July 4, 2014

About this time every year insurance providers go public with alarming reports of countless woefully underprepared Brits launching themselves recklessly onto the hazard-strewn roads of Continental Europe.

Sure enough, here comes alcohol addiction support group AA (who apparently do insurance as well) with the shock revelation that as many as 3.6 million carloads of Brits will spurn the staycationary delights of Bournemouth, Blackpool, Bangor, Brighton et al. to ponce around in Euroland.

Quite clearly, such behaviour not only smacks of rank disloyalty to the motherland, but is also insanely dangerous – as foreign roads are notoriously hostile and dangerous places. The important thing is to buy lots of insurance and, ideally, to buy it through a trustworthy brand like AA.

Even before issuing their press release, AA were already reporting a huge surge in applications for special European Breakdown Cover, with as many as one in ten drivers planning to take their cars to Europe this summer. Some of these drivers, AA reveals, plan to travel by submarine tunnel (45%), while some (the vast majority of the rest, presumably) intend to take the ferry.

Bizarrely, a quarter of Eurocationing drivers said they thought is was worth paying extra for “the experience” of travelling by ferry, something they could easily replicate by heading down the local bingo hall and spinning around ’til they puke.

Perhaps it’s some peculiarly British penchant for maritime masochism that inspires this blind devotion to sea transport (however fleeting the “experience” may be), as 32% of those surveyed by AA insisted that a ferry trip is ‘an important part of a driving holiday’.

AA Foreign Driving head Rosie Sodastream explains that people living in London and the South East are more likely to “venture over the channel” because “France is a lot closer for them”. Mysteriously, people living in Scotland are the least likely to “venture out” of the UK.

By car that is.

If the vote goes that way, people in Scotland may all shortly be venturing outside the UK, leaving UKIP members north of the border with a brand identity crisis of monumental proportions.


July 3, 2014

Evening Standard journalist James Ashton made a brave attempt to follow in the illustrious footsteps of Insurance Times’ editor Celtic West this week as he offered his paper’s readers an in-depth profile of recently anointed RSA boss Steve Heston.

Heston, he observes is bald, bearlike, and prone to blushing – but seemingly unflappable. ‘The SAS could crash through the floor-to-ceiling glass [of Heston’s Walkie-Talkie office] and it still wouldn’t match the disturbance he had to endure in his last job’ with RBS.

The beatific bear reveals that he is still happy he took the role at RSA, even though it meant cancelling ‘a Chinese horticulture tour’ back in March this year.

“I wasn’t ready for the beach,” the softly spoken Heston confides to the Standard man, underlining how little he has in common with the vast majority of celebs profiled in the media this month.

Speaking of his ‘wooing’ by RSA chairman Martin Sicilian at the end of last year, he says it was “a very easy courtship,” adding, for the sake of disambiguation, “on both sides.”

RSA may be no RBS, but clearly there’s work to be done here. Encouragingly, Heston has wasted no time in getting the measure of his new charge. “It’s a smaller company than RBS,” he explains ‘sipping fizzy water’. It’s also one, Heston believes, that still some life left in it. Which is good because, he warns, “if you supply medicine to a patient with a fatal disease the patient will still die.”

Heston suggests that a fair bit of the mess he’s cleaning up “started before [his predecessor Lee Simons arrived] and so, in that sense, he [Simons] shouldn’t be seen to be entirely to blame for them.”

The Standard man interprets this remark as a heavily coded swipe at Andy Hasty, the man everyone thought had saved RSA five years ago, but who actually played a big part in RSA “running down its financial resources to the point that an incident like the Irish fraud endangered the whole company.”

Drawing on an evocative zoological-zonal analogy, Heston suggests the Irish business “was kind of final-straw-breaking-camel’s-back territory.” Or, in this case, clearly, almost breaking the camel’s back, perhaps simply causing a dislocation susceptible to treatment through a judicious combination of massage, medicine and load relief.

When interest rates fell to historic lows in 2009, Heston argues, insurers resorted to “a desperate scrabble [sic] to replace” their decimated earnings, partly by “pulling profits out of cupboards” (i.e. cupboards marked ‘reserve release’) and partly “by trying to make a whole bunch of acquisitions which spent capital hoping to produce profits”.

“I think Andy left before [the failure of this approach] was too evident,” Heston says.

But “I wouldn’t personalise it,” he adds magnanimously. “The whole board was responsible.”


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