Do you remember what happened in 2004? We have compiled a month-by-month summary of the major happenings
JanuaryThe year kicked off with the ramifications of the collapse of underwriter Tribune in December 2003, which left 40,000 policyholders without cover. GISC announced a probe into brokers who dealt with the underwriter, while the police launched a criminal investigation into the collapse. Fraud remained in the headlines as AIG, MMA, Fortis and Esure all began trials with cognitive interviewing specialist Absolute to tackle the problem. January also saw HSBC start a beauty parade, looking for an underwriter to replace NIG on its SME book. The prize was eventually awarded in March to Allianz Cornhill. The FSA remained topical as ever, with delays in setting risk-transfer rules, concerns over secondary intermediaries and worries over the cost burden of regulation to brokers at the fore.
FebruaryAs Norwich Union announced plans to close down its high street broker Hill House Hammond, tales emerged of rejected offers by rivals to buy the chain. In the ensuing weeks, insurers bustled to shore up their books of business with Hill House Hammond, while Norwich Union looked to keep the business to itself by converting customers to its direct arm. As ever, Folgate was in the mix, picking up Hill House Hammond's commercial division.The troubles in the employers' liability market rumbled on after last year's government inquiries, with the Master of the Rolls Lord Philips issuing a warning to the industry to agree on a workable, success fees scheme or have one imposed on it. The industry finally announced a solution in June.Concerns over FSA regulation continued with the issue of orphan clients emerging after the FSA confirmed that it would not provide insurers with a list of which brokers it had approved for authorisation until November at the earliest.
MarchThe gap between big and smaller brokers continued to widen, with Norwich Union announcing plans to cull its smallest agents.Yorkshire broker Smart & Cook joined the growing numbers of regional brokers looking to acquire aggressively after an investment from venture capitalist 3i and The Broker Network announced its plans to float. Brand assurers continued to make their presence felt with the Post Office tendering for a broker to manage its entry into the personal motor insurance market.Irish entrant Quinn-direct continued to make waves after it admitted it had been using its Republic of Ireland liability wording in the UK. The insurer agreed to change its policy wording, but the controversy surrounding Quinn continued. On a global stage, the upcoming Olympics in Athens hit the headlines with concerns over insurance cover, adding to worries that the venues would not be built in time and the bombings in Madrid may not have had much impact on terrorism rates, but reminded insurers that the threat of terrorism remains ever present.
AprilThe first edition in April featured a story of how public liability concerns were leading to changes at the Olympics. The discus was being changed to a Frisbee and corks were being stuck on the end of javelins. Far fetched? Well it was April 1.On a more serious note, the market first heard about the sale of AXA Direct, a major departure for the insurer, which had finally decided to concentrate on the intermediary channel.A first hint of the Spitzer furore came in the form of a Lloyd's investigation into placement service agreements.Later in the month, Insurance Times revealed a growing trend among SMEs to buy insurance direct as well as detailing some of the first concerns about the ABI and Biba-agreed terms of business agreements. This was one of the first shots in the battle over client ownership.The last edition in April gave another early warning, this time of the softening market driving increased competition in private motor. The protagonists this time were Privilege and esure.
MayThere was some reassurance for the insurance industry as a whole, with the first news that the government was about to turn its attention to the UK's fast-growing compensation culture. Moves to regulate accident-management companies and reform the claims process were all detailed.The industry also learned about the collapse of merger talks between Highway and Cox, the first chapter in a saga that led to Cox being put on the market. There was more news on claims with the announcement that the Civil Justice Council was to hold a ‘big tent' discussion on medical reports and that the government could move from conditional fee funding for litigation to US style contingency fees.The end of the month saw Norwich Union announce that it was to start selling SME insurance direct to businesses over the internet. Motor underwriters also got the first hint of what was to come in the Greenaway report, with the welcome news that the professor was shying away from the idea of moving to a continental model of insuring the car rather than the driver.
JuneThe question teetering on the lips of industry moguls was whether the market was edging closer to a downturn. Allianz Cornhill thought not. The company's chief executive Andrew Torrance disputed the claims. He told Insurance Times that rates were still rising, although not at 2003 levels.Meanwhile rates in the reinsurance market continued to go "further south." According to chief executive of reinsurance broker Cooper Gay, Toby Esser, reinsurance rates were down 10%-15% on average, with some sectors down as much as 40%, primarily led by US property.The debate surrounding the existence of a compensation culture in the UK was fuelled when the Better Regulation Task Force (BRTF) issued a report, which found no evidence of it.The report said the number of registered accident claims had fallen and in most cases awards were less than £3,000 - signalling that such a culture was mythical.The report made a series of recommendations. It suggested that the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) should research the impact of raising the limit under which personal injury claims can be pursued through the small claims track from the current limit of £1,000 to £5,000.
JulyNIG's managing director Charles Crawford quashed rumours that the insurer was up for sale. He said that NIG was aiming to become a top-three general insurer and double its gross written premiums to £1bn.Insurance Times revealed that Norwich Union swooped on Zurich's £18m book of Folgate business by striking a deal to take over the account. Folgate chief executive Andy Homer said the deal would see small commercial and some personal lines business worth around £18-20m in premium transfer to NU. Finance sector union Amicus threatened a campaign of industrial action in the insurance industry over issues such as executive pay and offshoring, identifying Lloyds TSB and Aviva as being in the firing line.Loss adjuster GAB Robins reported a 49% increase in week-on-week terms in storm related claims following the storms that battered the UK in early July. GAB said its building repair division has seen a significant jump in the amount of storm claims it was dealing with.
AugustThe start of the so called silly season, when nothing is supposed to happen, saw the IIB threaten legal action against Royal & SunAlliance over the insurer's new terms of business agreement (TOBA). IIB director general Andrew Paddick said it objected to the new R&SA TOBA because the insurer was not prepared to include a"non-solicitation" clause, stating that it would not approach a broker's client directly. The IIB subsequently referred the TOBA to the Office of Fair Trading, with Paddick recommending that brokers not sign it. Paddick said that he received support from more than 400 brokers, with the majority agreeing to fund legal action if required. R&SA then agreed to redraft its TOBA to include a non-solicitation clause. Andrew Paddick described the decision as "very pleasing". The IIB also challenged the FSA over its decision to include brokers in the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
SeptemberInsurers faced the biggest battering of the year when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne smashed into the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Florida.Only three years since 1950 had seen more than one major hurricane make landfall on the US mainland.Hurricane Ivan- the largest of the storms- pushed insurers' hurricane losses beyond the $20bn mark. When Hurricane Jeanne ploughed into the US it officially became the worst hurricane season in 130 years of records.
OctoberNew York attorney general Eliot Spitzer unleashed a lawsuit against the world largest insurer Marsh & McLennan (MMC).The US probe into contingent commissions and alleged bid rigging sent ripples across the global market, prompting fears that MMC's UK arm Marsh could "unwind as quickly as Anderson."Spitzer warned contingent commissions could be interpreted as anti-competitive if brokers placed business with the insurer who offers the largest bid. In response the world's largest brokerages abandoned contingent commission amid fears they would come under Spitzer's scrutiny.MMC chief executive buckled under the pressure and announces his resignation. He was replaced by a former colleague of Spitzer, Michael Cherkasky.In the UK, Marsh instigated a series of reforms to come into effect from 1 January 2005. From January Marsh clients will be told of all fees and commissions earned by the broker.
November Despite the fuss over the Atlantic, the Treasury said no probe would be launched into the UK insurance industry.Meanwhile Marsh took the decision to cut 280 jobs in the UK, prompted by the softening market and Eliot Spitzer's investigations.Secretary of State Lord Falconer gave claims farmers "one last chance" for self-regulation, in the government's response to the Better Regulation Task Force recommendations for the reform of the personal injury sector. Ten new companies subsequently signed up for the CSC.Zurich said it had conducted an offshore SME call centre pilot, but had decided to keep the service in the UK, while St Paul Travelers said Cassidy Davis was to be broken up and the various books sold to the highest bidder.Speculation arose that R&SA was up for grabs as its share price jumped following a broker trying to fill an order for 6 million shares, but the insurer, AIG and market analysts all poo-pooed the idea.
December The FSA was rumoured to be planning a U-turn of commission disclosure as pressure from would-be New York Governor Eliot Sptizer and his investigation in the US started to tell. The regulator had previously ruled out an investigation in the UK, but sources close to the FSA said it would issue a new consultation on the issue.AXA threatened to cancel the agencies of 200 small brokers who had not produced any evidence that they would be compliant come the regulation deadline. IT
A year in Backchat...In January, while getting a bit of winter sun in Spain, Backchat spotted Mark Langford the founder of The Accident Group singing I will survive in a karaoke. Meanwhile Insurance Times was proud to be featured in Private Eye's Neophiliacs section after declaring that Malta could be the new Guernsey.Backchat was concerned to see a January edition of The Sun lead with ABI in Drugs Quiz. What was going on at Gresham Street? There was much relief at the austere public body that the ABI in question was Abi Titmuss of Hell's Kitchen (and, ahem, DVD) fame.
LapdancingIn March, Backchat spotted Andy Briscoe, Paul Cosh and Phil Bunker all recently departed from the AA, BDML and NIG having lunch together. Were they discussing gardening tips? Quite possibly as Cosh landed at Highway and Briscoe ended up leading a Candover bid for Saga.Blow you recruitment problems away. Allianz would do well to use the experiences of one of its underwriters to help drive some interest in a career in insurance. As part of the underwriter's Spearmint Rhino risk, he had to visit the club on more than one evening to check out the, erm, risks. Talking of risks, motorcyle broker Bennetts used its ever popular Babes to promote an online Neil Hodgson SuperJump game. Feminists turn away now. The bigger the jump, the more clothes fall off the on-screen Bennett Babe.
BeansAllianz Cornhill Engineering faced a tricky problem in April. A broken freezer at one of its insureds meant that the insurer had 40 tonnes of green beans to get rid of pronto. It is rumoured that the menu at Allianz's staff canteen featured bean soup, bean casserole followed by bean surprise for months afterwards.May saw the news that snake-hipped Justin Timberlake coped with being dumped by Britney in a very unusual way. He said that he pretended to be an insurance broker and even had fake business cards printed. Is that how he landed Cameron Diaz? In July, Backchat discovered that pop diva Kylie was the favourite music of the insurance fraudster. Absolute Customer Management identified the six CDs most commonly listed by claimants to inflate the size of their claim.
IllustriousBackchat was also amused to hear that one leading loss adjuster had recruited a parrot called Dudley to its press office. Watch out for a spokesman being reported to have said, "Who's a pretty boy?" Always keen to publicise young talent in the industry, Backchat was pleased to learn about the efforts of one Lloyd's broker employee. Rebecca Farhall of Connor Hale Kerslake made the illustrious top 100 in men's magazine FHM's High Street Honeys competition in August. Good show!Former Euclidian boss Jamie Truscott also had luck on his side in August, when he narrowly missed being swept away by flood waters in Boscastle. Only the night before the disaster, Truscott had been staying in the local hotel.
PalatialAt the Monte Carlo Rendez-Vous in September, Benfield top dog Grahame Chilton was beaten to his regular palatial lair. A mystery person had booked the suite for two years solid, leaving poor Chilton to find another suitably grand room from which to hold court. Former Ward Evans director Alex Dawson was also spotted by Backchat working for a company that trains and supplies bouncers. A far cry from insurance, but Dawson's knowledge of risk management would certainly be useful.In October, the FSA came under fire from the industry for its non-answers to questions. Insurance sector leader David Strachan came back with the following helpful response: "I going to have to give a non-answer to that one."
Reality TVInsurers service standard also came under the watchful gaze of Backchat. One broker reported that an insurer, despite having all policy documentation, was unable to make contact because there was no dialling code on the phone number provided and they had no phone books. Reality TV featured strongly in Backchat in November. AXA created its own version of the much loved - and loathed - Big Brother, locking the company's senior management in the actual BB flat. Mark Cliff survived the vote by AXA staff, leaving Andy Fairchild and Peter Hubbard out in the cold.
CelebrityAnd I'm a celebrity...get me out of here also had a run in with the insurance industry. Apparently the celebrities had to cough up for their own personal accident insurance - a mere £4,000 a head - after the production company refused to foot the bill. In December the rivalry between Yorkshire brokers Smart & Cook and Henderson continued over seating plans at a local institute dinners. Henderson staff were put at the back by a Smart & Cook employee organising the event. But one wag suggested it was because of the short stature of one or more of the Smart & Cook staff. Ouch!