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Local & Global Economic Forecasts, Demise of Commissions, Taxi vs. Ride Sharing

Posted By Thom Young, February 14, 2017

Happy Ground Hog Day—Global and Local Forecasts

Since the fat, privileged rodent named Punxsutawney Phil apparently found the day too nice to run back into his burrow, this scientific process of long-term weather prediction has determined that winter will not soon be over and spring 2017 will not arrive earlier than normal. One wonders if good old Phil has some scientific equipment down in the ground that is giving him some confidence that the earth is in fact warming at an ever increasing pace. Hard to say, but it’s a safe bet he’s not watching Fox News!

Regardless of the bulletins from Gobblers Knob Pennsylvania, the real scientific reports clearly show that the past two years have been the warmest since we’ve been keeping records. Sceptics keep challenging the conclusions: the data is limited and inconclusive, the time frame of the measurements is limited, other variables are at play, etc., etc. Even considering these concerns, the information those of us in the risk management business have to analyze gives us a basis for concern. Regardless of statistical variances and the inconclusive outcome of an analysis, the probable outcome is significant enough to demand that we develop a plan to mitigate the risks.

Actuaries around the globe are already using predictive loss formulas for rate adjustments responding to the variables in losses predicted by models allowing for global warming. Reserves are being established to provide for severe weather losses. Reinsurance treaties are being negotiated for catastrophic losses using rate allowances for increased incidents of hurricanes, tidal surge, and changing weather patterns that produce more frequent and more severe weather systems. Loss ratios that are better than predicted continue to generate significant ROE for the insurers as a whole, which continues to keep the marketplace very competitive for most classes of business. In a strange way, even with the upward actuarial adjustments for increased loss, the expanding insurance marketplace is producing competitive benefits for consumers. I believe we will continue to see this market producing a positive outcome until a very severe catastrophic loss occurs.

Fairly accurate predictions about the performance of the insurance industry are not that difficult to make using the information we have from historical results and predictive modeling. The math is not that difficult and recorded variances can be explained. However, one uncertain variable needs to be identified and qualified in any discussion about economic performance, that being the economic performance of other industries and sectors. Globalized trade is as important to the economic returns in our industry as in any other.

Our world has become so interdependent on the delivery of goods and services that no economic unit can survive on its own. Reinsurance arrangements today transfer risk for losses all around the globe. For example, the Fort McMurray catastrophe had a global effect. Homeowners not only in Canada but also in cities on every continent are seeing a portion of their homeowners premium set aside to cover the insured losses in Fort McMurray and a little extra for the possibility of another Canadian community going up in flames. Likewise, when Australian brush fires destroy a community, the Santa Ana winds blow wildfires through the suburbs of Los Angeles, or even the French Riviera sees communities in flames, we all become part of the risk transference. Through the risk transference and sharing facilities of reinsurance, even a homeowner in Red Deer contributes premiums into the pool that funds the payment of those global claims.

I was recently at a seminar discussing the evolution of business models and how they are affected by disrupters. This term seems to be the new buzz word for those people and situations that force situations to change and adapt, often for better outcomes. Corporate emphasis has for a long time been focused on finding team players and implementing systems that support the status quo, but research seems to show that the evolution of successful strategies often comes from those who “think outside of the box” or “challenge the norms.” While many successful business people have long known this strategy to be productive, the concept is making the rounds as a new business model. Certainly, the discussion above regarding predictions of a continuing stable market for the insurance business is focused exclusively from the perspective of the “norms” challenging our business. Continuing and new situations such as the effects of climate change are being dealt with in the normal way. The best laid plans can always be disrupted by irrational and unexpected factors. Such disruption must be considered in light of the current economic and political events unfolding in our world today.

Outside of the capital in play in our business to meet the reserve requirements set out by the insurance regulators, this money isn’t always in play as cash waiting pay claims. Funds for all kinds of developments and investments are sourced from the funds managed by insurers until such times as they are needed to pay claims. These are managed in a balance of liquidity and security to generate much of the “investment income” that supplements the results of the underwriting profit or loss when determining income for our insurers. Disruption in our economy can have devastating effects on the insurance industry. As we saw most recently in 2008 and other times in recent history, the decline in the value of investments as a result of the failure of capital markets can very quickly see insurers trying to line up their business written with the capital values they are holding in reserves. This shedding of market share is the primary cause of a hard market. Hard markets and soft markets are never a good thing for our business. Every investment manager hopes for stable markets moving in predictable directions, either up or down.

Turning to the 800 pound orange gorilla in the room for a moment, the calamity that may come about by the disruption of international trade agreements and the removal of regulatory oversight of the finance business is what’s keeping the financial managers that I know up at night. The threat of 20% or 30% tariffs imposed on trade networks that have evolved to remain competitive in the new global supply chains and markets should concern everyone. This kind of disruption will not be good for anyone, particularly the USA, and failure of the American economy would be devastating to all of us. At the same time, the exit of Great Britain from the European market without bilateral adjustments with the whole of the EU will no doubt tip international trade on its side as well. The times are changing and my fingers are crossed that the reality of fair balanced cooperation for the good of us all will eventually be the reality we get in the end. So far the consequences of irrational disruption seem lost upon the man who thinks he’s running things down south. The wakeup call will no doubt be loud and confusing when it comes.

The Demise of Commissions?

Want to work as a true broker? No set commissions? Our associates in the life insurance business are facing a new challenge in regards to the way in which we are remunerated. A number of people hold the belief that agents should be allowed to charge a fee for service for their work with no set compensation percentage on the value of the amounts the client invests (see “The Higher-Cost, Higher-Service Future of Investing Advice"). The threat to ban commissions is real. On January 10th, 2017, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) published CSA Consultation Paper 81-408 – Consultation on the Option of Discontinuing Embedded Commissions (Consultation Paper) suggesting the need to transition to a direct pay arrangement, where the investor directly pays the dealer’s compensation. Such an arrangement certainly would resolve the disclosure issues that always seem to arise, but would it make any difference in the long run? How would this work in the General insurance industry? This discussion has come up many times over the years about the insurers quoting their product on a net basis and leaving the broker to add commission to the bill. General insurers often start talking about this when a hardening market puts price pressure on holding market share. The thought is that, if the insurers have to forego revenue to remain competitive, the broker should too. I’ve never really seen the sense in that argument, but then I’m a broker at heart!

The life insurance agent’s main lobbying association Advocis isn’t taking this proposal sitting down. Advocis has launched a digital campaign targeted at both financial advisers and their clients. Financial Advice for All is a micro-site that outlines the issue of banning commissions and how it will affect Canadians. I wonder how General insurance brokers and agents would feel about the challenge of this kind of regulation affecting their business.

Thinking of Buying a Taxi?

Following along with the topic of business disruption and the effect on norms, the taxi business certainly seems in dire need of adaptation to the competitive pressure coming from Uber. Recently in Las Vegas, I learned that many taxi drivers are participating in the Uber model along with their regular taxi business. Either the meters in the taxi or the Uber app is collecting the money. Vegas Taxi drivers are notorious for scenic routes and special shortcuts to pad their fares. Uber seems to be keeping everyone honest. Those less technically proficient in the use of apps on their phones are stuck with the taxi meter. Those with the Uber app are getting directly where they’re going at a fair price with the tip included.

I don’t think that buying a taxi business would be a bright idea these days. I’ve written many times about the livery business and the manner in which it has evolved. The advent of Uber and Lyft has reduced the taxi business to something more like a bus service for moving large groups of people from specific locations or sectors to other sectors. The individual looking for a lift home or to a function from home is not looking for a cab service anymore. Uber is cheaper, more reliable, and more pleasant to use than any taxi ever.

I was introduced to Uber in Ottawa when we were bouncing around the capitol lobbying on behalf our industry. I had ridden to town in a cab from the airport. The cab was filthy, the driver was indifferent, and between texting while driving and using his hands-free function to have a loud discussion with an equally loud associate, he left me very unhappy with the transportation experience. At one point I wished to ask him a question about the route he was taking and ended up trying to yell over the discourse going on in the front. When he did give me his attention, he had no idea what I was asking him anyway.

The normal fare for a shuttle from my Phoenix house to the airport is $70 plus tip. Taxis are reluctant to come as far out as the urban setting where I live but will take me from the airport to my house for around $100 plus tip. Uber recently picked me up in a very nice, clean, four-door car and delivered me to the airport for $37.85, tip included. Hard to see the shuttles and the taxis staying afloat for long with that kind of price competition.

A survey by Angus Reid shows the consensus is that the Uber guys should be subject to the same rules and regulations as the rest of the livery business. Properly qualified drivers and equipment are expected by the consumer. Uber says this isn’t a problem.

In Closing

This is the second edition of Young’s Stuff for 2017. I hope you’re finding it enjoyable and thought provoking. Share your thoughts and open dialogue with all who are receiving it. Feel free to post in the blog link on the IBAA website or on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. I’m always looking for feedback and ideas. The direct email link below comes only to me..

 


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:  business disruptors  capital reserves  catastrophic loss  commissions  global economy  global warming  life insurance  orange gorilla  reinsurance rates  ride sharing  transfer of risk 

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Uber Insurance, Fair Risk Distribution, Political Correctness, American Politics

Posted By Thom Young, March 29, 2016

Uber Isn’t Above the Law

It wouldn’t be a blog without some comment about Uber. As I’ve often indicated in the past, the laws regarding the operation and use of livery vehicles in urban areas clearly define vehicles for hire. While many have repeatedly referred to the unique manner in which the Uber ride-sharing works, it is a taxi service by another name with unlicensed individuals and automobiles operating outside of the current rules. Recently in several Canadian jurisdictions, and of particular note to us in Edmonton and Calgary, the municipal authorities have bent over backwards to somehow accommodate the Uber approach to moving people around for a fee. In each case, they’ve attempted to change the rules not only to allow Uber to operate but also to ensure that it operates with the same standards of equipment, driving experience, and insurance as taxi companies. These equivalencies have proven to remove the Uber advantage, though they haven’t seemed to deter Uber from operating (even though Uber has claimed to have removed itself from some jurisdictions). The result has been urban sting operations run by bylaw enforcement officers and an increase in the number of people being charged for operating a taxi service without a license. While the fight isn’t over yet, the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same.

Ensure you let your clients know that the insurance restrictions on the use of their private-passenger vehicles do not allow them to operate as vehicles for hire. They need to know that doing so will place their coverage at risk in the event of an accident, and their material misrepresentation in the use of their vehicle on the application will probably make them a poor risk from then on. Stay tuned, this discussion isn’t over.

Fair and Equitable Distribution of Risk

Modern technology continues to improve risk selection in every facet of the insurance industry. In the life and group benefits side of our business, the ability to analyze the predisposition of an individual to incur a certain kind of medical event that influences morbidity (disability) or mortality (death) has reached the point that the percentile of accuracy for some things is approaching 100%. In our industry, risk selection is a primary component in the competitive success of our product pricing. If a potential claim can be avoided in the company’s underwritten pool, then the members of that group (the insureds) benefit through lower premiums and the managers of the pool (the insurers) benefit through better returns on capital invested to sustain the group. What appears to be a win-win situation at first glance is, however, more complicated for those who form the group with a certainty of a claim. These people become uninsured or are pooled with higher risk insureds and create the opposite effect on the performance of those pools. Higher premiums occur for the insureds and lower returns for the insurers.

For insurance to work, the transference of claims cost to the group has to occur in a fair manner. While many may dismiss ethical concerns from the risk-selection process, the sharing of claims costs for high risk groups has beneficial attributes in the normal marketplace. Automobile insurance is a particularly good example in which those with very poor driving records are still able to obtain at least the statutory insurance coverage necessary to operate a motor vehicle on public highways through a pooling of high risk drivers in the Facility. All insurers operating in the jurisdiction participate in the pooling and subsidize it with capital and cash contributions. Of course, they also share in the distribution of any excesses that occur. This pooling ensures that everyone can get insurance. Without a facility association for Life, Group benefits, or Property and Casualty coverages, it is possible to become uninsurable for these classes of coverage. The industry has no requirement to serve the public should individuals be identified as “high risk” for any reason.

Apart from the government-mandated catch-all that the Facility provides to ensure that everyone who is legally required to have insurance can obtain it, the highly regulated automobile insurance structure also defines the nature of the groups that people are put into for premium calculations. Within reason, automobile insurers can select who they wish to insure, but they cannot reject providing coverages to people who qualify for the posted classes or create rates based on new criteria and information outside of the rating parameters set out in the regulations. When auto insurers start to use new criteria to select risks without getting the criteria approved, the regulator gets quite annoyed and, as we saw in Alberta, will implement reforms to ensure the public isn’t unfairly selected against in the underwriting process.

My original intent in this story was to point out once again that underwriting predictions are increasing in accuracy due to the ability to analyze the data and define the insureds into increasingly selective groups based on predictions of loss. This accuracy is great for making profitable inroads in the marketplace. Being able to select those who have a lower predictive chance to have a claim creates a huge competitive advantage in the marketplace. The trouble is that the service of insurance is about covering claims, not about avoiding claims or avoiding the people who are likely to incur claims. If data defines those who will not have claims to the extent that the risks are almost certain, risk management procedures will remove many individuals from the insurance pools. This loss in premiums increases the loss ratios. The end result is increased premiums for those who are going to have claims. Far too often, the underwriters believe their goal is to eliminate claims through selection. However, the insurance process only works when enough money is charged to pay for our costs of doing business, including a fair return on investment to our shareholders and paying the claims incurred by the people we insure. Finding the average risk is the purpose of underwriting, not identifying the lowest risk. Without the good risks contributing to the pool, the price of the coverage becomes unobtainable, and without the bad risks driving claims against the pool, the need for coverage at all becomes debatable. Balancing insurance pools with these competing realities is going to become harder and harder as our technology allows us to select the risks without consideration of the average.

Clear as mud?

Politically Correct?

How many differing opinions can dance around the point of a pin without offending the dancers? I’m a big fan of a pluralistic perspective. In terms of social decency, that means you’re welcome to your thoughts and I’m welcome to my thoughts. While my tolerance of your perspective isn’t required, my respect for your right to them is.

The term “politically correct” has been attributed to a number of sources. Most recently an email has been circulating referencing discussions between President Harry S. Truman and General George McArthur using the term in organizing the surrender of Japan to the Allied Powers at the end of WWII. Like most of those stories, this one is untrue and puts General McArthur in a poor light. The history books show McArthur was more concerned and aware of the cultural issues in those negotiations than anyone. Wikipedia documents the use of the term in English writings from the 16th century: “In 1793, the term ‘politically correct’ appeared in a U.S. Supreme Court judgment of a political lawsuit. The term also had occasional use in other English-speaking countries. The term probably entered use in the United Kingdom around 1975.”

My issue with the manner in which the term is most often used is that it suggests that being polite and respectful to others who hold different views on any number of topics is a fault or imposition. These disparaging implications suggest, “I’m being civil and respectful only because the majority considers it necessary, not because I am.” That’s quite a disingenuous point of view, isn’t it?

Certainly, we don’t all have to agree on everything and hold utopian ideals. Vigorous debate and discussion with elevated passion and even vitriol enlarges our minds. In the end though, after both perspectives are presented, we need to go our own way respectfully hoping that others will join us and agreeing to disagree!

The American silly season is in full swing. Sanity seems to have been set aside in that political contest, especially on the conservative side of the aisles. Somehow attacking the premise of being politically correct has become equated with an attack on flawed ideology. Making outrageous statements against people based on their heritage, culture, gender, and other preferences seems to be garnering support from the body politic within the conservative movement. Suspending human rights and violating international treaties that govern proper behaviour in conflicts all appear to be getting a majority of support and are reported on particularly by the conservative media as the new way of doing things.

Clearly, only part of the story is being told here. As usual, the more outrageous the news, the more it gets played for our attention. In reality, the majority of people continue to believe that being correct is more about proper behaviour than it is about political interaction. As we will soon see the American contest of wills on the political front come to a four-year conclusion this November, the success of a politics of bigotry, hatred, and fear will become evident in the outcome. I’ve little doubt that the winners will be more inclined to favour the pluralistic view than what we’re hearing in the press these days. As a long-time conservative, I am hopeful that I can wear that moniker without being compared to the nuts that claim to speak for us.

In Closing

The Easter weekend is almost over. Running my own family resort has been fun this year but, I must say, busy and a little stressful. Spring break always has been like that for us though. I hope the Ishtar bunny brought you many treats and that you enjoyed the holiday from whatever perspective brings you joy. I am now going hiking on the Apache trail!

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:  data management  ethics  Facility Association  group benefits  insurance regulation  life insurance  livery business  politically correct  ride sharing  risk distribution  risk management  statutory coverage  taxi regulations  Uber 

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Troublesome Flood Coverage, Uber Legislation without Industry Backup, Mark Prefontaine Seconded, Blog Activity

Posted By Thom Young (Full first name: Thomas Clifford John), February 22, 2016

Troublesome Flood Coverage?

The introduction of another company’s coverage for overland water (used to be called flood) leaves me underwhelmed with the industry’s attempts to meet the needs of our customers adequately. The underwriting of these products seems limited only to those who are outside of the red zones demarcating high risk for overland water damage. Since the number of insurers even willing to provide this coverage remains minimal, adverse selection will likely favour those who don’t get on the bandwagon. Only those who live where the flood risk is the highest will want to purchase the coverage. Those who don’t live in those zones won’t want to share the cost for claims and return on equity through their premiums and will seek another provider. Well, we’ve been here before, and history repeats itself.

A recent article in Canadian Underwriter magazine sums up a lot of the data being developed to map the risk of flood coverage in Canada. While the accuracy of the models in use can be easily challenged, data management, even with suspect data, is the baseline necessary to determine an actuarial model of rate. As I’m often reminded when I think of those very difficult classes in statistical analysis that I endured way back in the day, even poor data enables easier adjustments in the equation than hypothetical estimations. Although all actuarial prediction is really hypothetical, I know several actuaries who will spend tremendous energy vigorously arguing the scientific merits of their predictions, even when the historical accuracy is different. Such is the mystic nature of number manipulation. Regardless, the data from the research shows that "20% of Canadian [households] could be qualified as high risk, based on our metrics and about 10% of those would be considered very high risk and that's about 1.8 million households." That percentage implies 18 million households and numbers that should lend themselves well to actuarial predictions on the average loses per household from flood. If the actuarial mapping results in the application of a proper rate for these risks, then the competitive contest for these risks will have a proper outcome. If not, then little interest will be generated for continuing to provide coverage for this peril, and we’ll be back where we began.

Of course, identifying the risk exposure is the first part of the process. Knowing that 1.8 million homes are at an ultrahigh exposure to the peril won’t be very helpful until the frequency of loss is determined. In reality, we have no records for most of North America that are relevant for losses of any type over 150 years old. Forest fires, flood, and earthquakes that occurred over 100 years ago had little consequence to any large group of people simply due to the demographics of that historical era. If 10% of the dwellings in Canada incurred such a loss in any calendar year, people would clearly be concerned about the availability of coverage in Canada, but that’s not the way catastrophic losses work. Flood losses usually occur in a small localized area on an infrequent basis. We toss around terms like 100-year, 500-year, and 1000-year floods as if they have meaning when, in fact, these descriptions are only an excuse for the lack of mitigation efforts.

I still believe that flood coverage needs some form of statutory basic wording so that the competition between the insurers is based on risk selection and premium, rather than on limiting the coverage through different definitions of the peril. As brokers, we should not be forced to present our solutions to the clients based on the shortcomings of one company over another in the definition of the insured peril. That process is confusing to the public, fraught with errors and omissions exposures for each of us, and goes against the principles by which we currently manage the competition between our insurers. When the choices go beyond the cost and drill down into the wordings, how do you assure clients that what you are giving them the best option in the market? How do you know which company has the most comprehensive coverage when you have no access to its wordings? When we present options to our customers, will we have to provide a disclaimer that “better coverage may be out there, but this proposal is the best I can do?”

Some may say that forcing statutory wording upon the insurers is unfair and that a residual risk-sharing facility could allow those companies that prefer an alternative wording to cede their risks into a pool. Australia and England follow this practice to provide an even playing field in the market for these coverages. In these jurisdictions, the capital necessary to backstop these losses comes from government guarantees that insure neutral charges to the insurers. Strangely enough, the losses in these pools have been manageable and have produced positive cash flow. Stability appears to have some advantages over time.

The efficacy of flood coverage in Alberta will not be tested until the next significant flood event. I, like most observers in our industry, will be watching closely to see if this recent private-corporate response will mitigate the amount of money our governments end up throwing at these losses. Whether the premiums for the coverage produce underwriting surpluses or deficits will also be interesting to see. Time will tell.

As I reflect on the review of yet another “new” overland water endorsement and attempt to determine what makes it better or worse than the other three I’ve looked at, I’ll close this discussion today by once again pointing out that I’m not alone in my continued insistence that consistency is preferable to total confusion. We need more industry leaders calling for an agreeable wording that sets a baseline for overland flood coverage and standardizes the coverage. While supporting the need for consistency, Philip Cook, CEO of Omega Insurance Holdings Inc., suggests another approach to consider—developing catastrophe coverage that would respond to a variety of catastrophic losses.

Municipal Uber Legislation without Industry Backup

Many articles have appeared in the press about the municipal legislation that Edmonton City Council passed to address this new (old) form of ride sharing, and most of them are touting it as the new model for municipalities across the country to address the issue in their locations. The legislation didn’t make everyone happy and was particularly unpopular with the taxi owners and drivers who see this new entrant into the livery business as direct competition to them in their highly regulated and access-regulated marketplace. Still, it was an attempt to find a compromise that addresses the reality that Uber is here to stay, and ignoring it or waiting for it to go away is not likely going to change that. The legislation requires Uber drivers to match the level of insurance protection that is in place for the traditional taxi industry. While the model seems to resolve a number of issues, it unfortunately fails to address the fact that the insurance industry has yet to introduce the new coverage products. So far, I’ve seen one company announce that a new product is coming, but I’ve seen no information yet as to what it will look like or cost, or when it will be actually available. Some companies have tightened their underwriting procedures and included questions that specifically ask if customers are using their vehicles for ride sharing, while others are polling clients on renewal for confirmation of their current use. Meanwhile at the regulatory level, no changes have been made to the SPF 1 in Alberta (or elsewhere) regarding ride sharing of any sort, the SEF 6 has not been modified to allow for Uber-like exposures and rating, and no additional endorsements regarding ride sharing have been created. Under the automobile regulatory regime, any such changes would have to be approved by the Superintendent of Insurance in Alberta for use, and, as far as I am aware, nothing is pending on these.

While the Edmonton municipal authorities have addressed the problem, everything else remains in limbo pending the application of the insurers for new tools and the approval of the regulator for their use. So, despite all the optimistic articles on this topic, nothing has changed so far.

If anyone has anything new to share on this issue, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Mark Prefontaine Seconded

Speaking of the regulator, did you know that our current Superintendent of Insurance, Mark Prefontaine, has taken a new temporary role within the finance ministry? While our government has made no official announcement as yet, the following memo about Mark was posted on the Pension Information page in the Alberta Treasury Board and Finance website:

Effective January 11, 2016, Mark Prefontaine will be taking a one year secondment within Alberta Treasury Board and Finance as Senior Assistant Deputy Minister. Mark will be working closely with the Deputy Minister and will be responsible for  key organizational strategies and will oversee and manage special projects and priorities spanning across government, the department and multiple divisions of Treasury Board and Finance.

Please be advised that Nilam Jetha (see bio) will be the Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of Financial Sector Regulation and Policy (FSRP), and also the Superintendent of Pensions, Insurance, and Financial Institutions. Nilam has been with FSRP for the past two years in a project management capacity, and brings over 25 years of Government of Alberta leadership experience to the role.

I suspect that in due course additional information will be distributed. However, I would have expected/appreciated a more widely spread official government message assuring us all of continued stability in the regulation of our volatile industry. In a memo on February 18, 2016, George Hodgson assured us that IBAA will continue to have a good working relationship with the Superintendent’s office, that he has met with Ms. Jetha, and that Mark will assist her throughout the transition. That message may help quell uncertainty among IBAA members, but the transition affects more than those in the association. Official reassurance from the government that the course of the department will remain steady should be a priority.

In Closing

As I sit here in Playa del Carmen looking out over the pool and the beach, I’m reminded in the top right corner of my computer that the weather in High River is less than 10 degrees off of what we’re enjoying here. The pool is likely cooler though!

We could use some more subscriptions to this blog. The distribution list (while rising) has deteriorated substantially since we made it necessary to get to the website to view it. Please let your staff know that it is still being produced and easily available. Website interaction on any of the issues I’m going on about is also lacking. I’d very much like this blog to initiate a dialogue with several people on some of these points. Come on, folks. Give it a try!

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:  catastrophic risk  E&O  livery business  Mark Prefontaine  Nilam Jetha  overland flood insurance  ride sharing  SPF 1  statutory coverage  Superintendent of Insurance  Uber  Young's Stuff subscription 

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IBAA Convention, RIP David Bowie, Uber Regulation and Coverage, IBC’s 2016 Top-Ten Consumer Tips, Financial Scams, Blog Notices

Posted By Thom Young, January 19, 2016
I can’t believe we’re on the second issue of the new year already. I’d be reminding people to write 2016 on their cheques a few years ago, but I don’t know many people who use cheques anymore. I think I’ve written two in the past year, and remembering what date to put on them doesn’t seem to be much of an issue anymore. The times do continue to change, don’t they?

I received a notice the other day for the IBAA 2016 convention on May 15–18 at the Fairmont Banff Springs. This will be a fabulous opportunity for you and your key people to network with insurance brokers, insurance industry partners, and regulators—and even to meet me in person! Outside of all the partying, you can attend insurance education sessions, welcome IBAA's incoming president Julia Marshall, get involved at IBAA's Annual General Meeting, and connect with the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada and IBAA board members and staff. Where else do you get the chance to meet with some of the best minds (did I mention that I’d be there) in the industry? I’m sure someone has a record somewhere of how many of these I’ve attended, and I know others who’ve attended nearly twice as many as I have.

The price of attending this annual event is a bargain from my perspective, especially if you get your application is in before the end of this month so you’re eligible for the “early bird” discount of $100 on the whole convention package. The early bird savings ends at the end of this month, so get your registration in now! You can do it online by clicking here.

An Ode to Excellence—the Passing of a Musical Legend or the Making of One?

The past week recorded a sad note with the news of the death of David Bowie at the rather young age of 69. Cancer took this very talented fellow from us too early in my view. Although a number of people I know have no idea who he was, his influence on the world we live in was extraordinary. I think the first time I heard the word androgynous it was in the context of Bowie’s rather outlandish stage presence in wildly coloured outfits, crazy makeup, and even crazier hairdos that left many wondering about his gender. All this was at a time when the pluralistic perspective that many of us share today was just in its infancy. Still, the music he produced transcended the outlandish projections he used to sell it. He was one of the pioneers of music videos at a time when technology didn’t lend itself to easy sharing, and his absolute excellence as a musician and performing artist identified him as leader in his field. He did very well as an actor as well.

Artistic talent doesn’t always translate to genius, but most artists have exceptional abilities beyond those we see in their art. Bowie was one of those people. In the latter half of the 1990s when the music industry was suffering the effects of advances in technology that brought about devaluation of musical works, Bowie bundled his work into a bond asset (Bowie bonds) that allowed him to value his work for a period of time and to raise the money in the bond market for an effective return. Subscriptions to Bowie bonds were taken up mostly by the insurance business. The rate of return was very good and, unlike the majority of derivatives put together at that time with mortgages and leases, proved to hold its value to redemption. Bowie proved to be an astute financial manager as well as a talented performer.

I recall a very warm evening in September 1983 when I attended a Bowie concert at Winnipeg Stadium. Part of the Serious Moonlight tour, the concert was the largest ever held in Winnipeg with over 40,000 people in attendance. I can’t say that at the time I was a huge fan, but I had an appreciation for a number of his tunes. The promoter of the venue in Winnipeg was a client of ours at the bank I worked at, and the future mayor of Winnipeg offered front-row tickets that were gratefully accepted by several serious looking bankers. I thought I looked a little out of place and actually felt a little old, but the show remains one of the very best I’ve ever attended. The music was perfect and the stage antics outstanding! RIP Ziggy!

More about Uber

It seems you can’t go a week or more without hearing something about Uber in the mail and in the industry press. The files I keep with ideas for these blog articles have so much discussion about ride sharing that I’m having trouble keeping the notes in one place. The first item of interest is the effect of “surge” pricing in the Uber application that made headlines in Edmonton and elsewhere. The price you pay for a ride with Uber seems to operate on a kind of sliding scale. The more the demand, the higher the price. This pricing is fair according to Uber because it encourages a competitive response from participating drivers (they can make more money) and the increased pricing is very well disclosed to customers with text alerts and notices as the increases are determined. Great for Uber and their drivers, but no so much for the consumer.

Responsibly arranging for transportation after celebrating on New Year’s eve saw one fellow watch his $150 car ride turn into a nearly $1200 charge to his credit card. While Uber is standing by its story that the price is fair, that view is not likely shared by the fellow caught in this bind or by the regulator or members of the public who demand protection from these kinds of scams. As I’ve written before, the reason the livery business is so highly regulated is the graft and abuse it attracts. Even with modern technology notices in place, this business seems to need a high degree of regulation to ensure that the public isn’t getting screwed. I’m sure Uber would disagree.

Reasons for regulation to ensure fair play in a marketplace abound, and Uber or any other kind of public service is not exempt from them. An interesting article in the Globe and Mail makes a good case for regulation, focusing particularly on the exploitation of the drivers.

On the other hand, the old rule of supply and demand has brought about a responsible reaction to this new exposure that our customers participating in a ride-sharing program have presented to our industry. Aviva has taken the initiative to introduce an endorsement providing a reasonably priced endorsement to an automobile policy to allow for the occasional use of an insured vehicle for these purposes. I expect soon that competitive pressure will bring other companies to the marketplace, and the matter of uninsured drivers will, for the most part, be removed from this discussion. I note as well that a number of companies are verifying their underwriting confirmations with their clients during renewal and putting them on formal notice that they are not covered when using their vehicles in ride-sharing programs. These efforts should go a long way to deflate the “No one told me” defence that we’ve seen when insurers decline to participate in any losses involving a ride-sharing scheme.

Doubtless, I’ll be visiting this topic once again in the coming weeks.

Insurance Bureau of Canada Top-10 Consumer Tips for 2016

Pass these tips on to your clients. They’re definitely good talking points to initiate a review of coverage with your clients. While they may seem like just common sense, any adjuster will tell you that common sense isn’t very common!

IBC's Top-10 Tips for a Safe New Year
  1. Review your insurance policy to ensure that you have adequate coverage.
  2. Shop around to find the right policy for your own unique situation.
  3. To prevent possible slips and falls, keep your walkways and front stairs clear of snow and ice.
  4. Create or review your family emergency plan.
  5. Update your home inventory list by adding new items, including gifts received over the holidays. Note the approximate value of the items, including makes, models, serial numbers, and any other identifying marks.
  6. If necessary, hire an appraiser to determine the value of works of art or jewelry to avoid a possible claims misunderstanding.
  7. Take photos or a video of your home's contents.
  8. Keep your home inventory list, and photos or video of your home's contents, in a safety deposit box, a fireproof safe, or in another secure location away from your home.
  9. If you are renting, ensure you have tenant's insurance. A landlord's policy will not typically cover your personal belongings or liability.
  10. If you have questions, speak to your insurance representative.
For further information, contact IBC's Consumer Information Centre at 1-844-2ASK-IBC.

I used to offer to keep my clients photos and inventory lists in their files. Now a days it’s even simpler to add this stuff digitally to the client records so that their own records are backed up with yours—just another simple thing to help your clients.

Be Careful Out There, People

While we often take for granted our own security in today’s interconnected world, scams continue to circulate because they work. Every day someone is caught up in one of them. I receive between 40 and 60 email messages daily, and just about every day I get a notice that my personal information has expired at one bank or another or that my PayPal account is in need of an update. I bank online and know that my bank will never email me to ask for an update. All real bank communications are done on a secure link when I sign in. Even with those, I may call the source directly to confirm the process. I’m cautious because I follow a discipline learned from experience that not all things are as they seem to appear, particularly when communicating with people you can’t confirm by remembrance. Ensure you talk with your clients and staff about these scams so that people are wary and aware. I had a message the other day that Revenue Canada had issued an arrest warrant for me and I’d better call the given number right away or there’d be big trouble. Sometimes these things are amusing. Still, it’s annoying to know that people get caught up in them.

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. The advance-fee scam is a version of “I’ll send you a cheque, you deposit it, and then send me a small fee to cover my costs of doing you this favour.” Sometimes they mail you a cheque that looks real enough but, if you deposit it, the cheque will be returned as phony. Of course, the fee you sent will be long gone by the time you find out. Currently, FSCO has sent a warning that “Allstate winners” in Ontario are being sent phony cheques from “Allstate.” No doubt, this scam will make its way here. Catching the perpetrators is difficult, and the scammers multiply like flies. Take one down and two more pop up. Be careful, and let your clients know that their insurance companies will not likely ask for a fee if they send them a cheque.

In Closing

I’m wondering how many are enjoying this new hyperlink delivery system for this column. I don’t seem to be getting the feedback on controversial subjects that I did before. Am I boring you, or has everyone had too much to do over the holidays? I suspect the more likely case is that people don’t know that they need to subscribe to receive notices that a new blog was posted. Please go to the Your Network page on www.ibaa.ca. Follow the links through to the Young’s Stuff blog. Make sure you've logged into the IBAA website so the system knows who is subscribing. At the top left of the page, click “Manage Subscriptions.”

Young's Stuff subscription

If you have some ideas or thoughts on topics you’d like to see covered here just comment on the blog or drop me an email anytime.

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:  bonds  David Bowie  finance  financial scams  fraud  IBAA convention  IBC  Insurance Bureau of Canada  IT  livery business  regulation risk management  ride sharing  safety tips  taxi regulations  Uber  Young's Stuff subscription 

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Opportunities in Change, Baseball’s Effect on Insurance, Uber Is Coming, Self-Driving Cars, Alberta Budget

Posted By Thom Young, November 3, 2015

Opportunities in Change

Shortly after the stunning defeat of the Alberta Conservatives, I wrote a rather lengthy column called “Change Is Good, Donkey,” which focused on the positive side of changes that affect our society. The phrase originates in the children’s movie Shrek, when Donkey, the ogre’s sidekick, laments that recent changes are so terrible they can never be overcome. Shrek imparts this phrase with such effectiveness that I often quote it to emphasize that negatives caused by change more often reflect one’s internal circumstances than real hindrances of the future. Rethinking your approach to new circumstances presents an opportunity to correct deficient processes and to find better ways to take advantage of new circumstances.

I like to think I’m a half-full kind of guy and have always attacked problematic issues with the perspective of “what can we learn?” and “how can we build on this?” While this perspective is not always easy, it leads to growth. Whether you’re running a business or deciding where you’re going in life, you will always suffer setbacks that can crush you or provide an opportunity to focus on what can be done to ensure that they either don’t happen again or won’t affect you as badly. Changes will test your resolve, your point of view, and your perspectives on many things, but adapting to these inevitable changes is the only option that will improve your outcome.

The recent changes in the Canadian political landscape present some opportunities. New and younger people with different perspectives are taking control of many areas. Certainly, that can’t be bad.

Canadian evolution into a more pluralistic and tolerant society is truly something to be celebrated. In recent years, we seem to have been more able to find fault with our differences than to enjoy the strength of our diversity. We have plenty of need to fear (and protect against) extremism in any form but need not sacrifice the strength of a Canadian mosaic to feel safe from it.

We certainly have much room for people who are looking for a safe place to live, raise their families, and build their net worth through honest hard work for others and through the use of their own capital and expertise to build businesses that contribute greatly to our economy. We also understand the difference between an economic migrant and a refugee from conflict and persecution. Our nation is second to none in care and compassion. We’ll take our share of migrants in the normal ebb and flow of things, but we’ll do more than our share for the world’s refugees in need. Our country has been built on the hard work of indigenous people and migrants of different creeds and nationalities from all over the world. They are all Canadian. Don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t give more than they take in need!

While we have justified the use of many organic and synthetic substances to alter our moods and allow for revelry, regulated permission to use the fruit of the vine has not followed through to the bud of the bush. Our prisons have far too many people in them as a consequence, black-market gangs flourish, and the amount we expend trying to eradicate its use has proven to have little effect. Clearly, the legalization and regulation of marijuana will produce a much better outcome.

Our country’s new leader is young and inexperienced, but he doesn’t appear to be naïve or foolish. If he accesses the wisdom of his elders and treads carefully into the areas in which he is unsure, then I’ve little doubt that we have nothing to fear from his leadership. If he doesn’t do these things, his passing influence will be of little consequence to our country. I’ve always said we get the kind of government we deserve in our democracy. Change will come and balance the good and the bad.

Finally, don’t let any of my ramblings here convince you that I’m stumping for one political regime or another. I remain apolitical in this journal as always. We can’t affect any immediate change in our political circumstances, but we can find opportunities to exploit to our benefit, and we can hold this new government to the standard of service it has promised the people. In truth, our Canadian political parties do not stray very far from that mystical centre line of governance. I have every confidence that the leaders of all our political parties work to advance what they see as the best interests of the Canadian people. For that they should be respected, at least until the next contest begins.
 

Baseball’s Effect on Insurance

There’s got to be a way to tie in a sports discussion with an insurance perspective. When the Blue Jays were struggling to keep their World Series chance alive, it must have been hard to remain focused in that mecca of insurance offices located in Toronto. More than a few insurance faces could be found in the crowd shots broadcast during the game, and the rest of the country (even though they, too, were following the contest closely by whatever means available) was complaining about underwriting service being slow from the Toronto head offices. When it comes to Major League Baseball, Toronto is the only skin in the game for Canadians. I remember in my youth that the Canadian favourites were as varied as our vast nation’s regions and that the country stood still during the final innings of any World Series. An American sports journalist recently discovered how baseball-crazy Canada can be when he absentmindedly posed the question “What do Canadians know about baseball; isn’t hockey their game?”

I was reading a recent article about baseball with an insurance angle. Matt Harvey, a first-string pitcher for the New York Mets, had surgery to repair his arm in 2013 and was advised by his doctor to sit out this year’s playoffs so that the repair could heal. Not wanting to sit out but at the same time not wanting to end his career by not heeding the doctor’s advice, he sought a way to transfer his risk to those willing to bet on his being able to both perform and heal at the same time. His broker, Scott Boras, was able to secure him an insurance policy for his future contracts. So if you’re a fan of the Mets, their pitching roster remains full on account of the efforts of an insurance broker!
 
I wonder if this discussion could fall under the age-old debate between underwriters and brokers that there are really no bad risks, just bad premiums. Just think, the insurance industry may well be partly responsible for the failure of Marty McFly’s prediction of a Cubs’ World Series win in 2015. One could look “back to the future” for the last time we saw a Trudeau in office and the Blue Jays win a pennant. I guess history is doomed to repeat itself.

Uber Is Coming! Uber Is Coming!

Technology is driving change faster than municipal governments can respond. I recently walked past an “Uber drop off” sign that was hanging from a parking pylon outside Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. A small space for about two cars was set aside. When I asked the valet about it, he said no one was using it as the drivers can’t tell one passenger drop off from another and that pickups happen on the street because the Uber drivers don’t want the hassle of working their way through the lobby entrance. Apparently, the app lets the passenger find the Uber vehicle at any convenient location. Still, more than 50 people were lined up at the taxi pick up, and taxis were picking them up as fast as they could.

For those following the news, reports continue from Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary about attempts to deal with Uber’s impact on the highly regulated livery business. With or without regulations, Uber appears to be making inroads, and the public is slowly but surely taking up the service. At the same time, we’re advising our clients that their insurance will likely not respond to their needs if they participate in Uber. Discussions with claims and underwriting people around Alberta verify that at least a half dozen or more claims have been denied on account of participation in the Uber service. One company has announced that it is working on a solution to provide a coverage extension for this kind of use, but so far it seems to be caught up in the painfully slow process of regulatory adaptation to worldly changes, so insurance confusion continues. If anyone has any current insights on this and would like to share them with me, I would be most thankful for your contribution.
 

Self-Driving Cars

My article on this topic received quite a bit of feedback. One writer was less than optimistic that there’d be any real advances coming anytime soon. From his perspective, the unreliability of the technology, particularly the sensor interfaces in the automobiles, was demonstrative of the shortcomings likely to restrict the further development of driverless cars. I’m not so sure he’s right. The cheap parts that now monitor the performance of the automobile may not give the central processing unit reliable data on which to act, but I would argue that the current CPU (that is, the driver) isn’t sufficiently intelligent enough to react to the information from its own human sensors already. Ask any garage mechanic about the conditions vehicles arrive in as a result of the operator failing to react to little things like the warning light for the oil pressure or the intense shaking of the car as a result of a wheel wobble or even the lack of functional braking ability due to inattention to the sensor warnings? At least a mechanical CPU would deal with its programming to get the problem sensor repaired or replaced. The more critical the sensor, the greater urgency would be for the programmed reaction.

CBC articles recently reported that Ontario has prepared legislation on the use of self-driving automobiles for implementation in January 2016. The requirement that licensed operators be behind the wheel of the vehicles they’re not in control of is confusing, but most perspectives on new things from the government DMV always are. Certainly, the requirement for a licensed operator negates the insurance issues, doesn’t it? Confusion will reign, no doubt, but those of us who have negotiated the roads in downtown Toronto might think that self-driving automobiles give hope for improvement over the competence of most current drivers. I wonder when the program will be expanded to Alberta.
 

Be Careful What You Wish for  . . . Politics

I’ve been reviewing the Alberta budget with great interest. Was the election promise of a balanced budget just a pipe dream? The Alberta Advantage seems to be waning. We’ll doubtless be discussing the need to implement a regressive PST soon, perhaps combined with an increase in the national regressive GST adjustments. Fortunately, we will get to vote on these issues in the next elections that are only four short years away. I can hardly wait!
 

In Closing

We are quickly coming up on Remembrance Day. If you live in or near Calgary, get down to Memorial Drive and stop to walk around the field of crosses that are set out in honour of the fallen. Each one of these crosses has the name of a Southern Albertan who died in the conflicts we remember. It is an awesome tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their beliefs. Put on your poppy and pause for a moment and reflect on that!

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:  baseball insurance  driverless cars  federal government  livery business  provincial budget  provincial government  ride sharing  Uber 

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Uber Confusion

Posted By Thom Young, August 27, 2015
Holidays continue to cut into the production schedule. Attempts to get this done have been made in four provinces and one other country. Thank you for your patience.

Uber? This innocuous Germanic word is one of those strange ones that can mean a number of different things depending of the turn of the phrase. Loosely meaning about, over, or even better depending on the inflection or context of the phrase it is used in, it has made its way into the English language as a noun referencing several different business enterprises. From our insurance perspective, it means confusion on automobile coverages for people involved in a ride-sharing program. In its simplest form, a ride-sharing program hooks you up with people who share the cost of a trip to a common destination. The Uber phone app simplifies the contact process and makes it immediate. Confusion arises, however, with the commercial aspect: a person with a perfectly good automobile and some free time can offer Uber services at a fee, which makes it a livery business with driving services and automobiles for hire.

The structure of the modern taxi business has evolved from a chaotic free for all. In the beginning, drivers with a horse and buggy could cruise the streets of a town or village offering rides for a fee to whomever they wished at whatever rate they wished. Following pure capitalist form, at busy times rides cost more than when the demand was limited or when the competition was intense, and equipment standards and driver qualifications were virtually irrelevant. The term caveat emptor (buyer beware) certainly applied as customers had no assurance whatsoever that their interests were being protected, and they were often injured in person or in pocket by the services offered.

The public was not very well served, and the industry had quite a reputation for both taking advantage of their customers and caring next to nothing about their safety. Additionally, the industry was rife with graft and crime—routes and stops were often controlled by organized criminals who ran a protection racket skimming money from even the most honest hack. Because of this reality, the taxi business became and still is a highly regulated and intensely supervised business. Rules cover everything from the condition of the vehicle to the kinds of insurance needed to operate a taxi. Further, becoming a taxi operator requires a fairly large investment of capital to obtain first a license and then a vehicle. It’s not hard to imagine why the taxi business is up in arms about wide-open competition from a group of independent, unregulated, and unsupervised operators who have none of the regulatory expenses to deal with and can cherry pick the best locations and clients with a technological advantage. Those of us who participate in our highly regulated industry should be a little understanding of how unfair this discrepancy is to the honest hard-working cab drivers.

Considerable evidence is mounting that people providing and taking ride-sharing services through Uber are not properly insured. Public liability coverage is a bit of a grey area as Uber does purport to provide some form of overlapping coverage for those who participate. While I have looked at the wording, I’m not prepared to make a committed statement to either its adequacy or inadequacy until someone challenges it before the courts and the Canadian judiciary weights in on the scope of coverage. I do know from my cursory review that there are enough potential gaps to drive a cab through. Certainly, the statutory conditions in the owner’s SPF 1 would preclude any payment for physical damage incurred by a vehicle in this service. The conditions involve two issues of disclosure and change of use and touch on a specific exclusion. No coverage would apply outside of the statute coverages for the third party under section A and occupants under section B, and the owner would be liable for reimbursement if these coverages were triggered under the statute.

Many of us have had a number of clients approach us over the past couple of months about their coverage when providing this service. No doubt, we all have been clearly conveying the short comings of their policy for this ride-sharing service and clearly warned them about the possible consequences of losses that might occur. If you’ve been unclear or vague on the topic, you should rethink your position. The Superintendent of Insurance offices have circulated a memorandum to all General insurance license holders on what they feel are the short comings of both the personal coverage for the undisclosed use of a vehicle in the Uber program and the apparent short comings they see in the much-vaunted insurance coverage that Uber claims will protect the service providers. We’ve already seen a number losses in which people who have been participating in the Uber program found themselves uninsured for their own physical losses and in doubt about the limits of coverage for third parties.

These stories have recently made their way into the industry press and supplement the frequent news coverage of cab drivers’ angst over the encroachment of the Uber system on the taxi market and the discord amongst civic authorities on Uber’s interference in the regulation of the livery business. Uber is certainly here to stay. If the regulatory authorities want to reign in the effects of Uber’s disruption of regulations and lack of insurance protection for all participants in the Uber process, they need new legislated tools to do so. The regulatory authorities need to quit whining about the change and respond to it. Municipal and provincial entities need to produce new enforceable regulations and begin policing them. As a broker, I’ve got nothing but bad news for my customers about their personal insurance coverage and really little in the way of reasonable options to present my clients if they want to obtain coverage for this exposure! On top of that, my clients are being told by Uber not to worry because they are covered by its policy, a statement we know to be untrue!

Remember when all we had to worry about was our clients delivering pizza with their private passenger insurance coverage?


That’s all for this week—from Manitoba, Mexico, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC. Follow the bouncing ball!


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:  livery business  public liability  ride sharing  SPF 1  statutory coverage  taxi fees  taxi regulations  third-party liability  Uber 

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