Perspective

Google Earth Shrinks Church Insurance Costs

Paul Stephens, Vice President of Risk Management at Church Insurance Agency Corporation, was just another technophile enjoying the view when Google Earth was first introduced back in 2005. The usefulness of the geographic browser to insurance underwriting was something he discovered by chance—a little-known capability that allows users to capture a building’s dimensions, virtually, using satellite imagery. “I began to think of ways the technology could be used to help us appraise buildings, but I had no idea it offered so much detail about the type of information we need to underwrite policies.”

Fast forward to today, with Church Insurance in the midst of a three-year effort to appraise more than 18,000 buildings, and Paul’s discovery that we can use Google Earth to help us calculate the appropriate level of property and casualty coverage for insured buildings could save Church Insurance millions of dollars over the next decade. This, in turn, will he­lp us better manage the cost of coverage for our clients.

After completing the initial on-site assessment to estimate a building’s replacement costs, Church Insurance had been commissioning third-party vendors to conduct periodic in-person inspections to keep these estimates up-to-date. 

“While this traditional approach to appraising buildings provided excellent details, it also racked up substantial expense over the years, from vendor costs to our own outside representatives driving to locations, and fuel, meal, and accommodation costs,” Church Insurance Agency Corporation General Manager Steve Follos notes.

Now, using Google Earth in conjunction with state-of-the-art building cost data software, Church Insurance can provide up-to-date replacement cost estimates without any of our employees having to be there. The appraisals are completed by our employees who also use the tool to verify and audit results.

Since Church Insurance launched the new appraisal capability in 2018, Paul’s team of four has used it to evaluate more than 10,000 Episcopal buildings in 52 of the 92 Episcopal dioceses we serve. The use of detailed satellite imagery has helped Church Insurance to more accurately—and more cost-effectively—provide the appropriate level of coverage for clients, which has lowered costs.

“There can be premium savings in some cases if we determine that a building is over-valued,” Steve explains. “With inflation of construction costs, most building values are increased. Accurate valuations provide our clients with greater peace of mind that their buildings will not be under-insured following a total loss. If a building is lost to a fire and is under-valued by, say, 10%, a church or diocese has the burden of coming up with the dollars to complete reconstruction.”

CPG’s Chief Operating Officer Frank Armstrong notes that “Church Insurance has always focused on running lean and mean, using technology wherever we can to improve service while reducing costs. Our team is using the industry’s best available technology and software to update property values in an effort to reduce the possibility of clients being underinsured at a time of loss.”