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Stampede Breakfast, Normal Prairie Weather, Will Rogers' Common Sense

Posted By Thom Young, July 28, 2015
Updated: July 23, 2015
I love summer!

Well, for those of you working out of Calgary and area, the end of this month will likely be much more productive than the beginning. The greatest outdoor show on earth annually bites into business productivity for the first two weeks of each July. Once the Stampede is over, work catch up begins. While efficiency experts debate the value of invested time and effort in this kind of frivolity, in my opinion the positive gains in business promotion and employee morale far outweigh any losses perceived by the brainy bunch! And the work always seems to get done.

This tradition of ten or more days celebrating part of our Western culture is well received by the insurance industry in the Calgary area. In 1993, we felt a customer-appreciation day was in order and sent out invitations to all our clients and brochures to all our neighbours announcing that we’d be having a stampede breakfast on the Wednesday morning of stampede week. I think about 300 people showed up that first year, and we determined the promotion to be a smashing success. The next year, when Southland Registrations opened, we partnered with this sister firm to expand the event. We hired a band and invited underwriters. On average, some 1000 people began to show up for breakfast. As our efforts continued to evolve, we hired a better band and chuck wagons with drivers who signed autographs and posed for pictures. Even our competitors began to drop by and wish us well. About five years ago, we declared this an all-industry event and began promoting it with everyone associated with the insurance business.

The usual turn out is between 1500 and 2000 people browsing through our head-office parking area. Some people wait as long as half an hour for a pancake and a couple of sausages. 50/50 tickets are sold to raise money for the food bank and, on the whole, a great social gathering occurs.

Lundgren and Young Stampede Breakfast This year our stampede breakfast was again a great success. The numbers attending were toward the higher end of the scale and a terrific time was had by all. Those who had their picture taken on the chuck wagon with Kurt Bensmiller will be glad to know that he took it all at the Stampede this year. We’re proud to be associated with the Bensmiller wagon racing team, and it was really nice to see my friend Buddy Bensmiller hop up on his son’s wagon as he took his bows after winning the Rangeland Derby on the last day of Stampede. Buddy retired from racing two years ago and his son has carried on the family tradition of winning chuck wagon races and championships. You can’t beat that kind of succession planning success!

Sewer Backup, Overland Flooding, and “Normal” Prairie Weather

Just west of Calgary, two summer storms blew through the bedroom community of Chestermere Lake. The first storm resulted in a quick downpour of hail followed by a torrent of rain, which resulted in storm sewer systems backing up and the water finding its way to the lake by whatever route was available. Overland flooding occurred in a number of homes. Storm sewers and regular sewers backed up for a number of residences in the community. Two days later, another storm complicated the cleanup efforts of the residents with an almost identical set of circumstances. Some people just can’t catch a break.

These events drew a lot of media attention, many referencing the previous flooding issues a couple of years ago in Alberta, even though that event had no similarity whatsoever to this relatively normal weather event. In this case, the community in question is relatively new, the area affected by the infrastructure’s failure to deal with a normal weather event was minor, and the number of residents impacted was limited to some 300 homes. These details do not limit the impact on the individuals in question, but the media seemed overly focused on the tribulations of those affected. This slant was tempered somewhat when one of the people mentioned in an interview that this event wasn’t as bad as the last one they had.

I had some personal discussions with an affected insured who questioned why his policy didn’t cover sewer backup, a question that was somewhat surreal as the coverage was through a limited form provided by a nonstandard market for problem risks. The insured in question had three prior claims for sewer backup in the past four years—all for amounts in excess of $100,000. The incumbent insurer had refused to renew, and finding this insured coverage even on a limited form was not an easy thing. Still, the insured seemed to feel that the fact that he was not covered for this repeated and unmitigated event was the fault of our industry and not the failure of the municipal engineers or the home builder who plunked his home foundation in the middle of the reservoir draw without providing a non-obtrusive path for the water to take—never mind the wisdom of the insured in refinishing and refurbishing a part the home that has now been under water four times in the past five years without taking into account the reasons for the problem. No doubt, the provincial disaster relief fund will find a way to push some more good money after bad on this risk as well.

This weather event has brought a number of reflections and interpretations on the new wordings in use by some insurers, particularly the limiting of time in the process of adjudicating a claim. What defines the results of an overland flooding event in which our insured was not affected but his neighbours experienced a sewer backup within the 72 hours following the overland flooding event, even if the sewer backup was not consequential to the overland flooding event? I’m getting a headache thinking about this one. The claims adjusters are following the old axiom: when in doubt, deny!

These issues still call for much work.

As I finish this column, severe weather is tracking through the centre of our province. Communities to the south of Edmonton are being pummeled by intense hail and rain storms, and tornado watches are in effect. The normal midsummer Prairie weather continues.

Common Sense Ain’t So Common

Way back in the ’70s when I was working on a diploma in business management, I remember a rather lengthy discussion about common sense. Many may concede truth to such simple aphorisms as “never judge a book by its cover” or “too many cooks spoil the broth.” Others like these come in the life-instruction manual passed down to us by the sages of wisdom in our families and communities. Rarely are any of them questioned, but every once in a while someone will point out that many of them can be seen as contradictory and confusing. The axiom that “many hands make light work” overtakes the point about the cooks, doesn’t it—well, at least when it comes to something other than making soup?

One of the most well-known purveyors of good old folksy wisdom is the often-quoted Will Rogers. While he spent a short time on the planet, his meanderings continue to inspire and amuse. Here’s a piece about him and some of his sayings for your midsummer amusement:

Will Rogers"Never squat while wearing your spurs."

Will Rogers, who died in a 1935 plane crash, was one of the greatest political sages this country has ever known.

Enjoy the following:
  1. Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco.
  2. Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
  3. There are two theories to arguing with a woman.
  4. Never miss a good chance to shut up.
  5. Always drink upstream from the herd.
  6. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
  7. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it
    And put it back into your pocket.
  8. There are three kinds of men:
    The ones that learn by reading.
    The few who learn by observation.
    The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence
    And find out for themselves.
  9. Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
  10. If you're riding' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then
    To make sure it's still there.
  11. Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier'n puttin' it back.
  12. After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring.
    He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him.
    The moral : When you're full of bull, keep your mouth shut.
About Growing Older ...

First ~ Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying
About your age and start bragging about it.

Second ~ The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.

Third ~ Some people try to turn back their odometers.
Not me; I want people to know 'why' I look this way.
I've traveled a long way, and some of the roads weren't paved.

Fourth ~ When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth,
Think of Algebra.

Fifth ~ You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.

Sixth ~ I don't know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.

Seventh ~ One of the many things no one tells you about aging
Is that it's such a nice change from being young.

Eighth ~ One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.

Ninth ~ Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.

Tenth ~ Long ago, when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks,
It was called witchcraft.
Today it's called golf.

And, finally ~ If you don't learn to laugh at trouble,
You won't have anything to laugh at when you're old

In Closing

Well, that’s enough for this run. Those keeping track will note that I took a little break on the last deadline. It was sort of planned and some might say deserved. I’ve had a very busy summer so far and, believe it or not, much of it revolves around work for our industry. That’s not much of an excuse though, and, yes, I do know where to look for sympathy so you can keep your dictionary references to yourself. I hope all of you are enjoying our all-too-brief Alberta summer. Before the next issue, I will have traversed through four of our Canadian provinces and no doubt will be feeding a healthy crop of mosquitoes in each of them.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  Chestermere flood 2015  overland flood insurance  sewer backup  Stampede 

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Using Both Direct-Online and Broker-Channel Distribution Impacts Consumers and Industry

Posted By Thom Young, July 2, 2015

How about the Weather?

Typical for an Alberta summer, the weather this week has been stiflingly hot and dry up to Canada Day—difficult to endure in an RV without power—and then the predicted thunderstorms created a general turn to semi-constant rain and much cooler temperatures. Huddling around the propane campfire in the Ponoka Legion parking lot last night was a much different experience from what we’d expected according to the weather reports. There’s a profession for those who like a challenge—no credit for whatever good happens but all the blame for whatever unexpected turns out. Even better, try being a climatologist who attempts to make sense of the overall picture based on the weather details extrapolated from archaeological records. Are they, like us, looking to the past to predict the future?

“We’ve seen the enemy and it is us”

Variations of this comment have been used to describe the process whereby in many endeavours we seem to be the authors of our own misfortune. If I had to give direct credit for it to anyone from memory, I would attribute it to the character named Pogo in and old newspaper comic called Alley Oop. In the historical cycle of a changing insurance marketplace, we’ve seen this process operating more than once and seem to be about to go through it again in Canada.

A decade ago in England, insurance companies rushed to offer their automobile insurance products over the telephone, and the brokerage ranks suffered tremendously from lost market share. Insurers that traditionally had been great supporters of the brokerage distribution model indirectly undermined brokers with telephone solicitation schemes that allowed the consumer to deal directly with the insurers. The presumption of doom came down upon the English insurance brokers who feared greatly for their future.

The effect of this change in market approach caused severe market disruption in England. While some brokers didn’t survive, most did. The real losers in the process were as usual the consumers. The average price of an automobile policy didn’t really change that much, but the price differential sure did. Straightforward accounts that were easy to deal with received the most benefit in price discounts, leaving the more complicated ones to pay increased premiums into the pools. Slicing up the pie into smaller pieces doesn’t create any more pie as anyone who’s had unexpected guests arrive for dinner well know. Consumers were eventually treated to the reality of discounted service and the loss of an advocate to add value to the claims process. Pricing realities in a competitive market also led consumers to seek assistance from a broker or “agent” who could make sense of the complicated product they were buying. Ultimately, the purchase of reliable insurance (any kind of insurance) is not a do-it-yourself project accomplished by pressing numbers on a telephone in response to robot-generated questions, nor is it any easier to accomplish by clicking boxes on an internet website. Doubtless, the process of obtaining the quote can be done in this manner, but understanding and analyzing the risk is a much different story.

The universal capital marketplace continues to believe that the builders of better mousetraps can arrange for the world to beat a path to their door. While the newest “door” is the internet, what we’ve seen so far is a landscape filled with much communication but little in the way of service. Insurers in Europe, the U.S.A. and Canada, as we know, have been flirting with attempts to improve their market share through this new communication device, yet those who are making the best use of it and having the most success with it are using it, not to change the process, but to streamline and improve it. Much like the call centres that now seem to add to the client’s experience and reinforce the broker’s or agents’ efforts, the internet markets that seem most successful are those that integrate the adviser process. Agents or brokers remain the key contact point, while routine service issues are dealt with by service centres. Rating and quoting is subject to the broker’s or agent’s review of the client’s interaction and the underwriting issues that always seem to arise in the process. This is the experience of Progressive in the U.S., and other U.S. companies who have tried the direct approach are losing ground to them in the market. Safeco, as an example, had a direct-writing internet arm and ended up assigning the client-service issues by zip code to its agents. Safeco could neither provide the proper expertise in the market nor give timely, effective service to its clients using the direct approach. Further evidence suggests that using brokers in this manner is much more cost effective than the direct approach, but some companies believe they will have different results. I don’t think they will.

Insurance company executives have much to juggle. They are surrounded with all kinds of advice givers and people extolling the benefits of every new gizmo or gadget that is said to improve the company’s competitive position and to preserve it from others who might effectively use the gadget. The newer the technology, the harder it is to decide. The digital marketplace is exploding companies, and brokers are actively using it to compete with each other, get the customers, and give the service. Digital technology will improve the process, but it won’t change the manner in which the product is sold or delivered. Any insurance executive who believes it will, is losing sight of the process and will, ultimately, pay the price in lost market share. Insurance executives who betray the loyalty of their business partners, be they brokers or employees, by competing directly with them in the marketplace will suffer a worse fate than having to regroup and respond to the market changes. They will be bypassed by those who have taken the time to understand the dynamics of this new communication device called the internet and who have effectively changed their communication strategy to enhance the process of customer service. Their “new” direct approach will fail horribly, and the impact on the clients will put our industry in disrepute again.

All of us are well aware that one of our major markets in Canada has determined to go down this path of competitive realignment in the Canadian market. Of particular concern is the branding. Any business would find difficulty explaining to its customers the difference in price and service of the products sold out of its shop versus those sold directly by its suppliers. A client who walks into a broker’s office with a quote bearing the name of this market will be very confused as to why the broker can’t match that quote when that company’s plaque is on the broker’s wall. Once again, our industry will be confusing our market and doing a real disservice. This company may well find itself bumping up against regulatory obligations in several provincial jurisdictions and will certainly see itself under regulatory review. If a company provides a quote to a consumer, it had better stand behind it at whichever location bears its name. It’s only logical.

One might hope that the company involved will have another look at its business plan. If the company is determined to compete directly with its broker representatives, then fine, but at least it should brand its product differently so that brokers are not confusing the public. The superior service that I, for example, provide my clients under its name needs to be distinguished from the slip-shod, second-rate direct internet approach the company is going to give them. Additionally, when that company’s clients come back to me disappointed with the company’s direct internet service, they won’t be looking for a quote from that company. Caveat emptor!

wagon wheel

Stampede Me

Lundgren & Young is holding its annual stampede breakfast on July 8th, 7:00–10:00 a.m., 9705 Horton Road SW in Calgary. Come on out to this all-industry event, enjoy a good pancake and sausage breakfast, and listen to live country music. While reveling in the stampede show, mingle with the insurance industry folks in the know. If you know the right people, you can get a glass of the good orange juice.

While on the topic, don’t be afraid to stampede me with emails sharing your thoughts. They provide good fodder for future articles.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  branding  broker channel  consumer confidence  direct writer channel  insurance industry reputation  online channel 

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Western Economic Drive, Senate Reform, Alberta Rodeos

Posted By Thom Young, June 19, 2015
Updated: June 18, 2015

Go West, Young Man, Go West

This phrase originated in the U.S. in the early 1800s and is credited to various individuals giving advice to young people about seeking a better future in the land of opportunity. Doubtless, this was good advice for many during those times. Eastern cities were struggling under the crush of their population growth, and business opportunities were limited by the dominance of large corporations manipulating the capital for growth. Economic policies in place caused severe cycles of boom and bust development, and the standard of living for city dwellers was limited at best. North America was simply the storage house for European economic interests, and little in the way of finished products were manufactured for anything other than domestic use. “Hewers of wood and drawers of water” is the economic description of the mercantilism that controlled economic development in this new land. The farther you went away from the dominance of business interests represented in the Eastern cities, the better your prospects of developing an independent enterprise that allowed you to grow your capital value with the development of new towns and cities. These opportunities especially presented themselves in the West.

I know in my family history, the idea of exploring new opportunities has always been seen as an adventure. The German-English word Wanderlust roughly translates to a thirst for adventure. Those who seek such things are natural risk takers with deep-seated optimism. A letter written by one of my ancestors in the late 1700s talks of the journey to “the Canadas” and the seven-week sailing that had them becalmed for two weeks off the coast of Newfoundland, in sight of land with no means of getting to it. They finally made it to Quebec City where they disembarked from the ship and boarded a steam boat to Montreal. The steam boat exploded on the journey with over 400 lives lost and only three of the seven in my family’s party surviving. Still, after somehow making it to Montreal, they continued on to what is now the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario and staked property to build a new life. That farm did well until the last of that generation passed in the early 1900s. The next generation left in the early 1880s repeating the westward movement to new land and opportunities near Neepawa, Manitoba, again staking out the land and working it to support a large family. My great-great grandfather William Forrest Young was an insurance broker and real estate agent who went on to become a scion in Canadian finance. On his retirement from the corporate world, he homesteaded once again at Russell, Manitoba, where he passed in 1935, leaving a large family to wrestle with the estate, nothing of which was left when my turn came up.

For my first visit as an adult to Calgary, the bank I was working for decided I could improve my sales skills by attending the Xerox PS II course held in the Calgary offices of Xerox Canada. My boss and I were both sent, likely because he didn’t want to be upstaged by the new guy who actually had some sales experience. While I learned a lot about financing from this guy, he would fail at selling cold water in the desert. The course was a good one but, like all of the bank courses, the study was combined with much socializing. I remember one of the places we ended up at was the East End Petroleum Club, which was in a corner of a rather seedy hotel. There I was introduced to a young fellow named Ralph whom people (I thought) jokingly called the mayor. I was amused to find out at some later date that he actually was the mayor of Calgary and was further amused to learn that at this rather unusual luncheon gathering I had been introduced to much of the business elite in Calgary. This was 1980—the bust cycle of our resource development had just begun. Calgary was really a cow town then, but it had a strange optimism about the future. Native Calgarians were hard to find, and the large group of people from many different places, all chasing the dream, refused to be swayed from their belief in this promised land, no matter what the economic indicators and Eastern prognosticators had to say. I was strangely convinced of this too and determined that someday I would follow that dream and see what opportunities I could find. It took us almost seven years to get back to Calgary, but we haven’t looked back since. Alberta has been good to us and will continue to be so. As my departed friend “the mayor” put it, the West is where it is happening, and the Alberta Advantage is making certain that we are leading the way into the 21st century!

I was recently reading a Forbes magazine article on employment opportunities. While the article references the U.S. economic conditions, the economic makeup of our country has little difference, and the conclusion the article draws about the best opportunities being in the West is likely just as accurate for Canada. The centre of power and population influence continues to shift westward. This shift will produce a very interesting reality in the coming decade, especially with the movement of the political spectrum that we are now seeing.

Does Our Canadian Senate Continue to Demonstrate Its Irrelevance?

Of all the meanderings I’ve written, the most number of items hitting my inbox came from a short bit that I wrote about the Canadian Senate when the Duffy expense scandal first became news. I commented then that the Senate, this unrepresentative left-over from the British parliamentary system made to parallel the British House of Lords, made no sense to me, and I was stead firm in the belief that Canada would be better served by either making it an elected and accountable institution or by doing away with it all together. As we see in the ongoing reports of ineptitude and outright fraud in the audit of their financial workings, senators cut from whichever political party are equally inept in their dealings with public money. Despite the stinging review, no method seems to be in place to correct the deficiencies or to demand these people be held to account for the theft of public funds either through willful intent or ignorant understanding.

Canadian Senate-Red ChambersUnlike the British House of Lords, which was established to appease landed gentry in the transition to democracy, our Canadian senators are appointed at the whim of the leader of the country at any given time. The thought was that this group would be made up of the most qualified of the Canadian elite in academic and business endeavours and would provide a slow, determined review of parliamentary decisions and make recommendations to benefit the process. Right from the very start, however, the “Red Chamber” became populated by political hacks rewarded for their service to whichever political power controlled their appointment. The provision of sober second thought in review of legislation was never effectively accomplished, and those in the know can confirm that historically the activities of the members of this group as whole rarely met the standards for honesty and integrity that we expect from the lowest elected official. This review of these senator’s expenses has clearly shown that, no matter which side is represented or who appointed them, the unabashed consumption of whatever can be scooped out of the public trough has gone on unchecked for decades and that the prospects for correction of the deviant behaviour will continue unabated until such time as Senate reform makes its way onto the agenda of Canadian concern. Unfortunately, Senate reform falls under the heading of constitutional reform and as such puts in play the competing interests of the provinces and the federal government with the demands for change and compensation unrelated to the discussion. The current government cannot be anymore blamed for the Senate’s ineptitude than any previous one, nor does it have any desire to reopen the divisive constitutional debate that would be required to effect changes. Who could blame them considering the total failure of previous attempts for unanimity? Let us all remember that the last successful attempt to amend the Canadian constitution resulted in appeasement and compromise by way of a notwithstanding clause providing a provincial entity the right to opt out of the unanimous provisions of the group or even the legal determination of the highest courts in the land. Simply comprehending that discourse is enough to confuse and annoy, yet it is where we sit with this discussion.

I would leave you with the thought that the next round may well have to come from the provinces, not the federal government. Canadians would have to demand action from their provincial leaders to deal with these matters. To quote my dear departed Nana on this matter, “It will be a long row to hoe!”

Off to the Rodeo

A sure sign that the summer months are here in Alberta is that the rodeo and chuck wagon circuits have begun. I have made the trek to Ponoka to secure the best parking site for my RV so we have a short walk to the rodeo grounds and are far enough away from the redneck party group to enjoy our evenings. The weather is starting out pretty normally with the looming possibility that the High River show will be rained out but the Ponoka rodeo will go on rain or shine. If you’re going look for us at the grounds, I’ll be the guy wearing the cowboy hat!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  economics  rodeo  Senate  Senate reform  Western Canada 

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Political Changes, Online Crime Increases, Overland Flooding Competition, AIC Update

Posted By Thom Young, June 2, 2015

To Quote Shrek, “Change is good, donkey”

When it comes to change, I’ve always sat with the optimists. Change of any sort can be disruptive and difficult for some, but it always brings with it new perspectives and new opportunities. Analyzing the effect of change in your marketplace gives you a competitive advantage, particularly if your competitors are slow to react or quick to react in the wrong manner. Being the first one with a positive message will always win you more credibility than harping about the difficulties the change will bring. Change is inevitable in all things; dealing with it is your only option. How you deal with it will determine how it affects you.

The political front is certainly a different landscape before us in Alberta. Doubtless, people had more than enough of the ruling regime and demanded change. You can debate whether or not the change they have effected is the kind of change they wanted, but that won’t change the outcome. The popular vote certainly did not go to the new ruling party but, with the right of centre divided and the left of centre united, the first past-the-post outcome in this three-horse race was assured almost from the get go. In a democracy, the will of the people cannot be denied, and we will have to deal with whatever changes are produced on that account.

The insurance industry will experience a number of years of trepidation. The NDP perspective on auto insurance is a threat to our businesses, and a hard market (should it arise even for a short period of time) would bring the political forces to bear upon this issue. Unfortunately, auto insurance wasn’t part of the discussion in this past election, and one would believe this topic presents no immediate threat. Our industry in Alberta has never faced this kind of threat before, so it would be wise to begin to prepare and strategize for possibility of the discussion. Interesting times?

One might observe though that the previous government wasn’t as kind to us as we all thought it should be. Premium roll backs on auto insurance were somewhat disruptive, not to mention financially difficult for us. Brokers in particular had to suffer commission charge backs, often arriving in a different fiscal period. The return of money spent because of a misguided belief that the public had been mistreated by rates was more than a minor inconvenience to many brokerages. That, followed by the introduction of auto insurance reforms that continue to interfere in the natural competitive market for auto insurance in Alberta, doesn’t support the notion that a right-of-centre government is better for our circumstances than the new incoming one.

Those of us who have registry offices have direct experience with the ineptitude of the previous government. A succession of nearly a dozen different ministers has proven a lack in the simple understanding of the challenges of running a business where your revenues are limited by regulations while your expenses increase unchecked. Registry agents have been doing their best to convince the government that fees charged the public should be adjusted through a fee model taking into account the factors that affect revenues and expenses. While the model is logical from a business perspective, for over 10 years the service fee received by registry agents has remained the same even while the government has increased its fees substantially over the same period. Considering just the increases in rents and salaries in Alberta over this 10-year period, it impossible to understand why requests for fee increases to account for these fell on deaf ears, particularly from a government that is supposed to be cognizant and supportive of business issues. I don’t believe you’d find too many registry agents who felt that the previous government was their “friend.” Who knows what’s in store for these businesses under the new government? The success of the registry agent service-delivery system in Alberta is the idol of governments everywhere. Will the government follow the principle that, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it? We will have to wait and see.

I for one am looking for the new opportunities that will present themselves to us in short order.

Online Crime Continues to Increase

phishingRecently, an item circulated purporting to be from the Canadian Revenue Agency asking for credit card information in order to deposit your tax refund directly to your credit card account. This followed recent notices from CRA that the office would like to do away with cheque refunds and have you initiate a direct deposit for your refunds. CRA has a great site for this—safe, secure, and easy to use. Unfortunately, the email purporting to be from CRA wasn’t from CRA. The link took you to a site that sure looked like CRA’s but, of course, was a new twist on an old internet scam called phishing. An email purporting to be from a bank or insurance company asks you to click on a link and confirm your data. Once you do so, the data you input is stolen in a form of identity theft. Every day people are caught in this scam and the thought is always the same: “It looked real.” Well, that’s the point.

Protecting Canadians from online crime, new laws are now in effect and bring new rules about data management and cooperation with investigations. Still, other than on TV, law enforcement officials who are the least bit interested in investigating this kind of crime or have any of the skills necessary to actually do so are hard to find. Focusing on the most heinous of crimes involving distribution of images and abuse of children, these new laws are the first step to bringing actual legal discipline to our new communication technology, but we are a long way from consequences.

My advice on this remains the same. Unless you initiate the contact and are on a secure website indicated by the lock symbol, put none of your information on the internet. If in doubt, call the company and verify they are who they are. The electric company won’t even talk to you about your account without verifying who you are by asking you questions. You should not have more trust in the process than they have. Verify and confirm—sensitive information should be shared only when you are certain you are sharing it with the right people.

People caught up in the so-called CRA phishing scam gave out their SIN number, name, address, birth date, and credit card data—all the information necessary to begin the process of identity theft. The consequences of this might not be discovered for years. Don’t get caught by this.

The First Competitive Response to Overland Flooding Coverage

As has been predicted, the markets’ response to the Aviva overland flood coverage has seen a new entry in Alberta with the Co-operators’ announcements last week.

The broker side has some new competition through this product from the direct writers. We are still awaiting updates from other markets on this, but this announcement is certain to put additional competitive pressure on them. If anyone has heard any current rumours, I would be interested in hearing about them.

AIC Stakeholder Sessions Have Been Completed

AIC stakeholder sessions were held in the past two weeks in both Edmonton and Calgary. I attended only the Calgary meeting but had updates on the issues raised in Edmonton. It was nice to see that the very vocal life-insurance minority who had been clamoring for relaxed entrance standards determined to let these meetings pass without making a spectacle of themselves once again. It was also nice to see the interest from the General Insurance community expressed on the examination and education issues. Updates were provided on the efforts underway to improve the pass/fail rates on the examinations without reducing the standards of education needed to both enter our business and advance within it. The process of establishing equivalencies for professional designation holders and matching education providers' courses to other jurisdictions was discussed as well. Two General Insurance sub-committees are working hard on these issues and hope to provide actionable decisions on both issues by the end of July. If you have opinions on these matters and would like to ensure that they are brought to the attention of the people working on these issues, please don’t hesitate to forward them to me. As a sitting member of the General Insurance Council, I will be happy to ensure that your thoughts on these issues are heard.

The AIC also reported on the licensing cycle, which is well under way. If you haven’t received an email from the AIC on this matter, you’re not recorded properly in the system. All license holders are personally responsible to ensure that their licenses are in good standing before they represent themselves to the public. This means your Continuing Education Credits need to be up to date, your declarations made, and your licensing fee paid by the end of June or you are not eligible to receive compensation for selling insurance. Make this process a priority, people.

I’d like also to mention that you are now required to know your CIPR number. This number identifies you across most Canadian jurisdictions and enables things like your CE credits to be followed wherever you are licensed. Your CE certificate now requires your CIPR identification, so all education providers are asking for it. Make you know what it is and have it with you when you are signing the attendance sheets.

In Closing

Summer is almost here. Time to go for a bike ride!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  Alberta Insurance Council  Aviva  broker channel  CIPR numbers  CRA  direct writer channel  insurance license renewal process  licensing courses and exams  NDP and insurance  online crime  overland flood insurance  phishing  The Co-operators 

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World Happiness, No Falling Sky on Broker Distribution Channel, Nepal Relief

Posted By Thom Young, May 19, 2015
Updated: April 28, 2015

World Happiness Report

Canadians are apparently the 5th happiest people in the world. You wouldn’t know it watching the news lately. The recently released "World Happiness Report" has rewarded us Canadians with a rather good standing in ranking our approach to life and the satisfaction that we receive from it. These kinds of “studies” and expert reports are always amusing to me, particularly when determining the source and the funding of the work that goes into “research” on such a topic. These reports and discussions, as near as I can tell, originate from the United Nations. As these things often go, a discussion may have started between a couple of bureaucrats about how happy a place our planet is and then an application was made to obtain funding to look further into the problem. Now, perhaps I’m raining on the parade here thinking about all the troubles in our world, but the United Nations could probably better use its resources to find a solution to things like getting clean drinking water to all the people who live in our world or producing a plan to promote pluralistic harmony between people shooting at each other. Still, they were given funding for measuring the temperature of happiness. Of course, the interesting talking point in these important announcements is where different countries sit in the ranking. In order to spare you the tedious task of mulling through the 176-page report referenced in the link above, I’ve listed the top 30 countries ranked by happiness below:
  1. Switzerland (7.587)
  2. Iceland (7.561)
  3. Denmark (7.527)
  4. Norway (7.522)
  5. Canada (7.427)
  6. Finland (7.406)
  7. Netherlands (7.378)
  8. Sweden (7.364)
  9. New Zealand (7.286)
  10. Australia (7.284)
  11. Israel (7.278)
  12. Costa Rica (7.226)
  13. Austria (7.200)
  14. Mexico (7.187)
  15. United States (7.119)
  16. Brazil (6.983)
  17. Luxembourg (6.946)
  18. Ireland (6.940)
  19. Belgium (6.937)
  20. United Arab Emirates (6.901)
  21. United Kingdom (6.867)
  22. Oman (6.853)
  23. Venezuela (6.810)
  24. Singapore (6.798)
  25. Panama (6.786)
  26. Germany (6.75)
  27. Chile (6.670)
  28. Qatar (6.611)
  29. France (6.575)
  30. Argentina (6.574)
While I was originally going to list only the top 10, I decided to expand that number to 30 to include a fair representation of European countries in the review. I have been fortunate to have been in 17 of the countries referenced and could give a firsthand opinion on the accuracy of the research for those. In that regard, I don’t have much argument with the results of this study. The conclusions as to the reasons why the rankings came out the way they did are for much further discussion.

One can clearly see the correlation between the standards of living and the rankings, but a few anomalies appear in the mix. Certainly, the inference of cultural differences doesn’t leap out from the report. For the most part, those who live in a country with a high standard of living and a fair political system seem to be winning the contest to be happy. You may find a different answer in your review. An interesting read. I, like most of you, already knew that Canada is one of the best places on the planet to live, and that fact makes me very happy!

The Sky Is Falling, the Sky Is Falling

insurance umbrellaFrom Walmart to Google, everyone seems to want into the General insurance business. The best method of distribution continues to be up for much debate, and our industry press likes to stir the pot with this popular topic. The headlines often begin with a dire prediction that the independent broker network is under attack again, and our imminent demise is predicted because some new and improved method of distribution will gobble up our market share. Now, far be it from me to give the impression that there are no threats to your market share in this competitive environment. We deal with the realities of it each time we quote a new piece of business or service our existing clients. Still, most of us seem to win our share of new business and hold onto our existing clients.

No doubt, this isn’t the case for everyone—not everyone should do well in a competitive market. A well-run insurance brokerage will always be responding to competitive pressures to correct failures and reward successes. Production reports are reviewed at least monthly and comparisons are done at least quarterly. Trends are identified quickly and a market response made to correct deficiencies. This is the norm in any service business, from the corner grocery to the multinational distributor. If you’re not taking care of your business in this manner, then you are vulnerable to the next competitor who calls your customers, and you won’t know you’re not taking care of business until it’s too late to fix the problem. Often people who fail in this manner are quick to announce to the world that outside influences overtook their business unfairly. The reality is more apparent than that.

Over the years, I’ve watched many good producers make a very good living in our business. When you review how they accomplished that, it usually boils down to customer service backed by good processing systems. These producers are the ones who are in tune with their marketplace and are usually the first to identify a trend in the market that poses a threat to their business. The entry of a new player undercutting the market in rate or underwriting silliness puts pressure on your market share and makes retention of your clients difficult. Fortunately, the rules apply to these new players too. A couple of decades ago, when we were constantly being visited by new competitors such CIBC, the Bank of Nova Scotia, and Canada Trust, we saw them “cherry picking” the best customers with rate and coverage enhancements that couldn’t be matched by our markets. Many brokers were very alarmed about the business they were losing, and producers were suffering badly against this “unfair” competition. Still, the rules of the marketplace applied to these new entrants, and the discipline of competitive factors came to play on them very quickly. No doubt, the banking executives holding their insurance divisions to account for failing to obtain a sustaining market share while losing money with the product had a lot to do with these companies either leaving the marketplace entirely or increasing their rates and refining their product to match the norms in the marketplace. I know for a fact that the claims service and customer service provided by these entities had a lot to do with their failure to advance in the marketplace. I actually recall a high-value client who we had lost to the Canada Trust program telling me that the $300 Canada Trust saved him on his home insurance didn’t amount to any savings when he factored in the nonsense he had to go through just getting hold of the adjuster assigned to his claim. Every time he phoned, he went through the call centre dance and ended up at the beginning of the story with a new person. Competition works, people. When the service you’re providing fails to meet the needs of your customers, they won’t be your customers for long.

You should remember the number one rule:

If we don’t look after our customers properly, someone else will!

You have my permission to copy and paste that phrase onto a full-sized piece of paper, print it out, and put on all your CSR’s desks.

So Google is coming? Well, who cares? I will do a better job than Google of looking after my customers, and I know you can too! The broker distribution network is in good hands, and the solutions we provide for our customers are better than any direct writing influence. You just need to remind your customers continually of that truth. Contact them at renewal, stay on top of the coverages and the rates with the companies you represent, and give your clients the best choices for them. The first of those best choices is always you!

Asia Once Again Dealing with Huge Natural Disaster

On April 25th, the people of Nepal had their world turned upside down. One of the largest earthquakes in living memory shook the mountains and valleys of this small impoverished country and its neighbour Tibet. The very urban city of Katmandu had suffered a similar earthquake in the 1934, but then it was simply a small village with few structures built of any significance. The damage then, while significant, has no comparison to this current event. As in many third-world countries, the urban development has been rapid and without engineering discipline. Building codes and the logic of civic engineering intermesh with ancient customs so that many of the rules we’ve become accustomed to are bypassed and overlooked. When the earth shakes, the buildings fall down in total destruction, taking many of the residents with them.

Initial estimates of several thousand dead seemed very optimistic to those who have studied natural disasters. While the tally at this point of writing is approximately 5000, the recovery effort has only just begun. With little in the way of heavy equipment to clear away the tons of rubble, the search for survivors is now fruitless. Doubtless, the number of fatalities will soar into the tens of thousands. The small villages of several hundred or a few thousand in the steep valleys have been isolated by avalanches and, while at this juncture the news is focusing on what’s happening in Katmandu, others report that many of these communities are not just isolated but also entombed by the rock that has fallen from the mountains. Surely, this event will be on record as one of this century’s largest natural disasters.

Earthquakes can happen anywhere and are about as predictable as rain. Even the best forecasters can declare the certainty of the event but cannot provide details as to when and with what severity. While many experts will forecast probabilities, without certainty, little attention is paid to them by anyone. Nothing except the strange behaviour of animals gives any forewarning of an earthquake. Even the strange behaviour of animals gives little advance warning that can be used to initiate any action to mitigate the effects of this natural event.

The earthquake in Nepal occurred along fault lines in the earth where two tectonic plates are grinding away against each other at the rate of some 5 cm per year. This physical action over millions of years has produced the world’s highest mountains, and the tremendous pressures produced by this action are often released in sudden cataclysmic earthquakes. The fierce movement of the hard rock produces the most damaging results of any earthquakes and brings with it the largest loss of life. In such an area, you would think that buildings would be constructed to reduce the risk, but they are not. The technology exists and is known as can be evidenced by the ancient temples and palaces that are still standing after centuries of earthquake movement.

We need to do what we can to help the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by this event. In the global village, the idea of brokers helping the community expands geographically. Our federal government has again initiated the matching program—matching our personal funds with government funds to help those in need. If you can spare a dollar or two, it will double in benefit. Details about the program can be found in the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund webpage. By the time you read this column, only a few days will be left to get your money into this plan. Many companies also match employee donations to worthy charities. Our social and civic responsibility is to help where we can.

As we continue to follow the events in Nepal, we should be reminded again that natural disasters can occur anywhere at any time. Recently, a large earthquake occurred off our west coastline near Haida Gwaii, hitting a sparsely populated area without many high-rises to worry about, but it was still damaging and frightening. The Haida Gwaii earthquake was similar to that in Nepal where hard rock realigns itself in rapid violent movement, not like the slow undulating kind of earth movement usual to the Southwestern U.S. quakes. Still, either can be devastating depending on several factors. The numbers given to the event are difficult to understand as a factor 6 can be as damaging as an 8 depending on the geology of the epicenter. No matter what size, the event is terrifying to those experiencing it. The largest North American earthquake recorded occurred in 1811 at New Madrid, Missouri. Estimating the size is difficult, but the record shows that shock waves traveled through the earth raising the ground 10 to 20 metres as they emanated from the epicentre. The earth readjusted to the extent that the Mississippi River actually ran backward against itself for several days before finding a new course. Destruction from such an event today would see present-day St. Louis reduced to nothing but rubble and the loss of life unimaginable. Here in Calgary, a seismic fault runs diagonally northwest from the south east part of the city to just south of Cochrane. You can see the fault’s strata while driving on Highway 22 and then to the west on Highway 1. One can only speculate when the last realignment of this fault line took place, but certainly its results are evident in the geology. Will it move again?

We have a kit in our vehicles that gives us a 48-hour fighting chance in the event of an emergency. Are you prepared? I heard an interview with a resident of the Queen Charlotte Islands where he spoke of his ready bag by the door. I haven’t got to that point yet, but maybe I should.

In Closing

Time commitments of conventions and holidays have me writing this piece several weeks before it is due to be distributed. I apologize if the flow of the discussion isn’t as timely and topical with regard to current events as it usually is. I’ll get back on track on the next issue, I promise!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  broker channel  customer service  Google  Nepal Relief  Walmart  World Happiness Report 

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Plan, Budget, Forecast, and Prediction Differences; and Then Some Puns

Posted By Thom Young, May 5, 2015
Updated: April 22, 2015

What Is the Difference between a Plan, a Budget, a Forecast, and a Prediction?

I belong to several business discussion groups, and this question was recently posed in a LinkedIn blog from the Harvard Business Review (Harvard Business School). Usually, the issues are more pragmatic than philosophical, and I always gain some insights by following the interaction between people here. The forum is an international one as well, so the discussion isn’t as dominated as some by American perspectives on issues—not that American perspectives are bad, but discussions about the uniquely different aspects of American social structure tend to get off into the political realm, which, in my view, is irrelevant to the point of discussing business management and sales. Product development, sales distribution, human resources, and corporate culture transcend any kind of political structure. Producing a profit is a universal goal. The manner of getting there is the crux of the debate.

There is an old saying that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” The essence of business management is about planning. Budget, forecast, and prediction are very important parts of the planning process: you can’t have a plan unless you do the research necessary to put together a budget of the costs to achieve a goal, and you can’t prepare a budget without doing the research necessary to forecast results and make predictions in your budget. These interrelations are the essence of a proper plan.

Poor planning is better than no planning! Why? Well, if you have a plan and measure your progress against the plan, you develop a report card that allows you to change your method and correct errors in the assumptions made in putting the plan together. The result of doing this process properly makes your plan work. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The whole of this process takes many years to learn, but learning it properly will make a world of difference in your life and give your business a much better chance of success.

The essence of planning is reviewing information relative to the goal. Setting the goal is the hard part. What do you want out of your efforts in life? Platitudes like “to be successful” or “to be happy” or “to live a good life” sound nice, but they don’t have much substance in the planning part of setting a goal. You have to get in front of that person in the mirror and have a long, hard discussion about what those platitudes mean. Then you can start figuring out how to achieve them. Success means many different things to many different people. The same can be said about being happy and living a good life. This hard heart-to-heart discussion with yourself has to quantify those things. Do you want a big house and lots of money? Now you’re getting to the nib of the matter, because identifying what you want is the first part of working out what you need to do to get it.

Many people think that luck forms a large part of the path to success. I’ve often said that it’s strange how hard these lucky people work to stay focused on their goals and keep on the path to achieve them. Business planning is no different than personal planning and, especially in our business, the component parts are easy to break down no matter whether you are the owner, a department manager, or a CSR. Your income and success are tied directly to your production results. Your market share or the size of the book of business you manage determine your income level. If you make your employer money, you make money. It’s not rocket science. You are a cost centre in which the biggest part of the cost is your earnings. Support and other component parts of your position—like premises, advertising, and administration—all form part of the costs of employing you. If those costs exceed the revenues you produce, you better have a plan to correct that or the matter will be taken out of your control. The only difference between receiving a commission on your work or a predetermined salary is that your performance review comes with every pay cycle if you’re on commission. The business owner is no different: if the revenues from operations fail to produce sufficient returns to keep the lights on and the employees employed, corrective action must be taken quickly or a total failure comes quicker than you think. Most sales-oriented businesses (which are virtually all business) have less than 90 days of working capital to keep the doors open if the revenues fall below the breakeven point. Fast action is necessary to protect the business if sales objectives aren’t met.

In my years in private business, I’ve learned the hard way about the need for proper planning and review of budgets and forecasts. The old adage that “wise people don’t make errors in judgement but errors in judgement often make people wise” sort of follows along the lines of “don’t make the same mistakes twice.”

I cannot stress enough that setting goals and preparing a plan to achieve those goals is the way to become successful. Decide what you want, and put in place the action plan needed to achieve it. Stop and review your progress at regular intervals, and determine both what has hindered you from meeting your objectives and what has helped you exceed them. Do more of the latter. Do this long enough, and you’ll find yourself surprised by what you have achieved. Others will notice your success before you do!

I could share much more with you on this topic and, as I have promised in the past, will revisit it again in the future!


Everyone Needs a Good Laugh Every Now and Then

After talking about such a serious subject, having a good laugh is in order! These posts have been circulating on the internet.

Here’s an amusing twist on words and puns.
  • How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it....
  • Venison for dinner again? Oh deer!
  • A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy.
  • I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
  • Haunted French pancakes give me the crêpes.
  • England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.
  • I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.
  • They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a Type-O.
  • I changed my iPod's name to Titanic. It's syncing now.
  • Jokes about German sausages are the wurst.
  • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.
  • This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.
  • When chemists die, apparently they barium.
  • I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can't put it down.
  • I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.
  • . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  • I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
  • Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?
  • When you get a bladder infection; urine trouble.
  • Broken pencils are pretty much pointless.
  • What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.
  • I dropped out of the communism class because of lousy Marx.
  • All the toilets in New York’s police stations have been stolen. As of now, it appears the police have nothing to go on.
  • I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.
  • Velcro—what a rip off!

For me, Sinko de Mayo is truly a day to celebrate. Few people have come to know the “true” origin of Sinko de Mayo. I’m pleased to set the record straight. A little known fact is that, back in 1912, Hellmann’s mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York. This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico, but, as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York. The ship hit an iceberg and sank, and the cargo was forever lost. The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss. Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning, which they still observe to this day. The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th and is known, of course as Sinko de Mayo. Go out on this day, grab a couple of slices of Wonder Bread and a jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise, and have a party. You know I will!

In Closing

If all goes according to plan, you’ll be receiving this on the 5th May. The date "is observed to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken to be Mexico's Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16” (Wikipedia). Le ruego a mis amigos mexicanos que me perdones por burlarse de su lengua.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  budget  business plan  economic forecast  economic prediction  economics 

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Motorcycle Awareness, Organ Donor Initiatives, Overland Flood Coverage

Posted By Thom Young, April 21, 2015
Updated: April 20, 2015

Motorcycle Awareness

With our spring weather, motorcycles are back on the road again, and people need to be looking for bikes. The most common injury to motorcyclists comes from vehicles turning in front of them, either making an unsafe left turn or failing to yield the right of way to a motorcycle by entering the highway in front of them. Virtually all of the drivers who cause these accidents claim they didn’t see the motorcyclist. In truth though, they weren’t looking. Often, they fail to judge the speed of a motorcycle approaching them because of either inexperience or indifference. Many state after the fact that they believed the motorcyclist was travelling at excessive speed. I’ll concede that they may be right on the speed issue once in a while, but, in reality, analysis of the impact usually exonerates the motorcyclist. Unfortunately though, whether right or wrong, the motorcyclist and passenger are always the losers in any motor vehicle accident. Please watch out for motorcycles on the roadways. Double check when making that left turn, and give extra space to allow them to pass before pulling out on the highway. In particular, if you see a large black Harley going by with a couple of happy people on it, wave. I’ll be sure to wave back!

Speaking of motorcycle safety, let’s not forget the extra precautions that we as motorcyclists need to take to ensure our own safety and the advice we should be giving our clients on this issue as well. IBC publishes a number of very good handouts on insurance matters, and all insurance brokers should remember their role as educators and advisers to their clients on preventing loss and ensuring their safety.

IBC's Top 10 Tips for a Safe Motorcycle Ride

    IBC Motorcycle Tips
  1. Drive what you can control. Often, people buy motorcycles that are too powerful for them to handle. Ask your dealer if you can test drive the bike before you buy it.

  2. Take a safety course. Be aware of your limits on a motorcycle. What would happen if you had to quickly avoid an incident?

  3. Ride according to weather and road conditions. Check the forecast and keep your eyes on the road ahead.

  4. Wear a DOT (Department of Transportation) approved helmet.  Choose the helmet best suited for how you ride, and replace your helmet every five years.

  5. Wear clothing that will protect you in a fall. Heavy denim or leather jackets and pants aren't just stylish; they help prevent nasty cuts and burns if you fall.

  6. Stay focused on the road. The cold reality is that motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a collision than people in a car, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

  7. Always be seen. Assume car drivers can't see you, so leave them plenty of room. Also, wear clothing or reflective materials that allow you to be seen.

  8. Ride in the proper position in the lane. Know where you should be positioned in the lane and never drive along the middle of the lane where there is oil build up from cars.

  9. Practise riding with others. When riding as a group form a staggered pattern and establish hand signals that all of the riders understand.

  10. Stop frequently. Being rested will help you focus on the roads.

Download IBC’s Motorcycle Tips poster.

Riders, be careful out there. The number one thing you need to do is drive defensively. On any motorcycle, you have maneuverability and visibility advantages, but they won’t save you unless you are keeping a lookout for what the other guy is doing. I couldn’t give any better advice on this issue! In my experience, it usually doesn’t matter who is at fault in an accident involving a motorcycle: the motorcyclist always loses.

Organ Donor Initiatives Revisited

I received a whole bunch of emails thanking me for making this topic an issue for discussion. My superficial review of what’s going on was criticized as well because I didn’t cover the topic in its entirety. In the last issue, I barely touched on the whole registry initiative that is underway, so here is the circular and the form that Alberta health sent to registries. You can complete the form yourself and make the brochure available in your insurance offices as well. Let’s make this important issue a game changer.

Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry Brochure and Form

Overland Flood Coverage

I received a briefing on this new initiative of Aviva. The program looks very good, and I’m very excited about its introduction in our province. Brokers need to get behind it for two reasons: one is it’s good for our clients, and the other is the way it’s being rolled out. You have huge E&O exposure if you fail to provide information on it to your clients. Even existing Aviva clients will need to be presented an option midterm to ensure that they have been given notice that this coverage is available. Any opportunity to contact your client about anything is a huge opportunity to give that value-added service that others aren’t providing. You need to get a plan together. Write your homeowner clients a letter explaining what’s available and how they can get it. They may choose to wait until the renewal or to stay with what they have, but, regardless, we have to let them know. The letter needs to be followed up with a phone call and notes on the resulting discussions about the coverage. If you explain the coverage properly, the client declines it, and you fully document the interaction, there will be no coming back at you if there’s an overland flood coverage shortfall. Further, this contact will give you a wonderful opportunity to cross sell your other insurance products to your clients.

Now that the word is out, we’ll need to listen carefully to the competitive response by other insurers. One hopes that a uniform approach to this coverage by the major players will keep our marketplace level and not disrupt our clients so badly that our industry comes into disrepute on account of it. I noticed a news article on TV this week which focused on the dilemma of a homeowner who had three weather-related losses in the past five years and was advised that the insurer would not be willing to offer a renewal if any further weather-related losses occurred. The gist of the discussion was that coverage refusal was unfair. Well, it may be unfortunate but not unfair. We as an industry need to continue to educate our clients on the issues before them. Insurance remains a vehicle to share the risk of sudden and unforeseeable events. If a loss becomes a routine occurrence, companies will not want to share that risk unless the premiums are high enough to cover the losses in time. The perception that making money is bad and that our industry focuses on unreasonable expectations of returns ahead of the needs of the public is unfortunate. The premiums produce the money to pay the claims. If the claims exceed the premiums, then the premiums go up. It’s not really rocket science.

Negative selection due to these new coverages may occur, and we may well find the public pushing back, especially where a group is redlined from the coverage on account of an area’s high risk. At some point, sharing these excessively high risks may have to come about through government intervention in the market that mandates basic coverages supported by a government-funded risk sharing pool. Perhaps a facility for facultative underwriting of residential risk may be needed. Time will tell my friends, and it is an exciting time to be in our business!

In Closing

It’s nice to be back in Alberta for a while—a little windy for my liking, but the weather is temperate for this time of year. I have no illusions that I’m home scot-free of some inclement weather—at least one big spring snow storm. As dry as it is in the south, precipitation will be welcome no matter how it comes. Most of the grain crops are sown. If Mother Nature cooperates, the harvest should be early this year.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  motorcycle  organ donor  overland flood insurance 

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Risk Management—Common Sense, Regulation, and Insurance—Organ and Tissue Donation

Posted By Thom Young, April 7, 2015

Risk Management in the Modern Era

There’s an email that circulates among the older folk that observes it’s amazing we all have lived so long. We had none of the currently omnipresent restrictions on our play activity. Common sense was the process that guided us into to doing the right thing. Those without common sense often suffered the fate of Darwinism—their failure to survive the challenges of our youth and their inability to contribute to the gene pool made our species stronger. That was the theory then, anyway. I think of this principle when I travel to third-world countries where things seem to work their way through without all the intrusions. Ultimately, some fail to use common sense and suffer the expected consequences.

In an old story about an American lady who fell into a hole in a sidewalk on a downtown Mexico City street, the statement of claim contained all the usual boiler plates—the city and its contractors were negligent in allowing this terribly dangerous obstacle to exist and should have taken many steps to protect the public from injury. The defense of the case was simple—the city produced seven days of video monitoring the hole in the sidewalk exactly as it was when the plaintiff fell in it. By the city’s account, over 3700 people passed by the hole (which had a pylon on both sides of it) and no one fell in it. Case dismissed? Well, not entirely. The city had to pay a small amount and cover the legal costs of the plaintiff, but the award was abnormal by Canadian standards. The plaintiff was found 90% responsible for her own damages because she failed to watch where she was going. The contractor was fined for failing to follow the city regulations that require holes to be covered and proper barriers in place to prevent the public from injury.

Often people lose sight of the reason for regulations concerning individual behaviour. As a motorcyclist who spends a lot of time in the U.S., I’m often asked why I wear a helmet all the time when I ride. The reason is simple: it protects me. The law really isn’t my motivator. When my second child was born, the law still did not provide any incentive to wear a seat belt in an automobile, but we decided to purchase a car seat for our new baby. From the day the car seat was installed, everyone wore a seatbelt in my car to ensure that one of us would survive to look after the guy in the car seat. Funny thought, but a true story. The adjustment period was difficult for the older child who had become accustomed to bouncing around the car and sitting in her (unseat-belted) mother’s lap or sleeping in a bassinette set down on the back the seat. It’s amazing we survived. The aforementioned car seat was likely the cause of many injuries as it was banned from use about ten years after I bought it.

A lot of the risk management procedures that have become regulations initially developed in our industry as attempts to limit the costs of poor individual and business practices. Intense analysis of the causes, consequences, and costs of losses informs the highly competitive selection process in our industry, and we have become very good at it. Our activities eventually prompted the public authority to enact regulations to limit the damage from those individuals who fail to follow the risk-management discipline developed by our industry. Often we hear about the zealous regulator creating obstacles that are both expensive and unnecessary, but these regulations come about not as a result of altruistic attempts to protect people so much as through the reality that limiting personal injury or property damage through regulations reduces the cost to the state in dealing with them. Those who fail to follow the discipline needed to manage their own risks properly offload the costs of this behaviour onto the state which, as the ultimate insurer of the people, receives adverse risks with no selection or mitigation other than by regulation. An actuary might call this the ultimate adverse selection process.

How To Make a Difference in Someone Else’s Life

If you’re around a registry office in our province this month, you’ll see a number of initiatives being made to encourage people to sign the authorization to become a tissue donor when processing an Alberta Health card change. National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (NOTDAW) is from April 19th until April 25th, 2015. Registry agents will be asking about organ donation and providing informational material in support of giving permission for organ donation. Registry agents will be wearing green lanyards showing their support for this cause.

I find it difficult to understand the need to have a discussion about such a simple thing as allowing your earthly remains to be put to some good use helping another before they are discarded in a ritual of remembrance of what a person gave to the world. No matter how much money you amass and leave to help others, nothing could equal the difference you could make in other people’s lives by simply agreeing to donate tissue and organs. This gift of health and recovery is simple, painless, and important.

Did you know that over 4500 people in Canada are on waiting lists to receive organ transplants and thousands more are waiting for tissue donations? That’s 4500 people in pain and suffering whose lives are diminished by a need that is so simple to fill. Over 700 Albertans are on that waiting list for organ transplants.

So here’s what you need to do. Stop what you’re doing right now. Get out your Alberta Health Card, flip it over, and read what the back says. Discuss it with your family, sign it, and have one of your family members witness it—painless and productive work here, ladies and gentlemen, work that will make a difference in the lives of others sooner than you think!

If you haven’t got an Alberta Health card, or the one you have is old and ratty, get on down to the nearest Registry Office and order one. This is one of the few government services that is still provided for free. After you sign it you can laminate it too!

While much information is available on organ and tissue donation, the Alberta Health website posts some handy FAQs.

While on this topic, I have long said that the premise of organ and tissue donation should be an implied consent and not a formal one. That is, if you don’t have a stated and recorded objection to it, then agreement to donate should be assumed. A consent form should not be required in the normal process. Those who object should have a place to record their wishes and have them honoured, but, otherwise, donation should be a mere formality of notice to family members when organs and tissues are harvested to help others. This debate needs to continue, and I offer this opinion in closing to stimulate that discussion.

In Closing

March has come and gone in its usual chaotic manner. I can’t say it came in like a lion or went out like a lamb as our winter was only a brief inconvenience in Western Canada anyway. Spring, for what it is, has begun in Alberta, and the promise of the new year begins with the cycle of tilling and planting. Economic prospects are not as bad as predicted, nor as good as they could be. We will soon be before the polls once again, asked to choose which brand of conservative principles we wish to govern our prosperous and successful piece of Canada. This is a cynical observation my friends, no need to challenge me on it.

Sheldon Casavant, illusionistWe are very quickly coming up on the annual IBAA convention, which this year will be held in beautiful Lake Louise. I am as always looking forward to meandering around that venue in my highland garb and will of course be very happy to see in person many of you who have taken the time over the past year to dress me up or down on my commentary here.

Looking forward to it!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  common sense risk management  insurance risk management  organ and tissue donation  regulation risk management  risk management 

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Will RBC Leave P&C Insurance or Just Whine about Fair Marketplace Competition? Does Digital Imaging Impact Privacy?

Posted By Thom Young, March 23, 2015

RBC Leaving P&C Insurance?

I suppose it is a good day for the insurance industry when we hear a bank executive whining about how difficult it is to compete in the Canadian insurance marketplace. Of course the banks are not really complaining about the competitive nature of the insurance industry but are whining about the rules and regulations that limit their abilities to cross-sell the insurance product to their clients and use their incredibly extensive distribution system to promote their insurance products.

In a recent interview, David McKay (CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada) is quoted as lamenting the returns on the bank’s Property and Casualty insurance sales, citing the regulatory environment as a troubling factor that does not allow banks to sell their services out of their branches. It is a familiar spin on the issue—somehow the banks’ inability to do good things for their customers is a disservice to the buying public. A cynical person might observe that the public commentary by one of Canada’s senior bankers is simply a positioning play in the ongoing lobbying efforts by the banking industry to change the rules that make them play fair in the marketplace.

Mr. McKay has an unusual background in the senior ranks of Canadian schedule-A bank executives. He’s the only one who has come to his position of authority from a background in personal banking services. Most rise through the ranks on the commercial side of things and read reports about such things as insurance products. This fellow has an intimate knowledge on how the competitive process works and certainly a really good handle on how to maximize the economies of scale in their distribution system. Being forced to separate the marketing and service aspects of the insurance line from their multi-line product marketing approach is clearly a problem for them. He expresses the possibility that the bank may cut and run from the P&C market but stay well entrenched in the Life side of things—such as creditor life coverage and health-coverage extensions in their credit card product.

Most of their Life products are sold from their branches and by bank officers because “creditor life” products are exempt from the restrictions against marketing alongside other bank services, and the bank officers who are “selling” these products do not require a license. These exemptions get the bank into an inter-jurisdictional role on regulations. You see, people in a position of influence on the outcome of an insurance sale aren’t allowed to have a Provincial insurance license because the regulations believe that their authority over the individual buying insurance is considered to be prejudicial to the transaction. Bank officers fall into this category and for good reason. If you’ve acquired a mortgage or loan directly through a bank, you’ll come to understand the why of this when the mortgage insurance is offered in the transaction. To avoid purchasing the insurance, a serious discussion ensues with the mortgage officer, and signatures are required on several waivers before proceeding with the mortgage. Further, if the bank insists on the life insurance as a security covenant for the loan, you are at risk of not getting the financing you are requesting. The inference that the bank officer wants you to purchase the bank’s mortgage insurance product and the pressure to purchase this insurance from the bank is, in my view, unfair. Still, it happens every day and perhaps is why this product is so profitable to the banks.

The banks have disrupted our marketplace over the years. CIBC and the Bank of Nova Scotia both “cut and run” from the direct sales of P&C insurance after poor returns. Their impact on the Canadian marketplace could not have been measured as a positive one from the consumer’s point of view, but CSRs may have enjoyed the increase in baseline salaries that came about by this new competitor for market share. Certainly, as a brokerage owner, competing for staff at these higher salaries wasn’t in the budgets initially, and disruption of the industry was clearly evident for us. The banking industry is functionally driven by results. There’s no patience for under-performance, and success is measured by the target of a business plan that is measured every quarter. It always gave me comfort as an ex-banker to know that every three months someone was answering questions at a board meeting about the returns on funds employed in the Property and Casualty business. The excuse that the regulations are hampering the business plans would begin to wear thin very quickly. Competitive pressure mounted at those board meetings as some banks were able to make the program work. If in fact the Royal Bank is considering leaving the marketplace for P&C insurance, we shouldn’t see this move entirely as a win for our industry. Our point should continue to be that the Canadian public continue to be served by a very competitive insurance marketplace where the industry companies compete fairly with each other to the benefit of the consumer. The regulations for fair competition in this industry seem to be working to ensure that in the end the consumer remains the winner. The withdrawal of one competitor for whatever reason will not have any adverse effects on the consumer or provide a windfall for any insurer. With or without the Royal Bank of Canada, the marketplace for the distribution of P&C products remains healthy in Canada!

The only advice I might give to Mr. McKay is to take care the door doesn’t catch him on the backside on his way out!

So What Is a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

I had a commercial client who many years ago developed a service that kept track of rolling stock for municipalities. The service used geographic positioning satellites (GPS) data to track the location of equipment. The technology seems pretty routine these days with all the standard GPS stuff built into cell phones, computers, and almost all new-model automobiles and trucks, but back then it was a new world of information processing. Analyzing the data produced improved many efficiencies and security for the municipal authorities using the service. However, the benefits of this service were not well received by many of the employees who were soon to discover their whereabouts were no longer in any doubt. I remember several grievances were filed against one city by employees who held onto the belief that their privacy was being violated by this kind of scrutiny after several of them had been caught in some compromising lies about their locations. In the end, it was determined that their privacy was not violated since they were using their employee vehicles. Still, the spectre of big brother played out in the media and in the coffee rooms.

security cameraThe debate about privacy continues to take on new dimensions with the development of modern surveillance equipment and the ability of data mining software to analyze the data gathered. Without getting too deep on the technical side of things, most of us should readily perceive that much of what we do these days is digitally recorded by cameras in the community. Walking into a shopping mall creates a digital image of every individual and, with computer software, an operator can track your movements through the mall, the time you entered and left, and even the stores you visited. Do they have the right to do this? No laws prohibit the gathering of information in such a manner. As long as the information is not used to violate your legal right to privacy, your public activities are free for the review of anyone interested in gathering the data. Sounds kind of creepy, doesn’t it?

I was reading an interesting article about parking lot surveillance of automobiles. The idea of a parking lot attendant holding you up as you enter or leave a parking lot is long disappearing. Digital imaging software paired up with camera surveillance systems is now able to record your vehicle license information on entering the lot and match it to you in the exit queue, producing an invoice at the exit gate. Tap your credit card and away you go—a simple and easy process—but what happens to the data being collected to complete this transaction after you are done? Apparently, the vehicle data created by this software system is being pooled and made accessible for a fee to law enforcement and private contractors. The mining of this data is having great positive results in the recovery of stolen vehicles and finding fugitives hiding from the law. The private contractors who are looking for vehicles as security for loans in default and bailiff defaults are able to track the location of the vehicle and its occupant. Often, they are able to find this data before the vehicle leaves the parking lot it entered. A digital record of the vehicle license plate, driver, and the vehicle itself can all be made available for a fee. Apparently, you can run, but you really can’t hide anymore.

I have been polling friends on this topic, and the opinions I have received range from “If you got nothing to hide, then why would you care?” to “No one has any right to follow me around and no business sharing this information about me without my permission!” Watch for that sign at the parking lot entrance that disclaims responsibility for anything and advises you park at your own risk to expand to include a notice and disclaimer about surveillance. You have been warned.

In Closing

I am travelling again and find myself trying to get this project completed in between jaunts to exotic places. It’s always nice to find time to spend with the family or, as it goes now, for them to find time to spend with us! I received a number of notes on the last issue. A nice one was from someone who sends this on to her 80-year-old mother who looks forward to it. I am happy to see my work enjoyed.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.

Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  banks  competition  privacy  retail insurance  video surveillance 

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Risking Utmost Good Faith, Fraudulent Cop on the Payroll, UBI Conference

Posted By Thom Young, March 10, 2015
Updated: March 11, 2015

The Risks of Utmost Good Faith

Uberrimae fidei is the Latin version of the extra requirement for a legal insurance contract between an insurer and an insured. This condition requires that the insured must disclose to the insurer anything adverse or inordinate about the risks to be insured. After a loss, the insurer can challenge in court whether the customer was playing fairly in what was disclosed. This condition differs from that in other legal sales agreements where that old Latin term caveat emptor applies. Once sales agreements are signed, sealed, and delivered, the buyer is assumed to have done due diligence and expected to suffer the consequences of the vendor’s silence on matters undiscovered. When I teach insurance law, I tend to ramble on about this obscure difference in the way insurance contracts are dealt with versus the routine manner in which other contracts are made. The idea of a legal standard of excellence that ensures that both parties to an agreement are dealing with each other fairly is one of those thing that makes our business special!

Everyone talks about price, but few understand the promise of insurance. Both those buying and those selling insurance hold no real high ground here. At the outset, we do our best to run all insurance applicants through the filter to determine that they have a better-than-even chance of not having a loss, while purchasers do their best to limit their information in the hope that they obtain a better price for the coverage. In providing answers only to the questions asked, purchasers expect to get what they paid for, but the reality is they will get what they paid for only if they deal in good faith and disclose everything the insurer needs to understand the risk fully. Explaining this principle to non-insurance people often is confusing and becomes even more so when the information not provided becomes available in the claims-investigation process.

We sell only a promise to pay. To ensure that promise is kept, we must make our clients aware of the consequences of not providing us with all the information. The insurers we represent need to know their part in this promise too because the expectation that they are to deal in good faith is provided in the contract as well. Claims professionals are expected to deal with insureds in a fair and comprehensive manner in order to get them all that they are due under the contract. Perception of unfair treatment is the number one reason for the public’s view of insurers as being incompetent. These criticisms are often due to a misunderstanding of the process which produces unreasonable expectations. As brokers, we are often culpable as we did not properly explain the process at the outset of arranging the policy, but, even when we do it right, opinions differ on what replacement means, and we all know that owners almost always perceive ideal conditions and value. Still, it is not all that uncommon to find a claim in process where the insurer’s claims examiner seems to be dealing unfairly or, if not “unfair,” then with a certain arrogance that isn’t reserved just for the broker who is trying to find information but also imparted directly to the client. When such a situation occurs, what can you do?

Essentially, the only thing you can do is approach the claims examiner on behalf of your client to see if you can negotiate a logical conclusion to the impasse. Often, the claims examiner is unaware of the issues. An offer has been made to settle the claim with the genuine belief that it is fair and reasonable and meets the conditions of coverage. The insured has not relayed objections to the adjuster in fear of further impasse on the areas in which they agree. As the advocate for the insured and the company, a broker has to listen to both sides of an argument carefully and try to find some common ground. Whichever side is being unreasonable needs to hear a logical explanation as to why, and the broker needs to remember that the bearer of bad news is rarely received with enthusiasm. Taking the company’s correct position back to the client is sometimes difficult, but, if it is a correct one, then it is the task you must complete. Taking the insured’s correct position back to the company can be even more difficult, since you risk fracturing the business relationship with the company. Pointing out the error in the ways of a sometimes senior person representing an incorrect position rarely goes well for the broker, but it is your job.

I remember once having a discussion with a very arrogant claims examiner who had taken a ridiculously wrong position on a claim for my client. I was being diplomatic and direct when this person became entrenched in a final position and very arrogantly stated an unwillingness to consider alternatives and that the client didn’t have any options in the matter. I said of course the client had options and I would have to explain them to the client. When the adjuster asked what options, I replied, “They have the legal option to sue you, and would you please provide for my client a proof of loss form immediately so they can.” A period of dead silence on the other end of the phone was quickly followed up with the threat that we wouldn’t be dealing with that company for very much longer if the adjuster had anything to do with it.

Here’s where you realize that you’ve just stepped in something warm and odorous.

I don’t know if I beat the adjuster to the district manager for that company or not, but I do know that I was doing a political two step for several days trying to get the whole story in front of the senior people of the company for a fair and impartial review. Thankfully as well, my partner at the time was as good at getting me out of trouble as I was getting into it. At the end of this story, everybody won. The client won because the company agreed to settle the claim in the correct manner as prescribed by the insurance contract. Our brokerage won because our reputation for standing up for our clients when they were right was made very clear to a company with a real problem in their claims management, and the company won when it dealt with the real problem it had. I think the claims examiner won too as a hard lesson was learned about not writing a cheque that your credibility can’t cash.

Being a broker isn’t easy sometimes, but dealing in the utmost good faith is necessary to meet the terms of an insurance contract and is something all of us should remember and review from time to time!

How Bad Do You Have To Be To Get Fired?

According to the Brampton Guardian, a police officer representing the Region of Peel, Ontario, has been on administrative leave with full salary for almost four years. This fellow was topping up his retirement fund by cooperating with a bunch of crooks who were filing false claims against a number of insurers. To support the claims, he fraudulently completed police accident reports for a nominal $6000 a pop. The fraudulent claims paid totaled just under $1 million. Since first arrested in the spring of 2011, he has been on administrative leave with full pay and benefits, but wait—there’s more! Several weeks ago, this fine fellow was convicted of more than 40 charges of insurance fraud, breach of trust, and obstructing justice. He’s awaiting sentencing, which isn’t scheduled until May 29th. The perversity of this set of circumstances makes one wonder who’s in charge of the asylum?

Under the collective agreement governing police officers in Ontario, this all is perfectly normal. After his sentencing, a hearing will apparently determine if this guy should remain on the force or not. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If I were a resident in Peel, I would not be very happy about my tax dollars continuing to pay for this kind of silliness! Nothing has been said about restitution orders or other remuneration. Our industry will no doubt bring civil charges against the guy for the money owed, but it’s hard to collect from a criminal! This guy legally carries a weapon around with him too.

Some might say that the wheels of justice move in strange ways, but no justice is in play here. It will be interesting to see what the sentencing brings. I’ve marked my calendar to follow up on this case and will report to you in due course!

Telematics and UBI Continue To Make the News

Our association is once again promoting the Insurance Telematics Canada 2015 conference, which will be held in Toronto at the Westin Prince Hotel, April 23rd to 24th 2015. If you are interested in attending, check out the registration and information package.

If you register before March 27th, you can save yourself $100.

I’ve been invited to attend but have other commitments for that time frame.

We’ve seen a lot of discussion on telematics in the industry press lately, much of it coming out of the promotions circulating for this event. I remain very cautious on what benefit, if any, telematics will bring our industry. Certainly, better data mining will provide for better risk selection and categorization, but—and that’s a very large but—overall, the activity will not reduce the costs of insurance for the general pool. In my view, it will simply provide some short-term competitive advantages to those able to make first use of the data being generated. At the end of the day, the dollars in claims paid and administration will be very similar. Some consumers might benefit initially, but that benefit will come at the expense of those who will be losers in the selection process. The end result will be an unsettled marketplace with considerable instability for the consumer that will not see anyone the winner. More so, the disruption may well attract regulatory overview and interference to ensure that the public is not disadvantaged in the selection process.

While others may well disagree, I continue to believe that consumers will experience no real benefit from telematics, and the industry will experience only a limited short-term competitive advantage unless an industry activity reduces claims or reduces administration costs. I have to concede that the use of UBI in regards to the underage marketplace can be demonstrated to reduce claims and change dangerous behaviour, so I have no argument about applying it here. However, other than that, much more discussion is necessary.

In Closing

It wouldn’t be a winter issue without discussing the weather somewhere. Spring is clearly around the corner regardless of how much snow and cold the East receives. I am back on the mainland once again and looking forward to more seasonal weather. I hope you are enjoying it as well.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

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Tags:  auto fraud  telematics  UBI  utmost good faith 

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