R&SA's Boyle admits insurers' mediocre service

The insurance industry could face a catastrophe on a scale greater than that caused by the WTC attacks, if it does not improve its image, according to Groupama managing director Tim Ablett.

Speaking at last week's CII conference he said: "In the past we were unable to shrug our shoulders and largely dismiss public opinion because we were able to charge realistic premiums and generate healthy investment returns. Popularity with our customers was simply not an issue."

He added that the climate today was entirely different.

"If we cannot find a way to persuade customers to value our products and pay a fair price for them, the future is bleak.

"The 11 September attacks were a catastrophe for our industry in every sense of the word. However, I believe that the continued erosion of the `Insurance plc' brand may be of even greater concern."

But according to Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) UK chief executive Duncan Boyle, also speaking at the same conference, brokers would be central to attempts by the financial services industry to improve its public image.

He told delegates that the industry was unloved and unwanted by much of the public.

Boyle said insurers gave "mediocre service" and that the industry was distrusted, not just by the public, but by its regulators, who viewed it as "lagging behind the banks" in improving its act.

Ambrose McGinn, sales and marketing director of wealth management and long term savings for Abbey National, said that brokers added value to its products because the basic products were unwanted.

"Want them they don't, but need them they certainly do. People would start buying financial products, as opposed to being sold them, only when they wanted the products in question.

"And basically, they don't," he said. "The consequence is that value is added by the sales force."

Boyle said managers had to assume the worst over the results of their decisions.

"We've got to anticipate what's the worst that can happen?" he said, arguing that bosses should look to the "future, not the past."