Picture the scene. An elderly man with white hair and beard, dressed somewhat bizarrely in red trousers tucked into wellies, is staring glumly at a sheaf of papers. Assorted gnomes and elves are standing around in small groups, muttering to each other and a team of reindeer are in a huddle outside the window. Something has gone drastically wrong at the firm of S Claus & Co Ltd, International Toy Manufacturers and Distributors. Squirming in a chair by the fireside is a small and somewhat spotty youth in a cheap suit. He is clutching a briefcase as if it were a life preserver.

At last, S Claus chief executive and principal shareholder Santa raises his grizzled old head and speaks to Marley, Scrooge and Dickens (Insurance Brokers) account executive Tim Cratchit. "Now, Mr Cratchit, please explain this to me again," he says.

Cratchit gulps and twists a nervous finger inside the grubby collar of his oversized striped shirt, flashing a small, quivering smile at the old man.

Cratchit says: "Your policy contained a warranty, Mr Claus, and I'm afraid you haven't complied with it. The insurance company is unable to pay your claim."

Outside the window there is an agitated stirring among the assembled reindeer.

Santa stares at Cratchit with unseeing eyes and says: "A warranty? A warranty? I always give 12 months on all my goods."

Assorted gnomes
Now it is Cratchit's turn to stare. He says: "Not that sort of warranty, sir, an insurance warranty. It was in your policy document sir, cover was available for the sleigh only if it were fitted with an alarm and an immobiliser and was not left unattended at any time, being an open vehicle with, er, no doors and no roof, not even a tonneau cover, come to that."

Santa replies sharply: "What policy document? Still waiting for it, and have been these last two years. And the sleigh wasn't unattended, Rudolf and the boys were with it all the time. Indeed, they were attached to it." Assorted gnomes and elves mutter and nod in agreement.

Santa adds: "And what, pray, is an insurance warranty? And, assuming that such a thing does exist, why was it not pointed out to me at the time?"

Cratchit gazed miserably into the fire-place. He knew he'd been sent to see this client only because he was the youngest and most junior member of the staff of Marley, Scrooge and Dickens (Insurance Brokers). He was always sent when there was problem. Jacob Marley and Ebeneezer Scrooge were first in the queue when new business was involved and even old Dickens could be relied on to prise himself out of the office when a free lunch was on offer. It was only when things went pear-shaped, as Jacob Marley was wont to say, that Cratchit, a fairly junior clerk, was suddenly elevated to account executive.

This was reminiscent of the time he'd been sent to explain to the Basildon and District Nude Free-Fall Parachuting Club that its policy excluded the last 12in of any fall and even though Ethelfreda Mckneegrasper's parachute hadn't opened, there had been no real problem for the first 14,000ft, all the damage to the market garden, and to Ethelfreda herself, come to that, had happened in that vital final 12in. Of course they weren't happy and there is something vaguely ridiculous as well as undignified in being pursued across half of Essex by angry naturists.

Polar fire
Cratchit's real problem was that he was a motor claims clerk. In fact, he was a very good motor claims clerk. He had passed his CIP with flying colours and was studying hard for his ACII, even if Scrooge pronounced exam qualifications to be "humbug" and wouldn't let him have time off to study at the local college.

Cratchit was not an account executive, however. Fine, he knew the theory, well at least some of it, but he never got to see the whole process and was sent out to a client, as now, only when the senior staff were intent on keeping their heads very firmly and completely below the parapet. He had no one to refer to.

"It's like this, Mr Claus," Cratchit says. "An insurance warranty is a condition that the insurance company sets. In your case, the polar fire, marine and sleigh, insisted that you fit an alarm and immobiliser otherwise the policy is invalid. Looking on the bright side, you will remember that you used to be with Sleighs Direct and we were able to get you a much cheaper premium? Well, all that money you saved will help pay for the damage"

At this point it is clear to Cratchit that things are staring to get ugly as assorted gnomes and elves can be seen picking up blunt instruments and Santa's normally jovial face is looking distinctly hostile. Making his excuses, Cratchit bolts for the door and drives off as quick as his rented husky team can carry him.

The real problem, you see, is that he simply isn't trained to deal with clients...

Like most modern businesses, Marley, Scrooge and Dickens has a training and competence plan. All staff are required to attend regular sessions delivered, usually, by old Dickens. These sessions have covered everything from professional indemnity to aviation and marine. You can imagine the principals' surprise when they attended a seminar and heard they were doing it all wrong. The speaker, who was sort of an expert chap, said that the whole point of training and competence (or T and C as they called it) was to make sure that people in the business were really competent to do the job they had been hired for. It was a waste of time and resources training people to do lots of other jobs, particularly if they never got the opportunity to put the new knowledge into practice.

He also said people needed more than just knowledge and exam qualifications to be competent. They needed to be able to apply the knowledge and have the necessary skills to do so. Perhaps the most important skill that all at Marley, Scrooge and Dickens could do with is the ability to make a compliant sale.

Perhaps they are not entirely alone?

Question 1
At what point must a warranty be explained to an insured?
A When you first meet them
B When you know the insurer will apply the warranty
C Before the policy commences
D When the red red robin comes bob bob bobbing along?

Question 2
Who should be responsible for dealing with this GISC member's complaints?
A Tim Cratchit, because the partners have designated him to deal with complaints
B A partner of the firm
C The compliance officer of the firm
D Anyone who happens to receive the complaint (which must be in writing)

Question 3
What is the underlying failure of the principals of Marley Scrooge and Dickens?
A Tim is incompetent
B Tim is incompetent and has no one to refer to for guidance
C The principals should have visited Santa themselves
D Having such stupid names brings the industry into disrepute

Question 4
Which one is the odd one out?
A The GISC codes
B The perfect insurance broker
C Santa Claus
D The perfect insurance provider

Answer a) because the other three do not exist, but we promise the FSA that we are trying hard.

This week's CPD article is written by Mac Eddey, partner of The Training Design Studio. His email is gme_new.uk@excite.co.uk.

The author of last week's article, Chris Miller, can be contacted on 020 7337 9960

Last week's answers | 1B | 2A | 3C