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Federal Lobby and National Insurance Education Standards—Strength in Unity

Posted By Thom Young, June 10, 2016

A Report from the Capital

This past week I participated for the first time in the annual Insurance Brokers Association of Canada lobbying efforts in our nation’s capital. Once again, we focused on maintaining the status quo in the upcoming parliamentary review of the Bank Act. Currently, banks are able to compete with brokers so long as they separate their insurance operations from their banking operations. Under the current regulations, they are restricted from offering insurance products out of their branches and restricted from advertising their banking products with their insurance products. The Bank Act comes up for review every five years, and the influence peddlers called lobbyists work very hard to convince the lawmakers to produce regulations that favour their competing business plans and interests.

This year, the task is particularly onerous for both sides of the argument. Last year’s election results produced the largest turnover of MPs in several decades, so many of them are receiving these messages for the first time. This freshness can be an advantage as these people are just as diverse as our population. While you may think that their political stripes set the baseline for their opinions, I have found in my years of talking with political representatives that most are willing to hear you out and listen to your thoughts on the topics. Granted, they may have preconceived opinions. Nonetheless, most are doing their best to learn about the issues while finding out what being a representative of the people is actually all about. Getting to talk with newly elected members of parliament is a golden opportunity to present a good case for your cause that will not only influence their perspectives but will also stimulate discussions and debate within their caucus. The challenge to get an effective message on behalf the insurance industry to these people is coordinated by IBAC and delivered by volunteers from insurance broker associations from all across our country.

This year, we had nine people on task from Alberta and were very well received by everyone we met. Our message was brief and concise: our concern continues to be that, if banks and other credit-granting institutions are allowed to retail insurance from their branches, the public will be unfairly coerced into the purchase of insurance products. If the products are offered at the same time a loan is granted, the inference that the loan is conditional on acceptance of other services deters consumers from assessing the comparative value of the product for their circumstances and puts the insurer at an unfair advantage. If the bank doesn’t directly sell the products required to mitigate its loan risk, then consumers (or their brokers) are more motivated to shop for the best product. Since 1991, the banks have been restricted from selling insurance products from their branches, and the evidence shows the consumers well served by a competitive insurance marketplace. We’d like to see that competition continue.

My personal observations of the process were very positive. I’ve been to the Hill more than a dozen times in my life: as a child, a student, a soldier, and often just as a tourist. I recall a visit with my grandfather when I was very young. He was good friend of John Diefenbaker, and I was given what I thought of then as a very boring tour of the place by these two old fellows. I still recall some significant insights imparted to me then that remain in my mind today, especially the point that this is the people’s house and no part of it should ever be unavailable to the people. While some of our freedoms have been necessarily impeded as a result of the need for security (as evidenced by the bullet holes in parts of the building), parliament remains a very open place available to anyone willing to suffer the indignities of the countless security check points. I’m not really complaining about security though. The only downside of the lobbying was the amount of walking needed get to the appointments. It seemed we would just finish a meeting in the Justice building on the west side of the Hill and the next one would be at the East Block and then back to Justice. The timing and location was dictated by the people we were meeting with and not scheduled with our convenience in mind. Accordingly some 14 or more kilometers were recorded in the process by my group.

I found all of the MPs we met with to be interested and glad for the information we imparted. I was most impressed with the Senators we met. As to the issues and our concerns, they very much aware of the discussions and asked the most intelligent questions. Perhaps I’ll have to rethink my opinion of this institution as it does appear that good work is done by many of them regardless of the aberrations that we constantly hear about in the media. Recent changes to the manner in which the Senate works were also explained to me, and I was genuinely convinced that these people want to fulfill their constitutional obligations. Now they are freed from the yoke of political affiliation, they may well able to live up to their intent. Perhaps that’s a topic for a future issue.

Outside of our issues, many of the MPs we met with enlightened us with the concerns of their constituents. I was asked many questions about the impact of the assisted-dying legislation on the life-insurance business. Of topical concern, of course, were the recent fire losses in Fort McMurray. Most of the people we were talking with are following the media coverage. Expiry of the mass evacuation coverage was mentioned several times, as was the industry’s response to the proposed rezoning that would restrict rebuilding in certain areas in order to secure a proper fire break. We able to answer most of the questions, although they showed that much confusion still exists. Flood coverage was raised in almost every encounter we had. Many wanted to discuss the challenges in coverage variances and availability where it’s needed. These discussions left little doubt that our industry and what we do is very important to these people!

Hill Day was a great experience and, if you ever get a chance to go, don’t miss it. The strength and power of participating in a national association is an awesome thing to experience. Meeting with other brokers and discussing the common issues that concern us bonds us with a purpose. While we all compete with each other as we sell insurance, we also face the same disrupters to our business. As a group, our voice is loud and clear. Individually, we have only local influence that won’t protect us from the national challenges we share.

On the Topic of National Standards, What about Education?

Insurance is insurance is insurance, right? I think I could walk into an office in any country in Europe, build on the knowledge I have obtained in my years as an insurance professional, and find myself in very short order apprised of the small differences in the wordings or intent of the coverage offered to the public. I know I can read an insurance policy from England or the U.S. and interpret the coverages and limitations provided by it. In my career, I have completed the review of a number of different wordings originating in other countries that have become available in our Canadian market. I know I can determine in short order the differences in automobile coverage between all the Canadian jurisdictions and provide an overview to clients that would be sufficient for their understanding, albeit limited by the short notice. Where I don’t know the differences in coverage between Alberta and anywhere else, I can find them out quickly and report them accurately. I know I’m not special or different from many other insurance professionals who have not only acquired the body of knowledge needed to answer questions but also acquired the ability to learn and report on topics about our craft. We are always learning and, even without the regulatory requirement to demonstrate an effort each year, those of us who wish to remain competitive spend much more time learning to respond to our markets’ need for answers to questions than we are ever accredited with CE credits.

For a couple of years now, as a member of the General Insurance Council of Alberta (GIC), I’ve been working on educational issues and reviews of educational materials. It was determined a number of years ago that the licensing examinations had fallen behind and were not testing on changes in forms and coverages in use in our industry and that, with the regulatory changes in Alberta providing for three different levels of licenses, new examinations had to be prepared to address the expected Level 2 and Level 3 hierarchy of knowledge. The consequent changes proved to disrupt the process of getting people licensed as Level 1 agents and advancing them to Level 2. As a result, industry pressure on the regulator saw both the materials used to study for the exams and the questions used in the exams reviewed, reworked, and adjusted. The process is a long one involving competing educational interests and the mandate of the regulator to ensure the public is well served by intelligent and proficient general insurance brokers. The issue was not just that the exams were too hard. The study material has also been challenged as perhaps inadequate.

The process of reviewing the material used to study for the exams, preparing curriculum design documents, and preparing new exam questions that match the new curriculum has been underway for quite some time. The educators are still adjusting their course material so their students are well prepared for the exams. The process isn’t over yet but is well underway. My intent here is not to focus on this progress but to comment on the standards and, in particular, the criticism that the standards set by the Insurance Institute courses and the CAIB program are not relevant.

For quite some time now I’ve been trying to track down the origin of these challenges, and I’m distressed to learn that most of it seems to be coming from our sister association members of IBAC who have their own educational programs and who apparently see themselves as competing with the national program. They believe that the national program is lacking in content and in need of an update. Granted, our GIC committee’s very thorough content review of both the CAIB program and the CIP program did find a number of parts in need of updating, but we also found in both programs that the material referenced in the curriculum design documents (the content informing the examination questions for the license levels) was all adequately covered, with the exception of the specifics of automobile insurance in Alberta.

This discontent with the national education programs concerns me greatly. The influence it has with regulators in other provinces filters into our communication with our and other regulators through the Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators and, in particular, into our communication with the Western Provinces Council of Insurance Regulators. The view that the national programs in place are lacking and insufficient both to learn from and measure equivalencies to the licensing standards has created havoc. As you may remember from a blog many months ago, our committee presented its work on equivalencies to the GIC, which recommended to our government that CIP and CAIB designation holders be granted equivalencies for each level of licensing in Alberta. The response from our regulator has been to tell us it may take a year or more before the government will address this issue. Reasons for the delay include the change in government, among other similar issues, but I have also been informed that the validity of the equivalencies is being questioned at the interprovincial meetings of the regulators.

I find it very strange that any provincial entity would want to undermine the validity of a national program provided by its parent association. Certainly, provincial qualification and licensing courses that meet the burden of content for passing a provincial examination are valuable, but the value of a professional designation that has national recognition can’t be discounted. Do we want to see the letters showing our professional achievements suffixed in brackets with our provincial abbreviation? I don’t. Where a provincial association sees a part of the national program in need of review or update, the inclination should be to fix it and to see the nominal cost of that fix as a contribution to betterment of the profession, not an inconvenience caused by the national organization’s failure to get it done in as quick a fashion as desired. For the record, the CIP and CAIB programs are constantly under review, and volunteers like me are actively involved in rewriting the parts that need updating. Don’t let anyone tell you that process isn’t ongoing—it is!

In Closing

I may be stepping on a few toes with this issue. It’s been a while since I took on as controversial a topic as this, but I am saddened to see our lack of unity. It devalues the status of those of us who have put in the time and effort to get a professional designation that, through the national efforts of IBAC, is recognized from Vancouver to St. John’s as a standard of excellence in the delivery of General insurance! We also look like a bunch of kids arguing in a candy store when the regulators meet to deal with our issues.

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:  assisted-dying legislation  Bank Act  building codes  CAIB  Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators  credit-granting institutions  evacuation coverage  flood  Fort McMurray fire  General Insurance Council  Hill Day  IBAC designations  licensing courses and exams  Licensing Level 1  Licensing Level 2  Licensing Level 3  life insurance  property coverage  Senate reform  Western Provinces Council of Insurance Regulators  zoning bylaws 

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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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