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Government Auto, Online Competition, Run for Childhood Cancer

Posted By Thom Young, August 17, 2016

Is It Just Me, or Does Everyone Else also See Our New Government Moving on an Imaginary Mandate of Change?

You know, I do my best to remain apolitical in these little stories that I write, but it’s often difficult when commenting on things the government does that may affect our industry. Certainly, the adjustment in perspective necessary to understand the actions of this philosophically different government is readily apparent. Take its initial swift move to implement action on the labour-standards obligations for family farms with Bill 6. This resulted in the agricultural community rolling machinery and people up to the legislature to express disapproval for the impact it would have on their business operations. Traditionally, the family farm has been insulated from the normal stringent labour standard legislation.  Previously exempt from coverage and costs of participation in Workman’s Compensation insurance, the small family farmers saw this new legislation as an expensive intrusion into their traditional operations.  Family farms had exceptions for certain classes of employees in addition to exclusions under labour standards legislation for family workers. Their political response appeared to catch off-guard the new government that believed this new legislation would be welcomed by farmers.  It is understandable with a new government, particularly one imbued with youth and inexperience, that this type of change would be unfamiliar territory to the electorate. However, one might reason that the public reaction would prompt the government to ponder the public expectations of their mandate.

Recently, the government announced its decision to review automobile insurance regulations in the province. Many in our industry have been quite concerned that this review might be the first step towards a government-run automobile insurance scheme. When our previous superintendent of insurance was seconded to Finance to work on a “new” project, the new government’s interaction with the industry  sprouted rumours: would the legacy of the NDP Provincial Government in Alberta be a public automobile insurance plan?

Facts make little difference when measured against political ideology. Counting our three provincial auto-insurance schemes, only a half dozen government automobile insurance programs exist in the world. In most cases, they have resulted from a lack of competition in an extremely small market, allowing insurers to impose severe underwriting restrictions and unfettered, uncompetitive pricing on those who need mandatory coverage. In each jurisdiction that has experimented with a public automobile scheme, underwriting limitations and pricing increases brought about political pressure to ensure that coverage would be available to all at a fair price. Those who have been around the business long enough to remember the auto reforms imposed upon our industry by the former government may recall that, at that time, a hard market left insurers trying to reduce their market participation to meet their reserves and struggling to deal with reinsurance treaty limitations. At one point, for over 90 days, the only market accepting “new” automobile insurance applications was the Facility Association. Regular markets were flagging clients for non-renewal for any dumb thing they could imagine. When the public is disrupted in any way, their frustrations are quickly heard by their elected representatives. Thankfully, the auto reforms proved to be adaptable to the needs of the public and the insurance industry. What could have happened then should not be lost on anyone. Market realities can spur action by governments to limit the impact of any business on their constituents.  In British Columbia though, a new dimension was introduced to the equation. The change came about through the election of a government with a new political ideology. Government auto insurance was one of the mandates it was elected upon, and the government moved quickly to fulfill that mandate.  Will this election be seen as a mandate for our new government to follow a new ideology? Perhaps in the next election auto insurance will be a focus of the platform, potentially determining the future of our industry.

One way or the other, this topic will be up for much discussion in the coming years.

More Competition or Less?

I was reading an article in Insurance Business magazine about the withdrawal of Google Compare from the U.S. internet insurance marketplace. Google Compare provided a price-comparison shopping point for insurance customers and was supported by charging a fee for directing clients to specific insurers. Google pulled the plug on the product in the spring of this year, apparently because the insurers were not that enthused with the results. Brokers in the U.S. were happy to see Google leave the marketplace. They claimed the withdrawal was a win for the independent-broker approach to marketing. The focus of the article seemed to be that brokers shouldn’t be claiming the withdrawal as a victory because online competition for insurance is still ubiquitous, and we shouldn’t drop our guard.

Rating engines have been around forever. In Canada, an interactive internet-rating company has been around since the beginning of the online information age. In the U.S., many companies such as Progressive and State Farm use their own in-house rating engines to give clients not only their quote but also their competitors’. Certainly, large brokers who write for many different companies are already competing in this process since they check several companies to find the best rate for a call-in customer. Of course, the questions asked by the brokers are the same as the filters used by the rating engines, but the broker’s experience in interpreting those filters gives the customer’s quote validity and is a better assurance that the policy will be issued at the rate quoted. Frequently, online clients think they have a lower quote than they really do until an answer on the application changes the response. Unfortunately, clients don’t always get the difference between marketing and reality.

Is calling around for quotes any different from doing an online survey? Online is faster, but discussing your circumstances with a professional insurance adviser leads to better accuracy. The review of coverage needs is definitely better in an in-person setting with a professional. How many of you have ever had the discussion with a call-in client that begins, “Do you write for this company or that company?” Often they’ve already got a quote or have been told by a friend how low company A’s price is. These callers are looking to find an adviser to validate the information, and look after them at the point of sale and when they have a claim. I don’t really mind if the customer shops around and then looks for a trusted adviser to respond to these items. Even the least-proficient insurance broker should have little difficulty doing a better job for the customer than a computer. Some might cite an exception here or there, but in truth I’ll stand by that statement.

The more complicated the product, the less it lends itself to successful comparison shopping. Even a very well-designed computer application cannot assure a correct answer to the question “what does that mean?” when the applicant is interacting with it. No matter how many “click here if you’re confused” buttons there are, the reassurance of another human being when you don’t understand is unbeatable. Now don’t get all smug about this limiting factor. New computer interaction programs bring the human dimension into the process with the “click here to chat with a real person” button. However, when the little box pops up and informs you that “all our advisors are busy right now, please be patient, the approximate wait time before we get around to you is 20 minutes,” you can understand the limitations in the service level of this online medium. When you then pick up the phone, call the company, and hear the identical message, you know how important the call really is to the company. After that frustration, why not call a broker a shop rule that when the phone rings the third time, anybody who isn’t with a customer better answer it? Are you getting the picture of the service commitment of these alternate providers now? Don’t let anyone tell you that brokers compete on price. Brokers compete on service. So long as we remain dedicated to providing superior service, our future in the insurance business is assured! Of course, “your mileage may vary,” but then again I’m a half-full kind of guy. While things change, I still believe that cars don’t take a different route to the same destination just because they go faster. My conclusion is that the broker service model will remain strong through the technological evolution we continue to experience.

Run for Childhood Cancer

I occasionally use this medium to promote or endorse a good cause, and I hope you will indulge me with one here. Recently, I was approached to help out an old friend who is the new director of a fundraising program to assist families coping with kids who have cancer and to further the researchers in finding a cure for kids with cancer. Many of you may recall Rob Siroishka from his time working in our industry. He is now active in a number of different projects, the most importance of which I think is the "Run for Childhood Cancer” fundraiser that takes place in September of each year. This charity had been receiving terrific support from the oil and gas industry until the industry’s realignment last year. Since then, the charity has suffered a decline of about a third of their support. Rob reached out to his friends and a number of us stepped up to help them recover from the loss of funding, but more can still be done.

Recently, I toured the research facility of Dr. Mahoney at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute that is the recipient of the funds raised through the Believe in the Gold efforts. Believe in the Gold is the charitable organization that hosts the run and manages the fundraising. These funds provide assistance to families who are struggling with the challenges of a child fighting cancer. They also provide funds for the ground-breaking research into immunotherapy treatments configured uniquely for children’s cancers that has had some promising results. While immunotherapy has had tremendous success in treating many kinds of adult cancers, the unique physiology of growing children presents many challenges in order to achieve the same success rates as in adults. Even small successes here will produce life-changing results for many of these children and their families.

If you’re a runner or even enjoy just a stroll along the Bow River pathways, find some sponsors to raise some money for this good cause. If you’re a business owner looking to get behind a charity that can make a real difference in the world, you might want to look into this a little further too. Personal donations are also appreciated. To find out how to join and sponsor, go to the Believe in the Gold website:, or get in contact with Rob at 403-542-2660 / email

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:  competiton  government auto insurance  NDP and insurance  online insurance  Run for Childhood Cancer 

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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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