Congratulations to Simon Bolam for his public condemnation at the CII conference of the service standards presently provided by insurance companies.

The responses from the spokesmen of the insurance companies were the usual platitudes we are led to expect from them in such circumstances and illustrate, either their total ignorance of the issues relating to the service they should provide, or a total reliance on Orwellian Newspeak in making public statements.

As I read your articles on their subject in today's edition of Insurance Times, I was trying to contact by telephone the Leeds office of Norwich Union with whom we have been condemned to deal. It is totally impossible to contact any department of that office as all telephone numbers for them only ever connect with a recorded statement that "all our lines are presently busy, please wait and your call will be answered shortly". Unfortunately it never is, no matter how long one waits.

This led me to muse on how Norwich Union Direct fares in the very competitive direct telephone insurance market with such poor service standards. I telephoned all of their numbers shown in Yellow Pages and, hardly surprisingly, each call was answered before the first ring.

This is obviously indicative of the priorities and resource distribution of Norwich Union but is little different from so many other companies, whether trying to deal with personal lines or commercial business, underwriting or claims departments.

Simon Bolam is correct in that all the costs of this fall on the brokers, both from the point of view of additional administration and communication costs and also, and this is particularly worrying, they so often destroy all previous files and proposal papers, placing on the broker the burden of keeping all historic paper records which we are finding we need to increasingly call upon. All this has been accompanied by pressures to reduce commission rates. After each of the mergers, followed by office closures and staff reductions, we brokers are told it is to improve service to us and our clients by every such insurer. If this is to be the future of insurance broking with such companies, they should pay commissions to brokers appropriate to the costs of dealing with them.

If an insurer cares to respond I would appreciate honest replies and not from their usual spokesman who are quoted in your paper, who have proved frequently in the past, seem all too capable of ignoring the truth.
Ian C Morris
FCII Chartered Insurance Practitioner,
Crossley Morris Insurance

Service matters, not commission
I have worked at the sharp end of the service profession in the personal insurances market for more years than I care to remember and, at the risk of sounding like a battle worn cynic, I would post the question – How does increasing the brokers' remuneration drive improve service standards for the consumer? What is Biba's concern here – achieving a real improvement from those insurers deemed to be delivering unacceptable service standards, or simply to find another hook on which to hang a call for additional remuneration? I do not seek to excuse those insurers whose drive for cost reduction in the wake of rationalisation whilst sometimes dressed-up as strategies to improve efficiency and service is simply no more than moves to improve shareholder value. I share the widespread concern regarding deterioration in service standards across what should be the UK's flagship service industry. I would, however, argue that those brokers who have a genuine concern for the service provided to the consumer (their clients) should be doing more than simply clamouring for additional remuneration. They should be looking to place their business with those insurers within the industry, and there are many, which have a genuine commitment to the consistent delivery of excellent service seeking to develop genuine partnership relationships with them. By so doing they are likely to achieve more tangible results, more quickly, in the improvement of customer service than they will by simply demanding additional payment for providing a broking service to their clients.

I seem to recall that it is a requirement that brokers put their clients' interest above all other considerations, at all times.
D F Mead

Well done Biba, it needs saying
At last Biba has said something constructive! As Biba chairman Simon Bolam said last week, morale is very low and insurers are NOT servicing their Agents properly, despite what they say.

Our surveys and research – which can be found on our web site at all clearly demonstrate that the standard of servicing is diminishing and that a new approach is required if this is to be reversed. The insurance companies produce the product and must accept responsibility for its distribution to the customer in all respects. They are failing those customers and the agents are unfairly taking the blame. "Agents" – thereby hangs the problem! If Biba and IIB would only stop their petty jealousies and combine their resources, the insurance companies would take the intermediary (what a horrible word) market seriously. But until agents speak with one voice they will be walked all over, like they have been since the Insurance Brokers' Registration Act was passed and ignored by the insurance comcompanies en masse.
Anthony Hall ACII
Agency Management Services

Their heads are buried in sand
Having worked in insurance for more than 35 years this is the first time I have felt compelled to write to a publication such as yours, but I feel I must comment on the arrogance of the insurers who responded to Simon Bolam's comments in your lead article on October 14. The sands must be really deep in these head offices if they can make such comments as these, their heads must be well and truly buried. Let us take one Top Four insurer – recently it took us over two weeks to over two weeks to obtain a replacement cover note book despite daily telephone calls. And it also took them four attempts to issue a correct motor certificate. It is virtually impossible to get through on the telephone to their Personal Lines section. I did write to them and complain about this on October 6, 1999 but not surprisingly as yet I have not received a reply. I assume one can get through first time to their Direct operation, but then again I forget that this is a different company, or so we are often told.

Turning to CGU the figures of 3.5 million policies, 250 km of cable and 3,000 desks are all very impressive, it just seems a pity they have omitted to sit some staff at some of these desks in the Newcastle claims department where service is pretty much non-existent. Like most brokers/intermediaries I could go on and on about the vast majority of insurers and their lack of service, and more alarmingly their lack of concern. Might I suggest we stop pussy footing around with these companies. Why don't you start a name and shame column in your publication, and that way it might eventually get though to the various ivory towers that all in the garden is far from rosy.
Tony Horsfield
Roland Ward and Partners