Insurance archeology may be the science of recreating past insurance programs by assembling various types of evidence of insurance contracts, but the focus and methods used by different insurance archeologists vary. Unlike other disciplines for which standards and methods have been agreed upon by associations organized by practitioners, insurance archeology has yet to become standardized. The result is that various law firms, risk management firms and consultants provide different sorts of services under the same heading. All practitioners have the same purpose: the location and retrieval of evidence of historical insurance policies. Where they deviate is in (1) where they go to find old insurance records and (2) what they do once they go there to retrieve the policy evidence.

Here at PolicyFind, we recently discovered that one of our main competitors was selling its service as “insurance archeology” and yet, what it actually was doing was performing “insurance audits.” These audits are reviews of insurance documents in-house to determine what evidence of coverage you have and what yet needs to be found. While no decent insurance archeologist would perform his service without first conducting an insurance audit, the audit itself is only the beginning of a much more extensive service.

Depending on what he finds in the initial document search, the insurance archeologist follows up with contacts with insurance brokers, agents, legal and financial entities, government and military archives, etc. The number of places to look varies with the project, but the project continues until the practitioner has either found adequate proofs of historical insurance or has exhausted his known sources.

Upon taking on a new project, the insurance archeologist often finds that certain aspects of the project have been already begun by the client, his attorney or some business associate with limited experience. Often the Insurance Archeologist is handed a stack of documents and is told “that is all we could find, so work from these documents” without having to range beyond this collection for leads. While the client is trying to limit the amount of time the insurance archeologist will take to perform his project, it is very often the case that in first “cutting the deck” in this manner, he does himself no service.

Our approach is to start with the complete collection of old business records (if they have not been destroyed). That is because after hundreds, perhaps thousands of document reviews just like this one, some knowledge is gained about what constitutes an insurance lead. My eyes are better than your eyes, in other words, because I have located evidence of insurance using each type of document on various occasions. I know what I am looking for and I know where such evidence leads me to find additional insurance documents.

Most typically, the client comes to the insurance archeologist with the cautionary tale that he has contacted the insurance agent he has had since his business was incorporated and has been told that the insurance agent has destroyed the old policies. The insurance agency has advised the client that it only needs to keep insurance records “for seven years” and they comply with the law by shredding old records. This horrifying information is unfortunately the standard reply that policyholders receive upon contacting their historic insurance agencies. Upon hearing this, policyholders often despair and go no further. Each time, insurance coverage that was purchased by years of premium payments goes unused and insurance company reserves remain untapped.

There are more ways to prove insurance coverage than by providing an insurance policy, and more places to find this secondary evidence of insurance than at an insurance brokerage or in the client’s file drawers. It is this knowledge of secondary insurance evidence sources and how to coax documents from them that separates the best insurance archeologists from the rest.