The British Damage Management Association is not the cartel of larger companies it was once thought to be, says Claire Johnson. Small operators can also gain by joining….

The idea that membership of the British Damage Management Association (BDMA) is more useful for a large organisation than a small operator is debatable. The perception of the association as a cartel of bigger operators is gradually being

dispelled, particularly as more companies achieve accredited status and contribute to the ongoing development of education and standards in the industry.

Before the BDMA, the larger, better known damage management organisations had things pretty much their own way. Without an official accreditation process, insurers had no way of assessing the competence of potential contractors other than through their size and reputation. Once an organisation had built up a relationship with an insurer, it had a good chance of being nominated for any recovery work that came along.

Of course, larger organisations also have greater marketing and communication budgets, which helped them pick up the bulk of the work in the first place. Small operators and sole traders had to fight for recognition. They might get work from a small fire or flood in a far-flung, inaccessible location, but generally they had to rely on working as sub-contractors for larger firms, or providing an additional range of services.

There was no one to speak up for them, nobody to represent their interests and no organisation to which they could turn to for advice or arbitration.

As damage management became an increasingly scientific and specialist area, many individuals spent time and money studying, attending courses and taking examinations. That created a pool of expert technicians around the country with no official voice or recognition.

Then came the Woolf reforms, the Turnbull Report and the BDMA.

The association has never made any secret of the fact that it would ultimately like to see BDMA accreditation become a requirement for anyone working in the industry. But this would be particularly beneficial for small firms and sole traders.

That is because gaining BDMA accreditation is an individual achievement. Individuals take the examinations and receive personal certification, something that goes with them should they move between different organisations.

Companies employing a certain number of accredited technicians can apply for corporate membership status, but the expertise is acknowledged as vested in the individuals.

Like the Corgi symbol required by gas fitters, the BDMA Kitemark will allow smaller operators to prove their competence to the public and to insurers or loss adjusters involved in allocating claims contracts.

Belonging to the BDMA means that, for the first time, they will also have an organisation to turn to in the case of a dispute, and the association will represent their interests to the government and the insurance industry.

There are, of course, similar benefits for the larger organisations, but it is worth noting that the first companies to gain accredited corporate status have all been small operators.

While it looks forward to being seen as the voice of the industry, it would be wrong to view the BDMA as a trade association. As a certifying authority, concerned with promoting the adoption of industry-wide standards and accreditation, it plays no part in advancing the interests of one member above another.

This may appear an anomaly, but the key lies in understanding the difference between standards and methodology. The BDMA has developed standards with input from a wide range of experienced professionals. These standards set out minimum acceptable results that must be achieved by accredited members and – as well as passing an exam on industry best practice – subscribing to these standards is a condition of accreditation.

Different methods
The specific methods used to achieve such standards, however, remain a matter for individual practitioners, who will undoubtedly use different routes to achieve the same outcome. Some companies and technicians guard their methods closely, while others vigorously debate the benefits of their preferred procedures with rival contractors.

Such competition can only be healthy and can help to push back the frontiers of research and development, enabling technology to move forward and the industry to grow in both knowledge and expertise.

Provided the result can be shown to meet the agreed standards to which the contractor has committed, the customer can be assured of a job well done. This is precisely what insurers and property owners need to know if they are to have confidence in the industry.

As more companies can show industry accreditation, clients are also likely to benefit from increased competition. Whereas large organisations may have been able to corner the market in the past, increasing numbers of individuals and firms carrying BDMA accreditation will give insurers a wider choice of contractors with proven competence. They will not need to deal only with organisations they have used in the past.

Furthermore, the focus on value for money will encourage all contractors to meet the necessary standards.

Of course, none of this is going to happen overnight. The BDMA is at the start of only its second year, and it is realistic about the timescale required to achieve its goals. It has already moved a lot further down the road than might have been expected by now, and it can feel proud of what has been accomplished so far.

The real test will come in the years ahead when it will be possible to tell if all the hard work has paid off for customers. If shoddy workmanship and cowboy contractors become a thing of the past, the BDMA will have hit its target.

  • Claire Johnson is a freelance business journalist and editor of the BDMA newsletter.

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