Mañana comes early
Spanish practices, for many, conjure up an image of out-of-date and restrictive practices, but not for Backchat. For him, it brings to mind a relaxed, friendly and warm serv …

Mañana comes early
Spanish practices, for many, conjure up an image of out-of-date and restrictive practices, but not for Backchat. For him, it brings to mind a relaxed, friendly and warm service in a country he loves.

So it came as no surprise to hear about a claim handled recently by the Spanish insurer over here, Ocaso. An elderly woman claimed for damage to her front door caused by the police. Although Ocaso didn't technically have to pay out, instead of putting the poor woman through the proverbial Spanish Inquisition, the company agreed to stump up the cash.

The poor dear had fallen asleep on her home bleeper alarm, prompting the police into an emergency response that involved smashing through her front door.

Backchat is assured his amigos at Ocaso repaired the door fully as a gesture of goodwill.

And they didn't put it off until mañana.

Dr Love
And who says risk managers aren't sexy? Backchat's compadres at liability giant AIG invited him to its corporate governance seminar. One speaker demonstrated his prowess admirably.

First speaker of the day - the morning glory slot - Oxford University business expert and early riser Dr Rory Knight wanted to wake up delegates.

He recalled the words of a French philosopher, who said a man should not speak in public longer than he could sustain the act of love... and then launched into a 40-minute speech.

Backchat wondered whether there could be any other explanation for his incredible popularity with the ladies at the after-speech coffee break?

Hexes and harlots
Claimline's Jeremy Wolff repeated a bizarre allegation he had heard while working at the personal injury firm. One woman wanted to sue her tarot card-reading neighbour - for allegedly causing her psychological stress by casting a spell on her.

Wolff also revealed he had been a legal volunteer for a Citizens Advice Bureau in London's notorious King's Cross. As part of his job, he gave legal advice to certain local women of the night who had scrapes with the police.

But one evening, a woman dressed in an expensive fur coat climbed out of her limousine requesting advice. Wolff told her she would not be eligible as she obviously had visible means of support.

She then opened her coat to reveal her best underwear, saying: "What these? They're just my work clothes."

Swerving to hit
Co-operative Insurance Services revealed some of its more entertaining claims. They included: "The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him", "I saw the slow-moving, sad-faced, old gentleman as he bounced off the car bonnet" and "I was on the way to the doctors with rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way."

But the clear favourites were: "As I turned the ignition, I glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment", and "My girlfriend kissed me, I lost control and woke up in hospital".

The breast insurance ever
Maverick insurance man Simon Burgess's apparently insatiable appetite for publicity continues with claims he has set a new world record by insuring a model's bust for £10m.

This beats the existing Guinness Book of Records entry for the most expensive body part set by Singing in the Rain star Cyd Charisse (then 31) in 1952, when Hollywood bosses insured her legs for £3.1m.

Actress and singer Jennifer Lopez earlier this year denied rumours she had insured her bottom for a multi-million pound sum at Lloyd's.

Burgess is widely known for stunts such as issuing policies against alien abduction and more recently covering a Birmingham sea life centre's giant Japanese crabs in case they attack visitors.

He said of his latest publicity coup: "This is both wonderful and uplifting news."

Motor madness
Here's a clutch of funny motor claims from Backchat's pals at intermediary Roadrunner.

This one may not be popular with animal lovers: "I pulled into the lay-by with smoke coming from under the bonnet. I realised the car was on fire, so I took my dog and smothered it with a blanket."

Another claimant is refreshingly honest: "I was admiring a young lady walking along the opposite pavement. It's a habit. I can't help it."

And lastly, a claim from this off-road driver: "While attempting to demonstrate the vehicle's capabilities over fairly rough terrain, I unfortunately hit a pothole. I lost control, the vehicle spun around and hit a tree at its nearside."

And then there was dark
The gods of risk management definitely are not with the Association of Insurance and Risk Managers (Airmic).

First, the association had to postpone last year's annual lecture due to flooding. Then its biggest event of the year was hit by a power cut.

The Airmic conference was closed for an hour after the International Convention Centre in Birmingham was subject to a huge power failure. The conference centre's back-up power also failed and delegates were herded into the foyer for the duration.

No way to risk manage your way out of that one, guys.

Giggles at the gallows
Backchat is glad to see gallows humour is alive and well among his industry pals in the light of the Independent collapse.

One wag suggested the sort of team the insurer might expect to field for a cricket match: "A bare 11 - I mean, they don't have any reserves, do they?"

An eye for an eye
Travel insurer Club Direct admitted to the oddest claim it had received. One customer put in a medical claim for a broken leg after being attacked by an amorous flamingo that had mistaken him for its mate.

Its fraud investigators also foiled a bogus claim from a woman who said she had lost an eye while on holiday.

After consulting other travel insurance companies, the investigators found she had made two similar claims on previous occasions - for the same eye.

Barefaced cheek
Euclidian staff were the victims of a cheeky theft at the Lloyd's Yacht Club Lutine Lineslip Regatta last month.

The Lloyd's company tied a pair of Union Jack knickers to the halyard of their boat in honour of England's victory against Germany in the World Cup qualifiers.

But during the night, sailing rival Hill Dickinson crept onto the boat and stole the G-string.

After the final race the next day, a team member revealed he was wearing the underwear.

Euclidian lawyer Kees van der Klugt said the snatching of the thong was highly appropriate. "They had, after all, seen only our backside during the racing."

Ugly duckling now swan
BUPA International staff have been swanning around to promote the launch of a new computer system, SWAN, and raise money for charity into the bargain.

SWAN was an ugly duckling for seven years, but now it has come of age BUPA International held celebrations at its offices in Brighton.

Three of the SWAN team members, Henry Kaspian, Chris Onley and Andy Fulluck dusted off some tutus to re-enact Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

The company will donate £1,000 to the Swan Lifeline charity, which helps to look after swans that have been injured or affected by environmental problems.

More Th>n most
Publicity for Royal & SunAlliance's new e-commerce channel More Th>n attracted the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority recently - now it seems even the staff have had enough of the relentless publicity.

One employee complained: "Everything has gone green (the official More Th>n colour) and, what's more, there's stickers everywhere." There is no rest - even in the restroom. Apparently, stickers above urinals bear the legend: "Have you got More Th>n the bloke next to you?"

Mythical Michael
Insurance Times put a price on Michael Bright's head in August. Like Nessie and the Yeti, many sightings had been documented but none substantiated. IT offered a magnum of champagne to anyone who could produce a photograph proving his whereabouts and received many calls but sadly no pictures. This left the magnum unclaimed.

Bet this fella was ticked off
Most insurers are used to getting claims for Rolex watches, genuine or not. But MMA had no trouble foiling a recent fraudulent claim for one of the timepieces. A crooked customer put in a £4,000 claim for a Rolex and was happy to oblige when the insurer asked for evidence that he had owned one.

The man provided a photo of himself in his office with his sleeves rolled up to show off the flash watch. His only mistake was to overlook that behind him was a calendar, with the days crossed off, showing the date to be two weeks after he had first made the claim.

Bug gets Lloyd's tongue
Lloyd's feared the Anna Kournikova computer bug was too much of a temptation for some of the more hot-blooded men in its underwriting room.

Worried that the tennis star-named virus might have brought its systems grinding to a halt, Lloyd's ordered the plug to be pulled on its email system.

It took the same action over the Love Bug virus to stop it spreading. For part of one afternoon, Lloyd's was effectively unable to communicate electronically with outside underwriting syndicates.

It must have seemed to some older hands that Lloyd's had returned to its traditional ways of working, at least for a few hours.

Carol not so Smillie
Insurance Times Awards lifetime achiever Bob Scott wiped the smile off guest presenter Carol Smillie's face at the awards presentation.

Turning to TV's DIY guru, he said earlier in the day he had been thinking about her programme, Changing Rooms, having seen a house with a horrendous bathroom. But, through tiredness, emotion or a drop too much wine, he dropped a clanger, thanking "Liz", and quickly transforming her smug grin to a grimace.

Suite surprise
They were playing musical rooms at the reception of the Europa Hotel during the Biba conference. When the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) team arrived shortly after lunch on Thursday, they were told their rooms weren't ready. And by 5pm, the four of them were forced to cram desperately into one bathroom to get ready.

ICL's Manjit Rana enjoyed a slightly happier ending on a previous trip to Belfast. When he arrived, he was told that he wasn't expected. But suddenly the manager of the hotel appeared and offered him a suite. The service he received over the next few days was exemplary. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, though. Apparently, another Rana was interested in buying the hotel.

It's a zoo out there
When Foster the vulture created a flap by escaping from a Norfolk zoo, one company had more reason than most to keep a beady eye on the bird's plight.

Bury St Edmunds broker Alliance Insurance's staff manage the corporate risk management contract for Foster and his zoo.

Alliance managing director John McLaren-Stewart takes up the story: "When one of my colleagues started talking about insurance and vultures, I thought he was making an acerbic comment about the state of the industry. It was only later that the penny dropped."

Foster enjoyed near-celebrity status by evading capture for seven days, until his handler coaxed him down from his temporary perch on a vicarage rooftop and back to the safety of Banham Zoo. Foster's happy landing was also good news for Alliance since it didn't have to pay out for any claim.

Good try though
Backchat just loves to hear local authorities boasting about how efficient they are. The exaggerations of council officials make insurers' claims about service standards look minor by comparison.

One claim Backchat really loved was overheard at the recent Autoglass sponsored Crime Concern car crime forum. The police made clear that the faster abandoned cars were removed, the lower the crime rate in areas. Leaving them there makes the place untidy, lowers morale and leads to more crime.

A council official claimed that his London borough was simply the best at removing abandoned cars. Unfortunately Backchat's chum lives in the borough and has had a dumped car outside her house for weeks. There are also two cars dumped outside the police station. It sounded good though.

Complete disaster
Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, you're reminded they already are.

Groupama chief executive Tony Lancaster was giving his views on life, the universe and insurance at a London conference last week. "The business of insurance today is a bloody awful business to be in," he said. "We are a complete and utter disaster from the underwriting point of view." And just in case anyone got the wrong idea, he added: "I'm not trying to be negative, I'm trying to be practical."

Phew. That's a relief, then.

What we predicted would happen

Capita buys McLarens Toplis
In May Insurance Times predicted Insurance services giant Capita would be acquiring the UK's second largest loss adjusting company - McLarens Toplis.

It was reported that a merger between Capita and McLarens Toplis would create a formidable new force in the £4bn-a-year claims management industry, with a combined turnover of £523m. It would be able to offer a full range of outsourced insurance services from back-office functions to front-end loss adjusting services.

Capita has substantial expertise in managing outsourced back-office insurance services. Last year, it won contracts worth £700m, including a £323m, ten-year contract with Abbey National.

Last November, Capita acquired the remaining 74% stake it did not already own in Eastgate, the UK's largest administrator of third-party insurance claims, for more than £10m. Capita also took on Eastgate's outstanding debt of £26m.

The Cotesworth collapse
On 30 August, Insurance Times reported that Lloyd's managing agency Cotesworth & Co was rumoured to be exposed to a number of Independent Insurance's reinsurance contracts which was one of the main reasons the Lloyd's insurer had failed to find a capital provider for 2002.

A few weeks later Cotesworth collapsed.

Back the GISC or face the FSA
Insurance Times reported in October that the insurance industry should back the General Insurance Standards Council (GISC) or risk increased regulation by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Both the GISC and the British Insurance Brokers' Association warned the Treasury will remove the industry's chance to self-regulate and bring in statutory regulation under the FSA.

The warning was prompted by the Institute of Insurance Brokers' launch of its Regulatory Council on 22 October, a body to rival the GISC.

Churchill buys Prudential
In November the news hit the front-page that Churchill Insurance was set to announce the acquisition of Prudential Insurance Services for an undisclosed sum.

The move was the latest in a series of acquisitions by Churchill, which has been on a £500m spending spree this year.

A Prudential spokeswoman said at the time: "We can't comment on rumour and speculation, as there are lots of rumours on the back of Mark Wood taking over as CEO."