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Supplier Loyalty, Airline Customer Service, AIC Stakeholder Meetings

Posted By Thom Young, April 19, 2017

How Happy Are You with the Loyalty of Your Suppliers?

While our suppliers have been competing with us for a long time, the issue has been of considerable concern to all independent brokers. Insurance contracts have not always been easy for brokers to obtain. When I first got into this business, finding a sponsor to back you was almost impossible. The insurers had field men and local managers who operated in a manner that would make King John and the Sherriff of Nottingham proud. The regional managers had nearly absolute control on who they allowed into the business, and the field men enforced their own pride and prejudice in the treatment of the brokers contracted to those companies.

Getting a contract wasn’t a sure thing even after all the leg work of putting together a bang-up business plan and amassing enough capital to get a general insurance brokerage going. Regardless of how good your business plan was, how much capital you had to ensure your start up, or what you promised the company in business volume or profitability, getting a contract was all about whether or not the good old boys running the territory you were trying to establish yourself in liked you. Even buying an existing brokerage was no sure deal if the field man and managers didn’t approve of the sale to you. I know of more than one offer to purchase an existing brokerage that was usurped by an insurer who didn’t like the buyer and directed a different broker to better the offer to the vendor. I can hear people gasping while reading this, but I can assure you that business was done this way when I started in this business in the 1970s.

In this kind of environment, our product suppliers demanded and enforced total loyalty. Taking issue with their people, policies, or procedures could result in severe consequences for you and your business. Companies could impose market restrictions on you through underwriting and special regulations. They could limit your ability to grow, restrict the territory you wished to compete in, and even direct who you could associate with or hire. Being a small broker often wasn’t easy, and sometimes even large brokers found themselves faced with hard decisions in a perceived ultimatum in their business relationship with a company. Rewriting a multi-million dollar book of business is never good for your bottom line. The harder the marketplace, the more difficult these relationships were. Even in a healthy competitive marketplace, it is hard to remain competitive if those you place your business with don’t play fair.

Imagine the morality in the business and social relationships of the TV series Madmen, and you’ll have an idea of how cliquey the general insurance business was just 30 years ago! Even the local chapter of a prominent insurance club wouldn’t allow women to join. The number of women in middle and senior management positions was so small that not even a tiny whimper of complaint would arise back then. No one spoke up against this abomination due to fear of the negative consequences applied equally to both men and women who took issue with the status quo. Their careers depended on their compliance. Such conduct wasn’t limited to just the insurance industry. Ethnicity, social orientation, religion, and other restrictions were even more of an issue in some places. For the most part, our industry has thankfully made great strides in overcoming these travesties, but we were not leading these advances and can still do more to advance our industry and people. Atonement for the past is unnecessary, but we need to ensure we don’t forget it or repeat it.

I started this trip down memory lane looking for the reason why we join associations but got lost on the way in exposing some of our dark history. To get back on track and summarize the musings above, our suppliers fail to take into account our interests when acting in what they see as their best interests. One of us cannot do much to influence them, but all of us together can force change in the manner that those we count on to support us in our businesses deal with us. For the most part, our interests are the same as those of our suppliers, so when we are treated fairly everyone wins. Some people have a different perspective on what’s fair though, and that can make dealing with the people you rely on difficult. Common interests draw us to groups like IBAA and IBAC and ally us with other groups representing consumers and governments. Some common interests ally us with the associations representing our suppliers too, like when we’re arguing against banks competing with us from their branches or restrictive regulation that stifles our ability to serve our customers. The dynamics of these relationships become readily apparent at association meetings as they fill the discussion time in one way or another.

Recently two of our sister associations have taken extreme issue with Aviva and the manner in which its direct marketing arm is competing with the brokers who represent Aviva (Insurance Business). Both IBAO and IBANB have refused to allow Aviva to participate as sponsors in their annual conventions, alleging that Aviva’s new affinity program does not play fair with brokers. Aviva has spent much time attempting to justify this program, but for many, including this writer, a supplier that sells essentially the same product that brokers sell, under the same name and at a price less than what brokers can sell it for, puts brokers at a considerable disadvantage and particularly strains the business relationship. Beyond the issue of fairness, explaining to clients who want to partake in Aviva’s affinity program why they can’t have the services of a broker who has the Aviva shield hanging on the wall in the reception area is difficult, to say the least!

The idea of being contracted to sell a company’s products under all kinds of rules, regulations, and stipulations, only to have that company begin direct advertising of the same product at a lower price to your potential and existing clients is absurd. Imagine how many of us would sign up to represent a company doing business like that. I’m sure the line would not be very long. MacDonald’s has franchise stores and company-owned stores, but the price of the burgers are the same in each location. Not many would be very willing to invest the millions of dollars to obtain that franchise if they weren’t. MacDonald’s guarantees this equivalence in its franchise contract. Perhaps we should be reviewing our contracts for similar assurances.

I wonder if this topic will arise at the IBAA AGM or at the IBAA convention. The convention has a broker Town Hall. The AGM is in April, prior to the convention in May. Make sure you’ve got yourself registered to attend!


IBAA Annual General Meeting 2017

Via Webinar
Wednesday, April 26, Starting at 9:00 a.m
.

Register


It All Boils Down to Customer Service, Doesn’t It?

Way back in the day when I was on the board for a prominent insurer, I had to fly from Calgary to Toronto on short notice because the insurer had made some major decisions that needed to be ratified immediately. My return airline ticket in coach cost $2,700 because of the short booking time. The young lady in the seat next to me was flying return but had booked her flight two weeks earlier at the competitive price of $500. We did not pay a surcharge just to get a seat. Such a charge was unsupportable by the marketing dynamics in place at the time and the likely half a dozen empty seats on most flights. This was the way things worked in those days and you just put up with it.

When I was a kid, my father moved around a lot. We seemed to be always on a plane to somewhere or from somewhere to Winnipeg where my mom’s family lived. I had to wear church clothes whenever we flew, and the accommodations and the service were beyond the norm of anything we were ever used to. Stewardesses and stewards were always in formal attire, and pilots were never without a tie and jacket. They all looked like officers and carried themselves with a deportment that commanded admiration and respect. Customers were treated like royalty. Little things like toys for the young kids and attentive service for the adults were routine and not just reserved for the people in first class. Taking an airplane trip was a special event. Today, not so much, and anyone born beyond 1980 has no idea what I’m talking about.

The new airplane cabins cram as many human beings as possible into them. Even in first class, the seats are smaller and the service less than special. About the only advantage of paying the extra couple hundred dollars is getting on and off the plane with less inconvenience. Flight crews are half the size they used to be. Commonly, only four or five people are charged with the task of getting some form of service to 300 or more passengers. A cart rolls the aisles with a frazzled attendant doling out soft drinks and a bag of seven pretzels or a biscuit that could double as a door stop. If you want an adult beverage or a sandwich, you need a credit card on some airlines but cash on others. Some may not have anything left to sell you if you’re sitting any further back than the wings. Young people look at you as if you’re silly when you tell them that hot meals were included with your plane ticket and the norm was that adult beverages were just as free as the soft drinks were. Go figure. For people like me who find themselves on an airplane about twice a month on average, the advantage to flying is it gets you to where you’re going in the shortest possible time with no extra comfort than a public bus. Strangely enough, you chalk it up as a win if the plane actually leaves on time.

United Airlines has been getting quite a bit of media attention in the past two weeks. In the first fracas, a couple of teenaged girls were denied passage on a flight because they were inappropriately dressed. Initially, the story was spun with the slant that they were just innocuous young girls boarding a flight and were turned away on account of them wearing “leggings.” Social media immediately erupted with cries of a sexism and anger at the thought of it. Later, we found out that these young ladies were travelling on employee passes for free and that, as with all employee airline passes, the user is required to dress in appropriate business attire. While these rules are often applied selectively and young children are usually not held to as high a standard as an adult, the rule was the rule and the kids’ parents were well aware of it. The airline got a pass on this one in March, but not the next in April. In the absolute dumbest display of callous actions in today’s “everyone has a video camera” environment, United called security agents onto a plane to eject a passenger because the company had oversold the flight and he was protesting his removal from the seat he had bought and paid for. The short clip of them beating the hell out of the poor man and dragging him off the plane bleeding about the face and in a semi-conscious state has now been viewed by several million people online and millions more on the news channels. If ever there was an example of poor public relations management, this was it. As a consequence, the stock value of the airline has dropped by half and its already poor reputation for service has been forever ruined.

What were they thinking? The pundits being interviewed on TV are all lamenting the action but stating that the airline was within its rights to do what it did. Sure, the contract legalities of the carrier’s right to refuse passage can be debated in the corporate arena, but no waiver in any North American corporate contract can give anyone the right to physically assault another. We make laws to protect us from physical abuse. As anyone can see in the video, those laws were clearly broken. One thing for certain is that public awareness that the airlines are able to eject a paying customers at their whim is increasing demand upon our lawmakers to protect them from such unfair practices. Much discussion has arisen in the USA about bumping passengers and the compensation necessary to do so. In Canada, we’re talking about banning it altogether with a passenger bill of rights. How customers are treated is the essence of competition. I’d like to make a shameless plug for WestJet who makes it a rule not to double book people and just doesn’t bump passengers for any reason. WestJet is not perfect, but you won’t be asked to leave the plane after you’ve sat down in your seat, which, in my opinion, is how it should be for all airlines.

Alberta Insurance Council Stakeholders meetings Edmonton and Calgary

If you hold an insurance licence and are checking the email you have on file with the AIC, you will have received this notice:

The Alberta Insurance Council would like to invite you to attend our Stakeholder Information Sessions to be held in Edmonton the morning of May 18, 2017 or in Calgary the morning of May 25, 2017.

These sessions will begin at 10:00 AM and will last approximately 2.0 hours. New for this year, a live renewal demo will be included.

Edmonton session:
When: Thursday, May 18, 2017 starting at 10:00 AM
Where: Holiday Inn Conference Centre Edmonton South located at 4485 Gateway Blvd.

Calgary session:
When: Thursday, May 25, 2017 starting at 10:00 AM
Where: Hotel Blackfoot located at 5940 Blackfoot Trail SE

For further information or to register for either of these events please visit this link.

Please RSVP no later than May 11, 2017 to indicate if you will be attending and which session you would like to attend.

Follow us on TWITTER @AbCouncil for ongoing updates at https://twitter.com/AbCouncil.
Alberta Insurance Council


I hear many complaints about the AIC, but I often find on investigating them that most of those complaining the loudest are not at all familiar with the AIC, its role, its purpose, and its function. Besides the responsibility for market conduct of all licence holders, AIC is responsible for the structure and the standards of the licence examinations, as well as for awarding certificates for the class and types of business. I also hear arguments about the AIC rules and the definitions of what they mean. This is the place to air your concerns, get your explanations, and demand change for things that aren’t right, so register and go if you can. You get the bonus of receiving CE credits as well. Be prepared to listen to people complain about Life Insurance and Accident and Sickness issues too as all licence holders are represented in this process. Still, if you have concerns about the way our industry is regulated and licensed, here’s the forum where you can make those concerns known. I know I have some concerns about many things, the CE-credit process for one and the Level 3 licensing boondoggle in Alberta for another. When I ask about these things in my role on the Council, it would be nice to have the support of the many people who share my views (many of which have been expressed in this forum) to reinforce the industry’s concerns!

These meetings are public, and I don’t believe you need a licence to attend them. At past meetings, industry representatives have attended and lobbied for changes to allow the sale of their products and challenge regulations, so if you’re not licensed but concerned about our industry feel free to attend.


In Closing

The days are getting longer and warmer and those of us who like to play outside when it’s not cold and white are getting outdoors once again. Biking and hiking, family outings to parks, and other outdoor attractions are increasing as we approach our ever-brief summer. Remember to drive carefully through those school and playground zones. Be aware of people out and about, and watch for the little and big people playing with their toys. Spring is my favourite time of the year, with new life springing up all around us and new opportunities to reset your goals and make new objectives for your life! I’m looking forward to convention in May (all the tech-savvy, fun, and informative stuff) and hope to see many of you there.

 

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  Alberta Insurance Council Stakeholder Meetings  customer service  insurance company  supplier loyalty 

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Bank Marketing, AIC Disciplinary Website, Consumer Protection in Travel Insurance

Posted By Thom Young, March 28, 2017

The Banks Are Coming, the Banks Are Coming—They Never Went Away

Recent media reports (e.g., Insurance Business) have revealed that once again the marketing departments of our federal banks are flouting the rules for insurance sales. The problem seems cyclical. About every four or five years for as long as I can remember, the marketing managers unfamiliar with regulations governing their industry (maybe they’re a new crop of managers) begin their never-ending search for success by generating new revenue streams for their employers. (Maybe they review the revenue ledgers for the profit centre they are responsible for and wonder why there’s so little in the ones for insurance.)

Bank officers seem to receive little in the way of training on the regulatory responsibilities limiting their operations. While they may understand that banks cannot sell insurance from their branches, they don’t seem to understand that promoting the products of a subsidiary that sells insurance from their branches is the same as selling the insurance itself. In my own personal dealings with banks and lenders, I’ve often seen the offer of financing come with recommendations for life insurance and General insurance sourced by bank officers. When I do, I immediately notify the regulators, but most non-industry-related borrowers would not have any idea that they were being unduly influenced and directed by the inclusion of an insurance agent’s business card or even a quote for coverage when they are in the process of arranging financing.

Unlike the credit unions which are for the most part provincially regulated on marketing rules, the chartered banks are governed by the federal Bank Act. The Act provides a number of regulations that limit the ability of banks to use their market dominance and biased influence to compete unfairly in our business. The good lobbying efforts of our industry associations have been able to continue this limitation on the banks’ entry in our insurance market. Still, the banks seem to need to be reminded on regular intervals that they’re welcome to compete with us in selling insurance so long as they play the game the same way we do. Under Alberta insurance regulations, employees of a lending institution and many other professions cannot hold an agent’s licence if what they do can be used unfairly to influence the buying public into purchasing policies from them. Bankers are also restricted from holding an insurance licence by the Bank Act, which limits them on this point for the same reasons.

Those of us required to hold a licence to sell insurance are personally responsible for upholding the rules. The regulations require us to understand the rules, and our very jobs hinge on our compliance. The individuals involved in the banking business have no licences to enforce their compliance. Their employers are bound by the regulations but are rarely sanctioned for their employees’ violation of them. When they are caught in activities outside of the rules, their regulator most often sends them a letter to deal with the infraction and orders them to cease from further activity that is outside of the rules. When the federal Minister of Finance gives them formal notice, they usually comply, but sometimes they push back.

The banks pushed back a few of years ago when they were developing websites with hyperlinks to their insurance divisions. Their web pages advertising insurance products were indistinguishable from their banking pages. When consumer groups and our national association brought this conflation of the bank and the insurer to the attention of the Minister of Finance, the minister issued a notice that in his view they were violating the provisions in the Bank Act that prohibit the sale of insurance in their branches. Initially the Canadian Bankers Association began lobbying against this interpretation and attempted to justify the activity. The appeal didn’t go so well. The minister sent them a letter clarifying why they were wrong. Arguing a point of interpretation with the people who make the regulations rarely wins. Sometimes new regulations may be introduced that clarify what the government meant. Sometimes these new rules may seem punitive to the industry being regulated. Our industry can attest to such futile struggle in several examples over the years, not the least of which is the ongoing structure of the Alberta auto reforms introduced by the Government in Alberta over a decade ago.

The federal financial watchdog has now formally given the banks notice that they are under investigation for their marketing methods. The findings will no doubt show that the banks continue to press against the marketing service limits set out in several fair market regulations, not just the insurance ones. Telemarketing ignoring the Do Not Call List and violations of tied-selling rules for bank products seem to abound. These issues should not recur cyclically. Perhaps a couple of multi-million dollar fines might get the attention of the banks’ own in-house compliance people. Who knows if even that would have any effect. When you make billions of dollars, a million dollar fine would just be chump change, wouldn’t it?

The ongoing arguments about who can and how they can sell insurance products in Canada will continue. The banks invest millions of dollars in government advocacy and have whole departments in their organizations that develop strategy to get around rules and regulations that they see limiting their right to dominate any field in which they choose to compete. As with the stock brokerage investment business and before that the Trust business, they’ve been able to take over an entire industry and market sector completely with hardly any public notice. While some of our colleagues will argue the old laissez-faire point of view against regulations that limit or restrict access to markets, history repeatedly demonstrates that, without rules to ensure fair play, the marketplace does not play fair. This principle applies as much to those already in our business as it does to those who wish to expand their operations into it. Both the new entrants and the current players have to be watched closely as time and again insurers and large brokers try to dominate the market to the point that they can bypass competitive reality. Allowing anyone to do so is not going to benefit the consumer, the independent broker, or ultimately anyone. Market dominance destroys healthy competition by stifling the adaptation of price, service, and product to a competitive end. Without regulations to ensure fair play and proper enforcement of them, any marketplace won’t remain healthy or beneficial for long.

Transparency Is Important

The very public nature of our disciplinary matters has now become readily apparent in the Alberta Insurance Council’s new website. The public can now view the decisions of the disciplinary committees for the General Insurance Council, the Life Insurance Council, and the Adjusters Insurance Council, as well as the work of the appeal boards for each, at http://decisions.abcouncil.ab.ca/abic/en/nav.do.

As someone who has been involved in every one of the General Insurance Council decisions for the past four years, I like that the work being done is easily available for review. I think the very public and transparent record of these disciplinary matters will both encourage all licence holders to follow the rules properly and make the industry and public aware of the work being done to ensure that we serve the public properly!

If you are a DR for an insurance brokerage firm, I would encourage you to subscribe to this site for updates on who’s being disciplined for what. If your shop is large enough to have an HR person, I’d make certain that that person is subscribed too. You can subscribe to an RSS feed for email notifications of all new listings on the site at http://decisions.abcouncil.ab.ca/abic/en/l.do.

Speaking about the Regulations—Better Consumer Protection Is Needed

Ultimately, government regulations are enacted only to benefit the public. Whether the regulations are about the way insurance coverage is interpreted and adjudicated for losses or about keeping the market for these products competitive for the consumer, they’re all about the customer. The main lobbying point from the various associations representing all the participants in our industry is that making rules that benefit their operations will provide a better outcome for the public.

One issue that seems to cause recurring problems is distance from a licensed insurance agent. The further the insurance sale gets from the sales intermediary who is licensed and required by the regulations to have a standard of knowledge and professional conduct, the worse the outcome seems to be for the customer. The problem arises with many different kinds of insurance products. Take creditor life and disability insurance for example or equipment warranty coverage offered by equipment dealers. Travel insurance is another example. A report produced by insurance regulators has determined that a good number of travel insurance companies in Canada are not treating their customers fairly. Have any of you had the displeasure of reviewing one of these wordings for your clients after the adjuster tells them they’re not covered? In my experience with several situations, reviewing the wordings is complicated and discussing the coverage with the insurers confusing even for an insurance professional. The insured often times gives little thought to what the coverage is until such time as when a claim arises.

bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgottenThe consumer’s assumption of comprehensive coverage seems to prevail as the seller puts little emphasis on pointing out the limitations of coverage and the seller’s knowledge of the product rarely amounts to little more than understanding where the insured is to sign on the application. Such deficiencies might be acceptable when the product is an extended warranty on a $135 ink jet printer but clearly not when a travel insurer may be adjudicating a US$50,000 hospital bill claim. This client might not have travelled to where the medical condition occurred had this client been aware that a claim arising from a condition that is already being treated may not be covered. Alternatively, this client might have been offered a product with a higher premium that was commensurate with the risk exposure for this client’s situation.

The real issue with travel insurance from an insurance perspective is that it is “post claim” underwritten. Few questions are asked in the application stage. The insurer thoroughly reviews the risk and makes a qualifying assessment only when a claim is made. Only then is the question asked, “Would we have insured this person for this risk?” If the answer is “no,” the applicants are left on their own to deal with the loss and not even given the basic assistance of adjudication by an insurer that often reduces the cost of a claim in the U.S. by more than half of the uninsured billings. Other than a few absolutes that limit or void coverage such as age and pronounced medical conditions, little in the process of obtaining travel insurance provides the applicants with the knowledge necessary to comprehend whether the policy actually provides the protection they expect it does. Involving an agent with an Accident and Sickness licence in the process provides a good chance that the client understands what a preexisting condition may be and how it is defined. Unfortunately, these contracts are more frequently arranged by travel agents or even completed online by the individual applicant dealing directly with the insurer than they are being completed with the assistance of an insurance professional. I recall reviewing a declined claim for an 83-year-old lady who bought a policy for a trip to Florida only to find that after a medical event leaving her with a $15,000 bill that the company she bought the coverage from didn’t insure anyone over the age of 65. She was even more confused because she had been buying the coverage from the same people for 15 years.

Travel insurance is a lucrative business. Analysis of the returns on this product for the insurers show it to be a real money maker. More checks and balances seem needed in the process to protect the consumer better. Does anyone have different thoughts or some suggestions as to how to address this problem? Please send me a note!

In Conclusion

I was out last week for my first Canadian ride on a motorcycle this year. The roads are covered in sand and gravel, wet, and in shady spots even icy. With nearly 60 years of riding experience, I’m well aware of the technical issues of road conditions and am able to navigate these hazards without too much difficulty. The road conditions are a given, but the main hazard for bikers old and new are the people driving the four wheelers. Particularly in spring, they’re not used to motorcycles on the road and often enter the roadways or change lanes without consideration of the people on motorcycles. Our bikes are small, hard to see, and quicker than many expect them to be. It’s hard to judge how fast we’re coming at you when you’re making a left turn, and we fit too well into the blind spot beside your car. While we do our best defensively to avoid getting in your way, if you are not watching for us we can’t always be quick enough to avoid you. The first statement given by the driver of a car when explaining an accident with a motorcyclist is always “I didn’t see him.” The truth more properly told is that the driver wasn’t looking. As our spring continues to unfold into our brief summer, please give us a thought while driving, and take a little extra care looking for us! We’re not all wheelie popping head bangers on crotch rockets ripping up the roads. Some of us are quite harmless old papas just out enjoying a leisurely ride on a sunny spring day. My grandchildren will thank you if you watch out for me in your travels.

Are you getting ready for Convention? I’m excited this year and will be presenting an interesting topic for discussion at the Broker Town Hall. If you haven’t got yourself booked in yet, get yourself on the IBAA website and do it now!

Keep those ideas for discussion coming. My private email address is thom.young@landy.ca and you can get me on twitter @Thomcat04. Some of you have found me on LinkedIn and Facebook too.

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  Bank Act  banks marketing insurance  disciplinary website  insurance licence  motorcycle  travel insurance 

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Licenses, Equivalencies, and Exams

Posted By Thom Young, December 16, 2015

Licenses, Equivalencies, and Exams

As a member of the General Insurance Council, I’ve spent a lot of time recently with issues surrounding this topic. I’ve been sitting on sub-committees for issues related to marking equivalencies for license levels 1, 2 and 3. Decisions have been made and sent to the Superintendent’s Office to prepare amendments to the regulations. Amendments to the regulatory standards are not easy to achieve. The many dynamics in the process include political review and oversight. Each step of the process is painfully slow.

You might wonder why this matter wasn’t addressed with the license regulation revisions that put into play new rules for each of these license levels. Well, I can only note that I wasn’t on the council when this occurred. It’s as much a mystery to me as it is to you. I’ve been arguing within the industry and with the regulator for about 15 years on the need for regulatory recognition of educational achievements in industry and academic courses. If people invest their time and effort to achieve professional recognition in a standard that far exceeds (my opinion here) the bar set by the regulator, they shouldn’t need to prove that knowledge to the regulator as long as the industry approves of the standard and, particularly, if the industry operates a recognized professional educational program designed to set the students above the norm. I’ve always lobbied for Alberta to be a leader in these areas but, ironically, the initiative did not arise in Alberta until these courses got the regulatory nod in other jurisdictions. Did I mention that this process is painfully slow and tempered by competing interests and different points of view? The General Insurance Council has agreed to equivalencies for Licensing Levels 1, 2, and 3 in CAIB and CIP courses. Now we await the regulation adjustments that will provide options for the AIC exams and the industry course exams. When you get your memo on this issue from the AIC, I would encourage you to talk to your association representatives on any matters that concern you and ask them to carry your concerns forward to the regulator. As with all group efforts, much of what has been achieved is a compromise of perspective, and that’s sure to annoy as many people as it pleases.

The AIC exam issue continues to confuse and evolve to new standards. A committee of academics and GIC members has reviewed the curriculum from which the exams are prepared and, in consultation with industry stakeholders and educators, agreement has been reached on the Level 1 curriculum. Educators will now be able to prepare a course of study to help students pass the exam. The curriculum design document for Level 1 License exams can now be viewed on the AIC website. This document contains the topics for study and the weight of the questions by category. The bugaboo about “soft-skill” questions has been addressed by removing all of these types of questions. (As the pass on these questions was better than that in most other sections, we hope that this change doesn’t cause a drop in pass rates.) The major emphasis in the exam is on insurance technical knowledge—where many believe it should be. If we devote the majority of teaching/studying time to this subject, pass rates should greatly improve. Technical knowledge was a struggle even before the changes to the exams and will continue to be for the Level 1 and 2 exams after the coming changes. Please look for the AIC information releases on its website and in the mailings being distributed. The details here are not an official update on these matters, but simply general terms from my own perspective.

The Licensing Level 3 examination is currently under review. Along with the many schools of thought on the form and content of the examination, some even question the need to pass an exam to qualify for a Level 3 License. At the present time, to become a Level 3 broker you are required to hold a Level 2 License for a two- year period. At Level 2, the highest technical components of knowledge are tested, and the technical duties and authorities of the Level 2 License holder, as well as the representations of insurance matters to the public, have no limit other than the regulatory requirement to work under the supervision of a Level 3 License holder. The Level 2 agent is required to understand the regulatory and licensing issues completely. The required knowledge is not exceeded by a Level 3 agent. The single difference is the Level 3’s duty to endorse the applications personally within an agency or brokerage for License 1 and 2 employees. Understanding insurance-based ethical and professional responsibilities of a broker are fully required of a Level 1 License holder and tested. The test of this component is no different for any license level, so why are we retesting it? That leaves a Level 3 agent with administrative issues that may well be necessary to manage any business properly, but should the regulator be testing business knowledge or acumen before granting a permit to start a business? Is that the role of the insurance regulator? Does doing so provide any additional protection to the buying public?

No bar is set for any other business or profession that limits entry to the competitive practice of the profession. I cannot reconcile with the history of business the requirement that those with the capital needed to start a business, the confidence of their suppliers to endorse and sponsor their application for a Level 3 License, and the technical knowledge of the craft needs to be tested to obtain the right to compete. So far as I can recall, not a single example of disservice to the public under any provision of the Insurance Act has been linked to a person’s inability to run a business properly. Nor can anything be properly tested that will provide further assurances to the public that people starting any kind of business will be successful in this regard.

The problem with setting a bar to entry in any business is it limits the free flow of capital that drives new initiatives and adds an additional bureaucratic step that complicates the process of succession. There’s much more to discuss and debate on this topic, but I'm going to stop here. Let me know if you’ve any thoughts. I’d be happy to represent them for you in my role on the General Insurance Council.

Wrapping up this topic, I should note that the new Level 1 exams will be coming into play early in the new year. With the clearer and more concise curriculum design outline, success in training new entrants into our business should improve substantially. The implementation timing for Levels 2 and 3 is being driven by a sense of urgency, but the wheels of progress turn slowly when trying to appease so many perspectives. Deadlines were pushed back once because, at the 11th hour in the Level 1 review, a letter from an industry association was received that resulted in the entire process being revisited. I can’t deny that the review produced a better outcome, but I can observe that it could have been delivered in a more timely fashion. The process continues!

Here Comes Santa … and All That Stuff

Another year is just about over, and all the little ones are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning hoping they get the gifts they have asked for. For some, this is the most wonderful time of the year. For others in need, not so much. Imagine that the premise of the whole celebration is to share with each other the treasures we have. These treasures are not distributed equally though. We have the power to make a difference in the world. A dollar to the food bank, a hamper in the food-bank box at the grocery store, $20 dropped for the Sally Ann. Wish someone a Merry Christmas. Sing a Christmas carol with a little one. Never underestimate the power of caring—the single most important act you can do to both improve your life and someone else’s. It’s contagious, so pass it on.

I hope these holidays find you surrounded by friends and family within ear of young children playing and laughing and that you have to suffer through a meal’s blessing given by an old person glad to have the floor for the occasion of it. May these things give you joy and make you happy for the good things in your life. In my life, I count each of these moments as special and hope to encourage others to find the enjoyment as I do.

For those who don’t share the Christmas tradition, all the fuss we make of it must be interesting to you. I hope you find the joy in our message that is also to you: Peace on earth and good will to all!

See you all next 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:  Alberta Insurance Council  CAIB  CIP  General Insurance Council  licensing courses and exams  Licensing Level 1  Licensing Level 2  Licensing Level 3 

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Flood Coverage Confusion, Demise of the Broker, Driverless Cars, AIC Online License Application

Posted By Thom Young, October 7, 2015
Well, the frost is certainly on the pumpkin in Southern Alberta. As a rather large flock of Canada geese heading directly south flew right over my place, the last one looked back at me as if to ask “What are you waiting for?”  Our fall departure for the southern climes has been delayed since our usual date coincides with the birthday of our middle grandchild. We’re not allowed to be away until after that. Besides, I’ve still got much to get done here this fall, so my Canadian perspective on things remains pure at the moment.

Flood Coverage Confusion

In addition to the usual number of interesting things to talk about at the couple of industry gatherings I’ve attended in the past few weeks, “flood” coverage and its limitations seems to have generated quite a bit of confusion. Many people are concerned about the new limitations on sewer backup endorsements that insurance companies are slipping into customer renewals. The implications for E&O exposure on the broker side are staggering. Clients may think they have coverage but don’t if the proximate cause is “overland water.” If a nearby creek over flowed its banks 72 hours before or after the sewer backup, then the proximate cause is “overland water.” In the past, many of us wondered why sewer backup would respond when the proximate cause was flood, an uninsured peril. Questions of this nature used to be answered with a blank stare, but now an actual wording limits the cover. Do clients still have good coverage? Try explaining the coverage and all the limits and exclusions when, as a broker, you’re not sure about the benefits yourself. The real kick on this will come with the next major flood event, which could be next year or not for five. The interpretation and, more importantly, limitations and exclusions of these coverages will not be firmly established until we meet up with a catastrophic loss. I worry about my customers and the way these changes impact my responsibilities to them.

Advice on the “overland water” coverage provided by various companies is even more difficult. The only wording I’ve been able to secure is the one from Aviva. I’m told that The Co-operators has one on the market and that Wawanesa and Intact are soon to enter into the competitive fray, but I’ve no idea how one product compares with another. Explaining the differences must be very confusing for a personal-lines CSR. A jaded person might suggest that the new coverage isn’t sufficient enough to move forward with a competitive response in any great urgency. We are back to the original conundrum with flood coverage. The coverage needs to provide adequate distribution of risk and sufficient premium to deal with claims. These are interesting times for insurance brokers and even more confusing for the buying public. Oh well, who needs brokers? I’m sure an internet link will eventually provide all the correct answers.

The Demise of the Broker

Once again the industry press is predicting that insurance sales intermediaries (the fancy legal term for sales people) are on the road to redundancy. According to those who claim that you can find online information to purchase just about anything without any assistance, sales people are irrelevant, an unnecessary distraction, and perhaps an annoyance. Online information sites are becoming better, they claim, and giving intelligent choices with proper information prompts to allow the consumer to purchase increasingly complicated things without the need for a company representative. These statements are all true but, and it’s a big BUT, one of the most important parts of arranging a contract that promises to do something in the future is the meeting of minds when the deal is struck. When only one mind is in play, the value of the contract is uncertain because of potential misinterpretations. The legality of the contract may be suspect as well.

Look, I’m not one of those anti-tech people. I’m all for using any available distribution method to get our products and services out to the public, but at the end of the process a real person must negotiate the interests of all parties to the transaction to ensure that their real needs are met and the legal process of the contract is respected. I support the notion that the value added of a properly trained insurance adviser will continue to be an important part of the distribution process for all insurance products. Any suppliers (insurance companies) that fail to understand the support they get from such an individual risks their business success. All of the technical simplifiers, online applications and quotes, information algorithms, coverage prompts, and flashy digital pictures used by the insurance companies serve only to drive to the finished transaction between two people, the insured and the broker/agent. The manner of this meeting could be changed by technology, but the importance of it and the value to all parties won’t be.

Speaking of Human Redundancy, What about Driverless Cars?

As the technology continues to advance in this field, we are very close to the tipping point where these vehicles become a reality in the norm. No longer just a strange thing, they will be reliable and cheap enough to become a common sight in many jurisdictions. Getting to this stage won’t be easy. Many hurdles will need to be jumped before the legislation becomes uniform enough to operate these vehicles in different jurisdictions. Further, the reliability of these vehicles in operation will need much demonstration, documentation, and proof. Who is going to insure these vehicles? Who is the insured? Current legislation in Alberta would likely see the vehicle insured in the facility market. The insured would be the owner of the vehicle as per the statute wording of the SPF 1, which defines who is insured. The owner would include the driver whether that be a computer with AI capability or your brother-in-law who borrowed the vehicle while visiting town. The driver will need to be more properly defined, but such definition is not an insurmountable obstacle as the usual operator (normally the owner) would be produced for the application record. In my view, the functional manner in which that person operates the vehicle or delegates its operation would be irrelevant (I repeat, in my view—legal disclaimers abound—this is my opinion). Definition of the driver may have some grey areas that may challenge the regulators, but let’s hope they’re looking at it now and have some kind of contingency in place to deal with it when it happens. Our Alberta regulatory response to changes in our business has tended to follow the leaders instead of making good changes for our market by being the leaders (again, IMHO)!

If anyone thinks we’re talking about something way off future, think again. On last report, 48 vehicles are being operated in a California Google study. These vehicles operate in a highly dense urban environment and function extremely well all on their own, with no human intervention in the completion of their assignments. Yes, some minor accidents have involved these vehicles, but none of them can be defined as at fault—so long as you don’t use the other drivers’ distraction at a driverless vehicle as an excuse. The tests incurred some minor injuries in accidents but, again, they were due to the manual operation of the vehicle by technicians. No reports have been made of any traffic violations in the operation of these vehicles. While only four states have made provisions for autonomous vehicle operation, their use will doubtless soon be expanded to new jurisdictions in short order.

The concept of a self-driving automobile lets the mind wander into some interesting possibilities. For example, in a Top Broker editorial, Jeff Pearce discusses flying cars.

Certainly, driverless cars have a huge number of benefits. All of the advantages of having a chauffeur come to mind.

That $26 a day you pay in parking won’t be much of an issue. Just send your vehicle away to wait for you to tell it to come pick you up. Where you send it might be an issue, but I’m sure you could program around that hitch.

Auto theft would become an issue of the past. Imagine trying to steal a car that’s driving you to the police station, emitting an alarm, and has already sent the police a picture it has taken of the crook trying to steal it. Following that logic, your vehicle can become part of your home security system, keeping an eye on things around the house and reporting suspicious activity to you.

What about the kids needing to get to the rink or to dance? No more juggling schedules or negotiating with other parents to get them there and back—just send the car (or the other parent’s car).

Studies claim that the average person who lives and works in a high density urban environment spends as much as four months of their adult life looking for a parking place. Imagine how many more clients you could see if your car just dropped you off and came back to get you when you were done. Your productivity would increase substantially.

The technology has huge implications for the insurance industry, most of them very positive. Loss ratios on automobile insurance are composed substantially by administration and adjudication costs. Imagine the elimination of arguments regarding fault by the ability to review 360° digital recordings of the accident scene prior to the accident, during the accident, and after the accident? Much less discussion will be needed to determine who did what and who should have done what. The mind boggles. In some insurance markets, recording technology is already making a difference with the mandatory use of GoPro technology in commercial automobiles. We’re moving that way here too as the price of this technology declines. The price won’t be an issue when it comes built into your next automobile.

The mind can wander into the future. We can embrace new technology and work with it, or not. Based on my own musings here, the positives far outweigh the drawbacks. We certainly won’t be talking about distracted driving anymore, and underage drivers will be in a different class than they are now. The future is ours!

New Technical Frontiers

Speaking on the issue of technology advancement ….

As one of your representatives on the General Insurance Council, I’ve been working to resolve an amendment to the cumbersome regulations surrounding the DR’s role in recommending an individual for a license. As it now stands, only the DR is able to sign the application to sponsor an individual for a license. The DR is not able to delegate this authority to any other individual in the office. While this duty likely isn’t much of a burden for those operating a smaller shop with only one office and a few employees, the larger the brokerage, the more cumbersome this requirement becomes. New hires in branch offices are often stuck in an unproductive limbo waiting for the paperwork to get completed to give them the proper authority to act as an agent. If the DR is away on holidays or sick leave, further unnecessary delays can occur. In the logical flow of things, particularly in a multiple-office brokerage, the branch or office managers are responsible for the all functions of their location. They recruit, hire, and train new staff and are entrusted with all the duties of a self-directed senior manager except the submission to the regulator to transfer or change the license of one their employees. The DR in head office needs to sign the paperwork physically. I’ve maintained for years that this requirement is inefficient, impractical, and unnecessary. I know many other DRs share my perspective.

Recently, the AIC sent out an email advising of new online provisions for Levels 1, 2, and Probationary New License Applications. If you have not done so already, I strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with the contents. Transfers and Level 3 General applications are still being handled in the old manner, but I’m told these procedures will also be updated. DRs can now delegate supervision of these online application preparations. DRs still need to endorse the submission to the AIC, but, now that it’s online, DRs can review and digitally endorse the transaction from wherever they are. This provision should provide greater efficiency and speed up the process.

I wonder what the take up is and will be on this processing ability and if it will in fact reduce the amount of paperwork. I will be asking questions about the new process at the upcoming GIC meeting and encourage your feedback on this topic. While I’m supportive of these changes, I still feel the process can be adjusted to provide for the complete delegation of the DR’s authority within larger organizations. I can’t seem to get the point across that the delegation of authority doesn’t negate the responsibility. Please let me know what you think.

In Closing

It’s hard to remain focused and unbiased given the political climate at the moment. It’s hard to be complacent with so many issues before us and so many different points of view! Still, as I voice my opinions in this column, I want simply to remind everyone to exercise the right to express your opinion at the ballot box. I cannot stress enough that this ability is your ultimate right to self-determination. Your vote can help change the things that are bad in the world and make a difference for everything that needs to be supported. This right has been fought for through many generations. The equality demonstrated by the line ups at the voting booths is one not shared by many other people in our world. Tyrants and brutal cultural influences that mute the voices of the people don’t belong in a modern society. Many young people in our new technological society don’t see the need to use this franchise or don’t believe their actions make any difference. They see the “trending” perspective instantly on issues and can’t understand how slow the process of a functioning democracy is to change. That slow process becomes even slower when people don’t vote. Politicians won’t think about to your concerns if they know that listening to your problems won’t get them a vote. Make a difference and get involved. Get out and vote. If you don’t care enough to get out and vote, you can’t later complain about what the government is doing!

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  Aviva overland flood policy  broker channel  competition  customer service  DR authority  driverless cars  Google  GoPro  Intact  online insurance  overland flood insurance  sewer backup insurance  The Co-operators  Wawanesa 

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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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