Was 2003 an 'event year' for subsidence, or just a typical surge in a weather-dependent business? It's time for action, not speculation, says Nigel Barham
There has been much debate over whether 2003 should be called a subsidence 'event' year, so much so that it's detracting from the more important issues. Forget what it should be called for a moment and examine the facts:
Planning aheadWe live in a consumer culture and service matters. Every subsidence provider will say surge plans have been activated, but successful planning goes beyond first visits. Planning must cater for the whole claim and focus on what the policyholder wants most - an early and effective repair. This means open book planning with supplier partners, including specialist repair networks, and real pooling of skills and knowledge. Clear communication with the policyholders is also essential. We would do well to remember that, for a policyholder, any year that includes a subsidence claim is an event year. Companies that commit resources to better communications will see the benefits when the pressure is on. Service must be combined with firm control on spending. What has driven the insurance attitude to subsidence since the last "event" is not so much preparation for the next peak, but the need to reduce costs while matching higher policyholder expectations. The smart service providers can learn from claim peaks. The increased pressure and focus can be used to drive further process improvements, cut out waste and improve efficiency. Service and spending aren't just about controlling costs once claims are notified - we need to reduce invalid notifications that arise from publicity about a 'surge' or 'event'. This means more and better information to policyholders as to what does and does not constitute subsidence - and that is information from both the industry and in the media. Most cases of dry weather subsidence damage are caused by trees that are growing too close to buildings. At some point the cost of prevention will exceed the cost of the claims prevented, but we haven't reached this point yet - more can be done. More pressure should also be applied to plans for new housing so that these problems are not just stored up for the years ahead. The industry's expertise in putting things right can be useful in helping to identify the types of building and the locations that society needs for the future. Summing up, the current upturn in claims is nothing new - we'll always get the peaks and the troughs, but as an industry we should look to exercise more control over the underlying trends as well as the size of the peaks when they come along. Surely the future involves a service that actively manages property portfolios before "events" (or surges or whatever we decide to call them) as well as the increase in claims when they arise.