Yellow peril

July 27, 2009

Up to a million Italian drivers are thought to have been unfairly fined for running red lights after “smart” traffic light systems were deliberately rigged.

More than 100 people are under investigation in connection with yellow lights being reprogrammed to show only briefly before changing to red.

Sophisticated three-camera traffic light monitoring systems have been fitted throughout Italy – supposedly able to determine the exact 3D position of vehicles and store their licence plate information. Running the lights or performing illegal manoeuvres automatically attracts a €150 fine.

But 63 municipal police, 39 local government officials, and the managers of seven different companies have been accused of rigging the system so it turns from yellow to red quicker. The scam came to light when police chief Roberto Franzini noticed unexpected increases in the number caught on camera.

Prime suspect in the whole affair is 45 year old computer programmer Stefano Arrighetti who is alleged to have played a pivotal role in the tampering. Arrighetti, however, insists there is nothing to investigate, with his lawyer Rosario Minniti adding helpfully: “Arrighetti is a genius whom the whole world envies.”

All of which, is really just an excuse for saying:

And speaking of Italy, five Germans in an Audi Quattro are pulled over at the border by Italian immigration officials.

“Is there a problem officer?” the driver enquires.

“You have five people in a car clearly marked Quattro,” the official informs them holding up four fingers by way of clarification. “This is against the law.”

“This is absurd,” the driver replies. “I demand to speak with your superior officer.”

“Not possible, I’m afraid,” the Italian replies. “He’s busy dealing with a couple of jokers in a Fiat Uno.”


July 23, 2009

Bankstone’s Dickon Tysoe was interviewed on Radio Leeds this Monday afternoon.

Appearing alongside The Yorkshire Air Ambulance’s Nicky deWhytell, Dickon regaled listeners memorably with tales of stout-hearted men on pitifully scaled motorcycles riding in formation, dressing up in silly costumes, and generally hooning about (see countless previous news stories).

But did Dickon really laugh continuously for 48 hours, as he appeared to claim on air? Members of the advance party who spent over an hour with an increasingly tense Mr Tysoe in the car park at Aysgarth Falls awaiting the AWOL radio-silent main body of riders may suspect otherwise. As may anyone who has ever had the dire misfortune – as Dickon did on Saturday night – of staying in the Scarborough “Grand” Hotel.

If anyone who would like to sample more of Mr Tysoe’s Munchhausenesque tales of how 15, no 18 or 19, no nearly 20, brave men rode round Yorkshire for charity, an MP3 recording is available on request. But beware there’s a (mercifully) brief snatch of Ronan Keating at the beginning…

Contrary to any misleading impression (“this crazy man,” “these crazy people” etc. etc.) created by said recording, Bankstone News would like to stress that Mr Tysoe – and indeed everyone else involved in Monkey Moviestars 2009 – is in fact perfectly sane. As his release papers clearly state, his cure was a complete success.

July 23, 2009

Since its introduction in April, the government’s scrappage scheme appears to have halted the slide in new car sales, but what effect, Insurance Times asked this week, is it having on premiums and claims?

With aggregators driving premiums south and PI claims pushing up costs, motor insurers are riding the bumpy knife and struggling to make money. Could scrappage somehow help?

The scheme holds out the hope of swapping up to 300,000 old cars for new, thereby boosting premiums and – thanks to newer models’ enhanced safety features – lowering claims costs. Bingo! In theory.

Is it working? According to Insurance Times, “most insurers say that it is too early to tell and that they have seen little or no impact on premiums or claims so far.”

A lone voice of outright optimism comes in the shipshape shape of Admiral’s UK pricing manager Rhodri Charles who says “In June, the number of new car policies was running just a couple of percentage points lower than in June last year,” leading him to conclude provisionally that the scheme is having a positive effect.

LV Broker sales director Michael Lawrence is not convinced scrappage is making a difference. “What we really want,” he told Times, “is all the old bangers off the road as soon as possible” because “safety in newer vehicles is much better, with airbags and side impact protection systems,” which should help reduce claims.

Premiums for new cars are not massively higher than those for old. The “age curve,” Lawrence explains, starts high, dips between four and seven years old, then rises again for failure-prone older vehicles.

People swapping to new cars are more likely to upgrade from TPFT to fully comp, adding 15% to their premium, he argues. But this extra premium entails extra risk.

The other catch is that crappage doesn’t typically replace like for like, with many scheme users opting for smaller cars. Super-minis, Times says, took a record 37.2% share of the market in June. This is backed up, the paper reports, both by Admiral’s new policy data (Ka overtakes Focus) and by Smut’s market share data (super-minis up from 27 to 34% in the last decade). And smaller cars, of course, mean lower premiums.

More people changing vehicles is potentially better news for some than others. Admiral Charles is generating twin-palm static at the prospect: “When people change their car, that’s when they shop around and look for the best deal. As an insurer prominent on price comparison websites, it’s in our interest for customers to be shopping around,” he chuckles eagerly.

But will claims fall? Charles imagines all his shiny new customers in their shiny new super-minis will be tooling round gingerly, whereas, he supposes with lofty indifference: “The type of person who drives around in an old banger may be different in terms of the way they look after the car.”

But Dane Loosley, divisional claims manager at Allianz, has no time for such nonsense: “I see no evidence that new cars crash less than old cars,” he says. “That doesn’t figure in our vorld view.” The driver’s age and experience and the postcode count for more; but these too pale in comparison with third party liability costs.

Unlimited TPL can dwarf everything else, as in the 2001 Selby rail disaster where the driver’s insurer, Fortis, had to pay out £50m after a Land Rover derailed a train killing 10.

The big question, Times concludes is whether scrappage is actually stimulating demand or merely bringing forward purchases. Nobody really seems to know. “It’ll be interesting to take another look at insurers’ figures in September, Admiral Charles tells Insurance Times. Wont it just, though!


July 23, 2009

Back to Defaqto’s bumpy ride report (quoted last week) again for this nugget of an insight. Motor insurance is confusing. Has someone had this thought before?

Consumers are apparently bewildered, perplexed, baffled and mystified by a choice of 140 insurers offering more than 200 different policies. But in case you thought comparison sites might be the answer – as some of them purport to be. Defaqto say no! More aggregators, it claims, will make it worse.

Mike Powell, Defunqto’s principal consultant for general insurance, puts this in his own words: “The motor insurance market provides so much choice for the consumer that it can be very confusing when choosing an insurance provider.

“Online comparison and research sites are becoming more popular with confused consumers. But the ever increasing number of aggregator sites could just add to all of the confusion.”

Oh dear!

Powell says the best way for consumers cut through the chaos is to focus on the policy features that are important to their own circumstances.

Wouldn’t it be good is someone like Defaqto came along with some kind of consumer-friendly comparison site of their own that helped punters cut through all this confusion by focusing squarely on policy features?


July 21, 2009

Veteran aggregator Richard Mason has unconventional ideas about raising children.

Mason is co-founder of would-be-industry-body the Comparison Consortium which this week launched a proposed code of practice for comparison sites. Commenting on the launch, he said the price comparison website industry is “emerging from infancy into adolescence” (apparently not bothering with childhood along the way), so “an authority figure to guide the sector has become central to its healthy development.”

Persisting in the same avuncular if not paternalistic vein, Mason continues: “As such, it only seemed proper that the industry’s veterans assume this guardianship role by defining the boundaries and instilling a common set of principles throughout. The introduction of this code will ensure that customers are treated fairly and respectfully, and help the industry move one step closer to adulthood.” Late adolescence, presumably.

The code is intended to “establish a set of practices and clear procedures that represent consumers’ best interests, uphold the integrity of the price comparison industry, and bring an unprecedented element of regulation and professionalism to the price comparison community.” Presumably, in this context, ‘an unprecedented element’ means a little more than none at all.

On 22 July, we learn, the Comparison Consortium will be treating the FSA to a working lunch, at which the main topic of conversation, aside from the excellent quality of the sandwiches, will no doubt be quite how unnecessary any additional regulation of the sector really is.

In case you have nothing planned that day, incidentally, “all interested parties are invited to attend with their feedback.”


July 16, 2009

The RAC’s 2009 Report on Motoring published this week reveals disturbing evidence of drug-crazed driving on the roads of Britain.

One in four young drivers, it reports, have been in a car when the driver “appeared to be high on drugs” (although it’s a safe bet they probably didn’t use precisely that phrase).

Not content with driving under the influence of top gear, 25% of 17 to 24-year-olds are also busy texting at the wheel‚ potentially, statistics suggested – more dangerous than driving drunk or stoned.

The good news is that young drivers are less likely to drive drunk. With only 24% of young people admitting to driving while potentially over the limit, compared to 32% of the 45-64 age group.

Commenting on concerns over bibulous older drivers, The Glasgow Herald has an intriguing headline on its website: Older Drivers Flaunt Drink Laws.

This brings to mind visions of lairy senior citizens hanging out of speeding cars provocatively waving copies of booze-related legislation.

Bankstone News was unable to verify the details, however, as the paper’s website was down this morning ‚ probably after a riotous office party the night before.

July 16, 2009

Lead story in Insurance Times this week was the scoop that AA/Saga are planning to announce the launch of an in-house credit hire operation within the next seven days.

The insurance firm reckons that taking credit hire in-house will save millions of pounds. On which basis, Times infers not unreasonably, other insurance organisations could well follow suit.

Times’ sources suggest that AA/Saga will be putting their current credit hire provider on notice and setting up their own operation, Claims Fast, under technical claims manager Chris Nelson, sourcing vehicles primarily from Enterprise, with Helphire supplying any shortfall.

The firm is believed to have made the necessary application to the ABI technical committee following a legal case involving RSA last year which appeared to set a precedent for insurers moving credit hire in-house.

The market will, no doubt, be watching with interest.


July 16, 2009

Defaqto’s newly published report  Motor Insurance 2009: Another Bumpy Ride’ predicts another bumpy ride for motor insurers in 2009.

Whatever else it may portend, the fact-finding firm warns motor underwriters, that faint light ahead does not indicate the end of the tunnel.

Despite evidence that rates have moved upwards, there will be no underwriting profits from UK motor business in 2009, Defaqto bluntly states.

Defaqto ‚ whose name, fact fans, is a corruption of a Latin term de facto meaning roughly  in fact’ or  actually’ (legalistically opposed to de jure meaning  by right’ or literally  of law’)‚ believes the 8.7% rise in average premiums falls pitifully short of the 20% rise required to restore motor underwriting to profitability.

Mike Powell, Principal Consultant for General Insurance, has some advice for motor insurers: “Motor insurers are going to need to think carefully about choosing to write for profit or market share,” he claims. “They are not going to be able to do both.

“Even in the commercial motor market,” he continues, “where there has been consistent profitability for the past few years, profitability is on a knife edge.”

A bumpy ride on a knife edge certainly doesn’t sound good.

July 15, 2009

Just months after being deemed surplus to requirements at beleaguered fleet owner Helphire, Chris Chatterton has been drafted back as group sales director.

The return of Chatterton, who was previously managing director of Helphire UK and Angel Assistance, has prompted a rash of speculation.

Sadly, Bankstone News has nothing in the way of fact with which to anoint said rash and thereby soothe the irritation. Some things never change.

According to the official blurb, Chatterton will be responsible for sales and business development within all of Helphire Group’s entities including, Helphire UK, Albany Assistance, Helphire Automotive Division, Total Accident Management, Cab Aid, E-claim and Fleet Legal.

Martin Ward, Group Managing Director, said: I very much look forward to working closely with Chris as we forge ahead with our programme of recovery. Chris’ appointment to Group Sales Director is designed to maximise the Group’s presence in all of its markets and ensure that there is no conflict between channels.”

Perhaps amidst all that right-sizing, they’d forgotten the need to do some selling. Maybe it’s a knowing where the bodies are buried’ thing. Maybe they just missed having him around. Fruitless‚ and indeed potentially libellous‚ to speculate. So we won’t.


July 14, 2009

Over the weekend (11-12 July 2009) Bankstone led a flotilla of 15 monkey bikes 250 miles round famous film locations in Yorkshire, raising money for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance service (YAA). At each of 10 stops along the way they donned costumes appropriate to the famous films in question.

Leaving Bankstone’s Brighouse offices at 9am on Saturday 11 July, the convoy first rode to Halifax’s Piece hall to re-enact the  Floral Dance’ scenes from Brassed Off dressed as bandsmen and miners.

The YAA’s mascot, a seven-foot bear called Bernie, came along for the ride, and posed with riders at each of the ten stops. This involved a naked lady (suit) at Ilkley’s Cow and Calf rocks, Robin Hood and merry men at beauty spot Aysgarth falls, WWII pilots at Northallerton, vets in Thirsk and so on (see list of locations below, shown with approximate actual times of arrival).

The convoy reached overnight-stop Scarborough around 6pm‚ a mere three hours behind the original schedule‚ not that bad given that guiding 15 rugged individualists round the UK’s largest county on monkey bikes is a bit like herding cats‚ then made four further stops‚ including Whitby for Dracula and Goathland for Harry Potter‚ before finishing up pitch side at Elland Road for The Damned United and arriving back at Bankstone’s Brighouse headquarters in time for Sunday tea.

A somewhat saddle-sore Bankstone Director Dickon Tysoe commented: “What a weekend!
We’ve made good progress towards our target of raising £10,000 for the YAA and donations are coming in fast. In the process we rode through some of the best scenery Yorkshire has to offer under almost perfect weather conditions. We passed through gritty mill towns, over cobbles, up hill, down dale, crossing and re-crossing rivers, over bleak moorland, past rocky crags, dodging loose sheep and winos, slowing for horses and cyclists, getting lost, getting found, and generally riding over 250 miles on motorbikes small enough to fit in the boot of most cars.

“We saw monumental reminders of the area’s industrial past, ruined abbeys, beaches, fishing ports, picture postcard villages, stately homes, market towns, and even the inside of a football stadium (“Don’t touch the turf!”). Highlights included one rider left standing as his bike set off without him, the struggle up Sutton Bank, the lady at Goathland station who paid a pound for a bear hug, fresh strawberries at the Piece Hall, and horns worn out from tooting at pedestrians! As we did last year, we will be posting a video on You Tube as soon as we’ve finished editing it and there will be a gallery on Flickr. We will continue to accept donations for the rest of the year, so please dig deep and help us keep the air ambulance flying.”

The Piece Hall, Halifax Brassed Off Sat 9.30 am
Cow & Calf, Ilkley Calendar Girls Sat 11.00 am
Aysgarth Falls, Aysgarth Robin Hood Prince of Thieves Sat 12.30 pm
The Golden Lion, Northallerton The Way to the Stars Sat 3.00 pm
Herriot Museum, Thirsk All Creatures Great and Small Sat 4.00 pm
Coffee Bean Cafè, Scarborough Little Voice Sun 9.00 am
Whitby Abbey, Whitby Dracula Sun 10.00 am
Goathland Station, Goathland Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Sun 11.00 am
Castle Howard, Brideshead Revisited Sun 12.00 pm
Leeds United, Elland Road The Damned United Sun 2.00 pm

Taking part along with Bankstone were motorcycle hire and repair firm BLD, Premier Medical Group, Car Crash Line, Copart, Easy Rider and The Davy Group.

Anyone who would like to support this unique charity fundraising exercise can visit charity donations website Just Giving (see www.justgiving.com/monkeymoviestars).

Paul Gowland, fundraising director of YAA, comments “It costs us £7,200 per day to keep our helicopters and highly trained paramedics in the air. Monkey Moviestars is certainly one of the more unusual fund raising initiatives we have seen! Our sincere thanks go to Dickon and his team for their continued support of our life-saving charity”

For more on Yorkshire Air Ambulance click here.

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