An interesting discussion arose in one of the internet newsgroups a few weeks back. A gentleman had to claim against his Royal & Sunalliance (RSA) policy for a minor water leak. Unfortunately, the builder who turned up managed to cause further damage, and in "typical industry style" the RSA told the customer to contact the builder, and the builder said he had to contact the RSA.

A couple of years ago the policyholder would have been left dazed, confused and powerless. But his posting in the internet newsgroup brought a flurry of activity, ranging from advice about where the contractual relationship lay, the name and address of the RSA's CEO, the numbers of the General Insurance Standards Council (GISC) and the Insurance Times editor, and a message from someone who thought he knew the managing director of the building firm involved. Suddenly the customer had gone from a position of complete powerlessness to one of empowerment.

Trawling through newsgroups it struck me how badly the industry is thought of. Suddenly, the market research that suggests hammering nails into your forehead is a more enjoyable experience than renewing a motor policy is brought into sharp focus. Stories from real people are told in the frustrated tones of the disenfranchised and shared across the internet for anyone to read.

As an industry, insurance is unable to communicate to customers the benefits of its products or the reasons for decisions. A whole army of consultants and contractors are out there without professional indemnity insurance because they can't see the point of handing over £500 a year. People are complaining their motor policies are becoming more expensive when they haven't made a claim. Fears that flood-hit houses will become uninsurable are being voiced without answer. I'm afraid that the gentleman whose answer to someone's problem was "use a professionally registered IBRC broker" completely missed the point – customers don't know or care who or what the IBRC is!

So while companies spend millions on branding consultants and changing the company name again, the customers will still be left with an image of an industry that operates in the dark ages, keeps information to itself and doesn't understand the needs of its customers. Until these issues are dealt with the bad press will continue.

  • Ross Hall is the founder of strategic consultancy Garol. He can be contacted by email at or on tel 020 8902 0618.