September 8, 2014

Once in a generation there emerges a fresh new voice in the world of insurance claims handling to articulate a truly distinctive and powerful vision of the way ahead for our industry.

Such a voice rang out loud and clear as Cover Ya’s Adrian Furnish took to the pages of esteemed industry organ Insurance Peoples this week to set out a challenging new agenda for UK claims professionals, and indeed for the insurance sector as a whole.

“Claims handling,” he suggests intriguingly, “is the insurance industry’s shop window.” What happens in this window, he goes on to argue, “fashions consumer perception for better, or for worse.”

If he is right about this, then Ade is surely right also to urge that the insurance industry needs to “start looking at the bigger picture” and to “get its act together.” Who, after all, would want to buy anything from a shop whose windows revealed nothing more enticing than staff treating customers with casual distain.

Insurance people are a bit like the inhabitants of certain Central European countries, Ade appears to suggest. Insurers have “always had a need for strong leadership and vision,” he argues. To say the sector’s thirst for a firm hand on the tiller is merely a ‘need’, indeed, may be putting the case altogether too mildly. Desire might be a better word.

For want of a powerful leader, insurance people have become decadent, Ade believes, and have paid insufficient attention to the dressing of their collective shop frontage. Deep inside, however, insurers have never ceased craving the benign paternal influence of a great figure who can hold a mirror up to their follies and deflect them back into the path of righteousness.

The time to satisfy this lust for a powerful leader has well and truly come. Ade argues: “the fulfilment of that desire has become crucial” he declares emphatically. “It’s now a matter of the difference between survival or stagnation” (or possibly, it occurs to Bankstone News, a third alternative, which Ade chooses, perhaps wisely, not to dwell on: surviving and/or/but stagnating).

Insurers, Ade declares, must “shake off self-centred legacies” and contribute to the “new vision”. He condemns such atrocities as ”culling experienced staff” and introducing greater stupidity (so-called ‘dumbing down’) into customer service”, and points instead to the wisdom of the ancient Scandinavian ritual of “Up-Skilling”.

The “future of the insurance industry lies,” he insists in getting “all parties who deliver customer service onto the same page”. Once assembled on this ‘page’ these ‘parties’ can then act, as one, to ensure that the industry does not waste opportunities to alter consumers’ “bad light perception” of the insurance industry.

This, he complains, is exactly what happened when the Competitions and Meerkats Authority (CMA) published some rulings last year. Instead of seizing this opportunity to raise its game, a selfish and complacent industry poured cold water on the rulings, leaving them “diluted by organisations driven by self-interest and short-term gain”.

Worse yet, Ade detects depressing signs of “business structures being set up to find ways around the rules”. Cue: further dilution, or worse. What is the difference, he challenges readers to discern,”between not paying referral fees, but [sic] paying an up-front marketing fee?”

Posing a fascinating moral dilemma, he asks his readers whether they would be happy to make money by doing something they wouldn’t necessarily want to tell their customers about e.g. “adding £500 to the cost of a £1,000 car repair bill.”

So people acting selfishly, people attempting to dilute things, and people trading in such instruments as up-front marketing fees all clearly have no place in insurers’ window displays. But one thing Mr Furnish would like to see there is independent medical assessors, who he thinks might prove reassuring to decent honest (prospective) policyholders as they firmly but fairly instruct would-be whiplash claimants to ‘do one’ and take their imaginary injuries with them.

Another thing that might look good in the window would be some of the ill-defined but “genuinely great” initiatives coming from “parts of the industry”. These apparently involve insurers engaging with people “in a different way and creating transparency around the reasons why some claims should not be paid for the benefit of honest insurance buyers.”

Ade also hails “massive strides” in areas such as insurers “funding entire police departments in helping to catch fraudsters and bringing successful prosecutions.” Some blokes in uniform would certainly look eye-catching in the insurance shop window. Perhaps there is even scope for insurers to buy up some other arms of government, state and civil service and put them to good use too.

“The way ahead is clear,” Ade insists, only slightly implausibly after a diatribe considerably longer, in the final analysis, on rhetoric designed to rouse the spirits and strengthen the resolve of insurers operating in what remains, after all, a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ than on any coherent plan of action.

The first step, Ade concludes, is to get “all parties who play a part in delivering customer service onto the same playing field.” Once they are all lined up on this playing field, perhaps Ade himself could address them from a podium erected under the posts at one end, and attempt to bind them all – though a combination of oratorical mastery and sheer force of personality – to invest in his unified vision for “the future of insurance”.

For, although he is too modest to say as much himself (or perhaps simply not ready to show his hand), surely Adrian Furnish is exactly the powerful domineering leader to fulfil the insurance industry’s secret desires.

Should it all turn out badly, obviously, it would be unfair to blame Insurance Peoples for giving this crazed megalomaniac a platform in the first place. They have column inches to fill just like anyone else – Bankstone News included!

A task, in this instance, we feel confident of having more than amply accomplished.

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