My journalist image of a friendly insurer does not match my poor customer experience says Christine Seib

' During a recent moment of weakness, I accepted an offer to stand up and speak in front of an audience of insurers, financial trade groups and consumer organisations.

The ABI has asked me to address its June seminar on the social and economic value of insurance. Be brutal, the ABI has urged me. Tell the audience what insurers do well and where they go wrong.

I agreed to do the speech because I figured that I needed a taste of my own medicine. It's easy for me to throw tricky questions at the poor sod at the lectern, safe at the back of the room, but if I'm going to challenge the views of the industry's great and good, surely I should be able to justify my own opinions on insurance in front of a crowd?

Then my troubles started. I realised that the past few years spent interviewing anyone who's anyone in insurance had given me a rose-tinted view of the industry not recognised by my colleagues, friends and family.

Even my own personal contact with insurers has been at odds with the fine words spoken at numerous conferences on social responsibility, customer care, good value, blah blah blah.

Two weeks ago my sister's car was broken into. For her insurer to cover the cost of fixing the small rear window, she faced paying a £150 excess and losing her no-claims bonus for three years. Instead, she stumped up the £70 for the repair and wondered why she'd bothered buying insurance at all.

My dog turned 11 in April and, despite never having been subject to a claim, her insurance leapt from £16 a month to almost £20. You heard right, that's £240 a year to insure a 5lb ball of fluff.

And I won't even start on my inability to get reasonably priced household cover because I live in shared accommodation.

If you are thinking that I must be cursed when it comes to cover, think again.

A quick trawl of the personal finance sections in every weekend paper reveals letters of complaint about insurers, and these are just the ones that make it to print.

Plenty more pour into every newspaper office, only to be swiftly rectified as soon as a call is made to the insurer's press office. And I'm not even counting the tales of woe from commercial insurance buyers.

I have rarely doubted the sincerity of the insurance chief executive that tells me how well his company cares for its customers.

Nor do I doubt the economic and social value of insurance: with an economic output equal to about 1.2% of Britain's GDP, the sector is a force to be reckoned with.

When a crisis occurs, I'm sure that insurance is invaluable. I even write articles that warn about the dangers of being uninsured.

So why do the mundane insurance experiences of myself and so many others fall short of the idyllic theoretical customer-insurer relationship described to me at interviews?

After all, far more people have petty claims than they do crises, and those petty claims are what the public uses to form its opinion of insurers.

If I am going to talk about what insurers do well and poorly, I need to figure out why my mental picture of the insurance industry is so good and my experience so poor.

I have to do the speech at the end of June.

If anyone can give me a few clues, please email. Now. IT