To say that the Association of British Insurers has had a busy year would be something of an understatement. Looking back over the past 12 months, the insurance industry has been almost constantly in the news. Floods, genetic testing, personal injury awards, endowment mortgages – the list goes on.
But what stands out most for me from 2000 is the industry's determination to raise standards. The opening for business of the General Insurance Standards Council in July was followed in October by the launch of a new quality mark scheme setting tough standards for long term savings and protection products, and, in November, by the publication of the long-awaited general insurance Claims Code.
But let's go back to some of those key issues. The last part of the year saw us awash, inundated, flooded – choose your favourite bad pun – with enquiries about the severe weather which left huge parts of the country devastated. Companies excelled themselves and pulled out all the stops to make sure that emergency help was available to policyholders and claims were dealt with as swiftly as possible. Of course many won't finally be settled for many months, until the last of the floodwaters subside, and homes and businesses have had the chance to dry out properly.
For the future, insurers are determined to maintain cover and keep premiums at reasonable levels wherever possible, but the government must play its part by drawing up and enforcing sensible planning controls, and maintaining adequate flood defences.
Much earlier in the year came the Court of Appeal's ruling on compensation awards for pain and suffering in eight test cases. The ruling recommended a tapered increase in awards over £10,000, of up to around a third for the most serious cases.
ABI was not directly involved in these important cases – although several of our member companies were. Our message was not that compensation is wrong or too high, but that if we, as a society, decide that a particular level of awards is appropriate, we must be prepared to pay the higher price needed – usually through higher insurance premiums, especially for motor and employers' liability policies.
And our increased willingness as a society to pursue compensation payments after accidents has been one of the main factors pushing motor insurance costs – and premiums – up. This year's motor premium increases were big news over the quiet summer holiday period, although media interest has now waned, at least for the time being.
No compulsory testing
Media interest has certainly not waned where genetic testing is concerned. We have continued to reiterate insurers' position – that we will not ask applicants for insurance to take tests, but will ask to see any reliable and relevant results, if the applicant already has them.
In October, the government's genetics and insurance committee (GAIC) approved insurers' use of the results of a test for Huntington's Disease for life insurance underwriting, and the GAIC will continue to examine a small number of other test results.
At the same time, the Human Genetics Commission has begun a more general examination of some of the issues, and we shall be playing a full part in their work.
This year has also seen ABI step up its European activities. There is still no genuine single market for financial services, despite numerous EU directives and the growth of distance selling techniques. British insurers therefore have a strong interest in the success of the European Commission's Financial Services Action Plan. Our experience and expertise will put us in a good, competitive position, despite the enormous size of some of our continental rivals.
But back to the floods. We probably haven't seen the last of this winter's bad weather, and, the longer it continues, the more we are all reminded of just how important insurance is. That is why we must all work to make sure that this year's commitment to improved standards and service takes real effect in 2001.