Looking Good on TV

March 2013 Editorial

The insurance industry usually only bubbles up into the attention of the general public when there is a problem. In the last month, there have been a few perceived problems that have brought insurance to the forefront of public discussion, with politicians lining up to kick the industry in predictable ways. I say perceived problems because in each instance, you could make the case that the discussion is being framed mostly by one side with not nearly enough pushback, counter argument or simple presence from relevant industry players.

First, SGI sparked a firestorm among Saskatchewan motorcyclists by giving notice it was seeking average increases of 73% for two-wheelers. Motorcyclists exploded with outrage on social media sites like Reddit. And yet, SGI president Andrew Cartmell defended the increases in op-ed pieces in Saskatchewan newspapers. Since then, premier Brad Wall has said his government will lessen the impact of the hikes, allowing him to look like a hero over the big bad insurance company.

And in Ontario, the apparent withdrawal of Arch from writing taxi fleet insurance sparked concern among both cabbies and municipal politicians in Hamilton and Toronto about the availability of insurance for a critical part of urban transportation infrastructure. The truth is cabbies, like motorcyclists, are a bad risk and there are valid business reasons for making these moves. But Arch has mostly avoided commenting publicly on its decision or the taxi sector, and perhaps even more significantly, so has any other company. The taxi situation was a golden, teachable-moment opportunity for the industry to educate the public on why it does what it does, but no one seized it.

Now, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath will almost certainly force a spring election where auto insurance rates will be a central issue. On March 1, Horwath met with members of the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) to discuss the issue. In press scrums after the meeting, Horwath repeated her demand for a 15% reduction. In contrast, in the coverage I saw, the IBC’s media relations manager Steve Kee went in front of the cameras rather than senior leadership like Don Forgeron or Ralph Palumbo.

These incidents all serve to underline that if the industry is ever going to shake its poor public image, leaders are going to have to adopt a far more proactive and well-developed public relations strategy, and give it central consideration in major business decisions. Hiding behind op-ed letters and “no-comment” and failing to engage people through new media is just not good enough.

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Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the March 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

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Transcontinental Media G.P.