Meet our experts: René Schmalen // Claims Management

René Schmalen, Director Claims Management at Delvag, explains in this interview how innovations and digitalisation are finding their way into claims management and tells of exciting and sometimes curious cases from his day-to-day work.


Interview / 13.04.2023

René Schmalen

René, please give us an overview of the customers and risks that are insured by Delvag.
Basically, we offer almost everything available in the aviation and transport sector: Hull, liability, accident insurance and much more. In the aviation sector, we insure, among others, airlines, business aviation operators, but also general aviation customers - for example flight schools, clubs, private aircraft owners or suppliers of aircraft manufacturers. In the area of personal insurance, we also offer special "occupational disability insurance" for flight crews. In the transportation sector, our customers include freight forwarders, jewellers, diamond dealers and cash-in-transit companies.

You've been with the company for 17 years now. How have the claims processes changed since then and how do innovations influence your work?The work in claims management has changed a lot since I started here in 2005. In the past, for example, all subrogation claims were sent in paper form - even if the claimant was based in Brazil. It could take several weeks for a reply to reach us. Today, all files are digitalised and only very few clients still send physical documents. But we also scan them and process them electronically. For the classification of all claim documents, we will soon also rely on the use of AI, which should go live in a few weeks. For the time being, we will start with a small number of document types, but intend to expand this quickly. The programme will relieve our colleagues of routine tasks and give them even more time to take care of our clients.

How exactly will AI support your department in the future?
Our claims reports are difficult to digitise. This is because the processes of our international customers and the claims they report are very individual. Every claim we receive can look different. The AI we will use sorts the incoming mail by document type, for example "new claim notification", "aircraft hull invoice" or "lawyer's invoice", and assigns them to existing or new cases. Ideally, the programme will then automatically transfer the extracted data into our systems and workflows.

Do new technologies also have an influence on claims management in other respects?
We are operating in an environment where technologies are advancing very quickly. Aircraft, for example, are no longer made only of metal, but also of composite materials. That's why we now need other methods to detect and analyse damage and calculate repair costs. And the patterns of damage themselves are also different today, because composites behave differently from metal.

In claims settlement, there are also initial approaches for using drones to investigate damage. So far, this has not yet become so common, also because our customers appreciate the personal contact on site. But the aviation companies are already working on using swarms of drones to fly over aircraft to analyse dents - in the case of hail damage, for example.

Are there any claims that have particularly stuck in your memory?
Last year we had a loss that was recently even broadcast on the ZDF programme "Aktenzeichen XY ungelöst". The warehouse of one of our customers, a transport service provider for valuables, was raided. Jewellery and precious metals were stolen within only two minutes. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the building was massively damaged. The total damage is in the seven-digit range. What is special about this case is that the public prosecutor's office is conducting a public manhunt to catch the perpetrators.

In addition to apprehending the perpetrators, it is of course even more important for us as insurers that the loot is recovered in order to reduce the damage. Unfortunately, in such robberies the stolen goods are often turned into money very quickly. Precious metals are melted down. Sometimes, however, we are lucky. Then the police contact us. If we have already compensated our client, the recovered objects become our property. We have the items appraised and then sell them or auction them off. For us personally, this is also very exciting: depending on the value of the goods, the colleagues from my department go to the police themselves and pick up a small bag of diamonds or a valuable watch. But that is rare.

Do you ever come across curious cases in your work?
Yes, there are. Once, for example, the claimant was the owner of an ostrich farm: We insure not only aircraft, but all kinds of air vehicles. This also includes balloons. Since they can only be steered to a limited extent, the wind sometimes drives them off and they have to land somewhere, preferably in an open area. In one of our insurance claims, a balloon flew too close over an ostrich farm. Since ostriches seem to be very sensitive animals, as a result they laid fewer eggs for several days or even weeks. Ostrich eggs are very expensive - prices of over 30 euros each are not uncommon. Therefore, the farmer who owns the animals claimed the damage from us.

Your work sounds very varied. Are there any other reasons why you like working at Delvag?
Delvag is no ordinary insurer for me. Our direct connection to an aviation group is unique in Germany and very rare worldwide. We have the spirit of an airline combined with an insurance background. This means we are very close to our clients, know their business models well and identify strongly with the cases. This is not just a desk job: our work is often very practice-oriented. We can go out on the apron ourselves with our colleagues from the Lufthansa Group, for example, and attend an aircraft turnaround to see how handling procedures are applied, or we can visit Lufthansa Technik and see how an engine is taken apart and repaired. Our trainees also take part in airfreight training at Lufthansa Cargo.

Our corporate culture is another reason why I like working here: we are a small insurer, but we have very modern working methods and many digitalised processes. The positive working atmosphere is also important to me. Here, employees have a lot of leeway to make their own decisions, as we trust in the expertise of our colleagues.

All this makes our job unique in the aviation world.

Thank you very much for the interview.

About René Schmalen
René Schmalen has been working in Delvag's Claims Management department since 2005. As a former banker with a degree in business law, he and his team of 20 ensure customer-oriented, economical and proper claims settlement. It is important to him to drive the further development of the division with the use of modern technologies as well as the promotion and further training of employees. René is very interested in other cultures and enjoys travelling. Sometimes he takes a spontaneous weekend trip, sometimes a longer holiday in faraway countries. Together with a colleague, he follows the challenge to see who will have visited all European capitals first. René has also been an enthusiastic diver for some time now and enjoys skiing.


From Inga Stöver
Corporate Communications Delvag