation of Tropical Storm Claudette. Through this, he learned property claim handling from seasoned catastrophe adjusters. On August 18, 1983, Hurricane Alicia struck the Texas gulf coast, and Robert continued assisting both policyholders and insurance carriers. His notable work includes the reconstruction of The Peregrine Condominiums in Surfside, Texas. In 1985, Robert moved to Hawaii and, a year later, founded Joslin Service Corp, a leading mid-sized contracting firm. The 1992 Hurricane Iniki left Hawaii with extensive property damage. Robert’s dual roles as a commercial contractor and his experience in insurance claim work set him on the path to becoming a Public Adjuster. After enhancing his knowledge in insurance policy interpretation and attending various claim symposiums and conferences, he delved deeper into the property claims adjusting world. By February 20, 2002, Robert became the sole full-time Public Adjuster in Hawaii.
What prompted your move to Paradise? How did you find yourself on Maui?
I suffered a large structural fire in Brazoria County, Texas, on April 22, 1984. Three days later, I received a letter in my streetside mailbox from my insurance agent. The letter stated that I had signed an improper and untruthful insurance application. The letter was suspiciously dated the day before the fire on April 21, 1984. My agent’s office was only two blocks away from my building. I asked him what he was claiming I did wrong. He stated that I didn’t tell him that the property had both a commercial building and a residential two bedroom with two bathrooms on the second floor level. I told him that he came by the building three months before and physically saw the building because he brought the application for me to sign. I went to two small law firms in the town. They told me that there was nothing I could do about it.
At the time, my brother was living on Maui. He insisted that I move to Maui and restart my construction company with him. I was 25 years old. I was suddenly broke. My father lent me $1,000, and I moved to start over in business with my brother. I left behind my wife and our two sons with my parents. We started a new small construction company that quickly turned into a very successful commercial construction firm building high-end restaurants. We built over a hundred restaurants.
How did you become a public adjuster?
I obtained and still retained nineteen different Hawaii construction trade licenses. After fifteen years working as a Hawaii contractor, I was approached by a person who said he was a public adjuster. He asked me to write an estimate. I had never met a public adjuster. I had no idea what a public adjuster did. Eventually, a couple of attorneys suggested that Hawaii needed a full-time public adjuster. They encouraged me and thought that I had what it would take to become one. So, I took the test. Got a score of 99 out of 100 questions. To this day, I haven’t a clue which question I missed.
How did the insurance industry and regulators react to having a full-time public adjuster?
There are now only six full-time resident public adjusters in Hawaii. Four of those are Joslin family members. Insurance regulators have always supported public adjusting. In the very early stages, they defended me against independent adjustment firms that tried to limit what public adjusters could do. I agree with what you say at seminars when you say that some insurance company adjusters hate public adjusters. The industry hated that I could provide professional help to policyholders. But the insurance regulators in Hawaii backed me every time. I think I have the best insurance division in the nation.
What advice would you give to public adjusters about fostering positive relationships with government officials and regulators?
It’s simple – don’t do anything your parents would be ashamed of. Doing your job in a manner that is ethical and transparently honorable shows regulators and others that what we do is worthy of protection and help. I also have a policy of writing support checks for good legislators. These are people that I am on a first-name basis. It is important to have a professional and ongoing relationship with insurance regulators and the insurance investigators.
How was it when you first transitioned into the field of public adjusting? How has your journey gone?
Being a commercial contractor is different than being a public adjuster. Previously, my role in the construction company was different. So, I started slowly into public adjusting. I easily became a numbers and scoping guy on structural losses. Eventually, I improved and was asked to speak to the Hawaii State Bar Association insurance division about property insurance losses on their panel. This is ironic because a couple of attorneys challenged my license when I first started. Slowly, we have just kept growing as our reputation in the community has grown. I am now hired as an expert witness on Hawaii’s claim handling methods. While I cannot practice law, I am asked to opine on policy language and whether the insurance company acted in good faith. I have been challenged several times, but I’ve never been denied my expert stature by any State or Federal judge. Honestly, I feel like I somehow ‘Forest Gumped’ myself from not knowing what a public adjuster does to now being asked as an expert about proper methods of claims handling. Slow, steady, and repeated progressive steps and actions in this profession and market have helped me to the top in Hawaii.
I did not do this by myself. I couldn’t have a better partner in life or business than Lisa Joslin. I have always proclaimed that I married far better than she did. These favorable results of this journey would not have happened without her.
You’ve witnessed neighborhoods consumed by lava. How does the recent fire tragedy compare?
Please consider that a lava event is essentially a slow-moving horizontal set of losses. The Maui wildfires are completely different. The tone of this quick and vertical loss within such a short time period has no comparison. The loss was an immediate tragedy. We are now having issues with foreign public adjusters who approach Hawaiians and mimic that they are working with me and acting like they are under our employment. A few days ago, one mainland public adjuster approached two Hawaiians who were out in front of a partially damaged house. He stated that he could help them while handing them his business card, indicating that he lived on the West Coast. He stated, ‘I’m over here to help Hawaii Public Adjusters.’ The Hawaiian with the card asked, ‘Oh, you work for cowboy?’ The public adjuster asked, ‘who’s cowboy?’ The local lost his smile and stated, ‘You NOT know cowboy!’ The public adjuster grabbed the card back out of his hand and took off running before getting an ass-kicking from my friends. If you go to Lahaina and don’t know that Robert Joslin doesn’t exist on that side of the island, except by the name of ‘cowboy,’ you better be a fast runner if you are here just to profit from another’s tragedy or lie to the people who are about to do business with. This tragedy invites people who lack ethics but want a quick buck from its victims.
What challenges do you face as an officer and leading NAPIA while being based in Hawaii?
The clock and time differences are significant. Lisa and I have become used to this, although our friends on the mainland are sometimes surprised by the time here versus where they work. We have become comfortable with flying over the years and anticipating the significant time changes when we land. It’s so familiar now that it is more like taking a bus. Still, I appreciate how Ron Papa first moved me along in NAPIA. I expressed an interest in participating, and he saw something in me. I found I could always call and speak with him about anything. Ron Papa pushed me along, and we made a commitment to NAPIA. Lisa and I don’t break our commitments. The time differences truly mean nothing to us when it comes to NAPIA affairs.
Why should public adjusters actively participate in and support public adjuster associations?
I come from Hawaii, where I was the only public adjuster. There is such a vast amount of available knowledge one can learn from others in the business that the best public adjusters participate and learn from others in associations. While there are some other nice feely things that may go on at these association events, the wealth of knowledge I learn increases my expertise. The best way to learn and avoid learning from the school of hard knocks is to attend these public adjuster association events.
How does NAPIA membership enrich those skills and make you a more effective public adjuster?
NAPIA used to have a five-year experience requirement to join. So, many new public adjusters who were practicing could never learn from a group of millionaire public adjusters who were successfully running their businesses. This has all changed. We now have programs to help mentor public adjusters where they can ask questions and learn from the best. Further, our associate members and vendors do not get as much recognition as they deserve. I learn so much from them as well. When I first started, I was isolated from knowledge and how to ethically and properly conduct myself. This situation does not have to ever happen again because every NAPIA member has access to meaningful discussions with the best in the business about how to go about this work properly, ethically, and profitably.
What concerns do you have about the future of public adjusting?
I am increasingly becoming irritated by the unbridled disrespect for professionalism and ethics of an increasing number of rogue public adjusters. These are public adjusters who simply do their business the wrong way, and the public has no perception of how wrongly their claims are being handled because those public adjusters blame poor results on the insurance company as an excuse. My concerns are that the public and insurance regulators will lose confidence in the need for and benefits provided by high quality and ethical public adjusters. I believe we have to push the Insurance departments for increased standards to be eligible and maintain a license to be a public adjuster. We need to be certain that newer public adjusters are being properly taught how to act and work as public adjusters by those who have the experience and credentials to do so. This is not easy. I cannot even get Hawaii to pass a law or regulation regarding the ethical obligations of adjusters.
Can you share a significant learning experience or mistake you made as a public adjuster business owner and how you would approach it differently now?
I have regrets about letting, at times, my anger can get the better of me. It is not professional to do so. Thank goodness my colleagues at NAPIA have been kind enough to give me a pass.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your journey, challenges, or any other topic?
I learn something new every day. As far as friendly advice to my colleagues, I donate to a few legislators on each election cycle. It is important because there are times, like right now in this crisis, when those leaders can make a difference to the community that needs help. There are things we see and know as public adjusters that are important to the community, and we need to be able to pick up the phone and have a first-name conversation with government leaders who care about their constituents. My experience is that they love to hear what I’ve got to say. They care about pending Legislative action. If I didn’t make these contributions and make a relationship in advance, I do not think that my calls would be answered.
Robert Joslin understates the attempts by the industry to limit what he is allowed to do as a public adjuster. I found one 2009 Hawaii Insurance Division response to such an attack supporting public adjusting and its only licensed full-time public adjuster, Robert Joslin, stating:
“Public Adjusters are typically retained to investigate and adjust damages sustained by their consumer clients. Many times the client is a corporation, but just as frequently the client is an out-of-state property owner, or an elderly owner, or a person for whose primary language is not English, or a person who may not feel competent to complete the repairs or obtain fair compensation without assistance. In short, it may be best to conceptualize the public adjuster role as a trained and licensed agent who is retained by the policyholder to solely [represent] their interests.”
Regarding Joslin’s passion to learn and improve himself, I have personally observed Robert Joslin flying to public adjuster association meetings all over the country. He recounted a TAPIA speech I gave to a “Texas Hold ‘Em” seminar he attended a decade ago. I would suggest he is not flying all the way from Maui and spending thousands of dollars to do so just for a vacation.
I noted how he emphasized his transition to a competent public adjuster as slow and taking years. One does not learn the “art of public adjusting” in a short period of time but years, as Matt Blumkin also noted last week in Matthew Blumkin—Public Adjuster Spotlight.
Finally, I was not aware of the relationship between Robert Joslin and Ron Papa. I was intrigued by how a public adjuster from Maui would come to be mentored by a person from Buffalo, New York. I would suggest that Robert realized that finding a mentor who learned from two prior generations of public adjusters and who is successfully running a large public adjuster organization with many experienced public adjusters may be the type of person that other public adjusters should seek for knowledge and learning about how to properly and successfully be a public adjuster.
Thought For the Day
It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.