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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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12-Storey Bonfires, Insurance Reputation, Uber Regulation, UBI Costs and Benefits

Posted By Thom Young, September 22, 2015
Updated: September 28, 2015

12-Storey Bonfires?

The issue of risk management for wooden buildings has arisen again with the Quebec government’s endorsement of safe practices for the construction of mass timber buildings up to 12 storeys.

Risk management and assessment is one of the most important parts of the broker’s role in the underwriting process. In order to price the exposure to loss properly, the necessary information must be collected to determine the chance of loss and to categorize the class of risk. On the commercial side, we often extrapolate this data from the design and architectural plans prepared for the project. These are frequently used in underwriting and rating Course of Construction coverage, and rating, as with all buildings, is determined by the type of construction and the materials used. Imagine being presented with plans for a 12-storey building of frame construction. Logically, your first thought might be that these people are nuts. You might be right.

For a very long time, the logic that you couldn’t safely build a building out of wood more than three storeys high went unquestioned. Engineering limitations of the materials and construction techniques were simply inadequate to build safely beyond this height, though many tried and often with disastrous results—disastrous in the construction phase and deadly in the completed stage. The history of many communities is peppered with stories about this or that great fire and its resulting loss of life. Building codes and regulations were developed and have limited the devastation caused by fire damage in frame structures, but they have in no way eliminated the losses. In particular, several large communal structures such as nursing homes and row-housing units have suffered total-loss situations from lightening and the ensuing fire, as well as from wind storm. The damage to these structures has also often caused loss of life. We can still go a long way to improve the safety of these types of structures, and I believe we should.

tall apartmentFrom our perspective as insurance advisers, we are concerned about the availability of coverage and the impact of large losses on the pricing our customers face. We should also, however, be concerned with providing them good advice about the exposures they might now face. Ultimately, the cost of any loss works its way through to rating for that type of risk, and we know what damage catastrophic losses can do to the marketplace. Today, six-storey frame structures—the regulated height allowed by building codes in most Canadian jurisdictions—are commonly built. Building codes have no national standards but, for the most part, the various provincial regulations are much the same. Engineering quirks in the building codes play with the definition of storeys in some jurisdictions, transferring the first floor into a part of the basement so what looks like seven storeys may be defined as six by that province’s building codes. Still, a whole lot of wood is going into these structures. As we’ve seen in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario, they can and do make for spectacular total losses during their course of construction. After completion, we’ve also seen how a small fire originating on a balcony can transfer to a multi-million-dollar loss in just a few minutes. While political pundits are quick to argue about the costs of insurance imposed upon their constituents, few seem to understand the function that insured losses play in the development of a fair price for an insurance policy covering varied risks. If a condo owner or tenant has a $100,000 unit loss in this type of dwelling, it takes a very long time to recover the costs of such claims through minor rate adjustments, especially if 20 or more people are impacted in the same loss for similar amounts. I’ll leave the math to you, but one fire in a condo complex could produce a 25% increase in the cost of insurance for all condo-unit owners in the territory and a like adjustment to the condo corporation’s costs for insurance too. These costs are simply passed on to the occupants through assessment or rent. This risk is something to consider when asked by your clients why their rates have increased once again.

The Quebec endorsement of twelve storeys also raises the issue of special interest groups, such as the forest-product producers and the construction associations, who come to the political pundits with requests for changes in building codes. While politicians regularly question the insurance industry about the high cost of insurance, the ramifications for their constituents of approving these code changes is often ignored. Great proposals that extol the benefits of increased jobs and lower housing costs are often on the song sheet of building associations when making the case for a building-code review. They are convincing tales in persuasive language but include little discussion of the potential down side and review of the actual experience. I think only four to five years ago (or so) the first six-storey frame condo complex in B.C. was approved for development. While still in the framing stage, a fire completely destroyed the building. Fire departments in Surrey and surrounding towns were overwhelmed by the intensity of the blaze and could do nothing to limit the loss except to keep it from spreading. The loss was insured but had an immediate impact on the course-of-construction coverage rate that is still felt today.

Oh, Those Damned Insurance Companies!

While holidaying in southern B.C., we were once again exposed to that seemingly more common natural disaster of forest fires. Fires to the south in the U.S.A. were producing copious amounts of smoke and ash, making breathing and seeing difficult for some. The usual sunny and warm late August afternoons and evenings were very unpleasant in many areas. The usual spectacular sunsets were replaced by the sinking sun looking more like a moon glowing through the haze, while the mountains in the distance would periodically flare up in bright red eruptions, sending plumes of smoke into the upper atmosphere. The results were apparent through much of Alberta, and relatives as far to the east as Winnipeg were complaining about the air quality.

Driving on the southern route took us through the community of Rock Creek, which used to be like so many other rural B.C. Interior communities, a hodgepodge of modular homes, very old mobile homes, and newer mansion-like retirement homes built along the riverside where the land is cheap and the ambiance is superb. The town of Rock Creek on the southwest side of the river is now, for the most part, leveled. The fire showed no preference for either the old shacks and mobile homes or the new million-dollar mansions, reducing them to piles of white ash. The heat was so intense that even the concrete foundations were reduced to soft sand. Total losses are both the easiest and hardest claims adjustments to make. The comment that “at least there was no loss of life” does little to diminish the tragedy for those who have lost everything.

Discussing the event, a local businessman in a nearby community indicated that a number of his clients had suffered losses. Without knowing my involvement in insurance, he began to rag on about the insurers who he’d been told were already “short changing” their insureds. He reported one of his clients had already been told by his insurer that he’d have to downsize after the fire. I began asking for more details as I was confused by this position. “Was it a new home?” “Yes.” “Was it his primary residence?” “Yes.” “So why wouldn’t the guaranteed replacement cost clause put it back the way it was?” “What’s a replacement cost clause?” he asked. The fellow soon realized I was in the insurance business and changed his tone about the bad insurance company taking advantage of their mutual customer. Some friendly discussion revealed that this fellow had rented some scaffolding to the customer, and the home, along with an addition he was building, was a total loss. I began to wonder if the customer had advised his insurers about the addition. Conclusions are difficult without all the facts, but it struck me as odd. Insurance companies are collectively responding with extraordinary measures to meet the needs of their clients in the face of an insurable and, for most part, insured catastrophe. Nonetheless, the public perception remains twisted and maintains the notion that insurers try to take advantage of their customers by not living up to the terms of the contract with them. This lack of faith has become a common theme in my writing. I seem to run into it too often. We have much work to do to improve the public’s perception of the industry.

Uber Again

Well, it seems I’m not the only one calling for amendments to the regulations regarding Uber. Edmonton City Council is considering new legislation governing vehicles for hire. While most changes in this kind of legislation tend to annoy most everyone equally, we can hope that any adjustments will provide oversight to the unregulated activities of Uber. On the product side, Intact has taken a lead with its new offering, determining that the risk is in need of coverage and that the risk is insurable. It has announced an initiative in consultation with provincial regulators and Uber to develop a product to meet the needs of both parties. This initiative will likely put competitive pressure on other insurers to get involved as well. Personal-lines auto underwriters seem quite agitated when discussing exposures in the Uber business model. Perhaps they will get an endorsement to offer our clients. Time will tell.

UBI Again

This topic never seems to go away. Those who follow the industry press may have seen me quoted in a recent article. I was approached for my thoughts on Allstate’s new patented approach and to provide some commentary as to how I see UBI “turning the industry on end.” Well, I don’t see any real significant changes to what we do coming about through the introduction of UBI in the Canadian market. Our neighbours to the south have been using UBI for about five years now and have not seen any real disruption in their marketplace. Where it’s been introduced, we’ve seen the competitive offering of a group of major insurers match any gains in market share through it by offering their own versions. Loyalty to brokers and companies hasn’t been negatively impacted. Further, the inference that the data gathered affronts clients’ privacy has not been supported. No privacy complaints regarding UBI have been brought against any insurer. I suspect our Canadian experience will not be dissimilar.

About the savings provided through UBI, I say the product just allows for selective underwriting and disrupts the classes of risk by introducing new classes. The amount of money that is needed in the pool of auto insurance in any province is not reduced by UBI, so, where its take up is substantial, the cost of the claims in these new classes will be shifted to the old. This transfer introduces a political reality that will attract the regulators’ attention. A 25% reduction for one group will net a 25% increase for another group. That won’t get good press anywhere. While some will say that the “new” group should fairly pay its actual costs based on the losses, remember that the premiums paid by the many should cover the losses of the few. Disrupting this principle with a business model based on new technology will not be considered fair by those paying the extra premium required to maintain the financial reserve needed to pay claims. Wow, heavy philosophical insurance stuff here!

Costs aside, any technological changes that reduce losses have a positive impact on the insurance marketplace. UBI fails to deliver on this principle as well, with one exception—young drivers. Where young driver’s behaviour is monitored and corrected through the use of UBI, claims decrease by as much as 40%. The real savings to these drivers class don’t have to be absorbed by other classes. While these savings are a big plus, the most important part of the story is that UBI monitoring of these drivers results in a 70% reduction in bodily injury and death. If we can get our kids through their learning-to-drive years without serious accidents, then we’re really onto something good. In a perfect world, we’d make this mandatory, wouldn’t we?

In Closing

Fall is in the air. Thankfully, early snow in the foothills didn’t last very long. The forecasts for some very warm weather in the coming weeks seem overly optimistic, but those excellent weather prognosticators are calling for a warm winter on account of El Nino. We’ll see.

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:  building codes  construction associations  forest producers  insurance industry reputation  Intact  Quebec regulations  special interest groups  timber-frame buildings  Uber  UBI 

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