Insurers must fight against the poor image presented by the tabloids, says David Williams. A code of ethics for bodily injury claims could be just the thing to start the campaign

It always upsets me when I read that insurers are holding out on valid payments, especially as the tabloids tend to ignore the facts.

Should we just assume that our reputation will remain poor, or should we fight back?

I am sure that if we were a celebrity and engaged Max Clifford he would hunt out an opportunity to redress the balance and would look for something equally emotive – possibly picking up on bodily injury claims.

Our industry pays out billions every year here. We do it efficiently and to people that we don’t even have a contractual relationship with.

We push rehabilitation, offer to fund services that seek out alternative employment or try to get people back to work in other ways. We can be quite creative at times.

Max would be looking for some headlines to show us in a good light; cue here the frontier economics research that shows that when injured parties come direct to insurers they get a higher payment – and much more quickly than when they engage the services of a claimant law firm.

The total cost of bodily injury claims paid by UK motor insurers has significantly outstripped inflation over the past decade; over the past 20 years they have risen by 840%. The number of claims jumped 3% a year between 1996 and 2006, despite the number of people killed or injured on British roads falling by 19% over the same period. We even fill the gap when there is no cover on motor injury claims.

I believe that we are doing a great job. So why doesn’t the man in the street agree? Is it as simple as just speaking up a bit more?

A marketing man told me recently that it’s not just about delivering and then shouting about it, you have to state clearly in advance what you are going to deliver, deliver it, and then point out you’ve delivered. This made me realise that delivering on a proposition probably goes unnoticed if you don’t tell the customer (or injured party) what they should expect. It’s also something that we don’t do as an industry.

Perhaps we should introduce a code of ethics, something to send to an injured party (and his or her representatives) at an early stage so that they can clearly see our commitments and know what to expect. Over the years we’ve focused on protocols and now, probably next April, the Government will get around to “imposing” some new ones through the Ministry of Justice rule changes. A code of ethics is something we can do unilaterally without lots of discussion. How about something simple? We could promise to:

• Respond quickly with respect and a human contact

• Listen carefully to ensure we have understood the victim’s needs

• Provide easy-to-understand information and explain what we will do at each stage of the claim

• Ensure fair treatment and compensation

• Recognise the victim as an individual person

• Show flexibility according to their specific needs.

I think this would have a tremendous impact. While it does not in anyway suggest that we will be going further than our legal liability dictates, it also serves as reminder to every member of staff that they are acting as an ambassador for their company and our industry. IT