Friday Fun: UK insurers target hotmail users, bodyshops battle gentrification in Vancouver

A Craftsman Collision location is getting forced out of the Lower Mainland of B.C.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario — January 26, 2018 — The UK insurance industry embarrasses itself again, B.C. Liberals are accused of acting with malice on the ICBC file, and bodyshops do battle on gentrification in Vancouver.

The war of words between the new government and the ousted Liberals continues in British Columbia continues. The incoming government has been complaining about the dismal financial state of affairs at publicly-run insurer, ICBC, since they came into office. The new NDP government is blaming the ousted Liberals for the series of drastic and unpopular measures that will have to be taken to stem the shaky finances at the company.

Such back-and-forth finger pointing is a part of almost all changes in government, but in this case, according to a Vancouver news outlet, the NDP government is claiming there is evidence that the Liberals did what they could to avoid making the full extent of the financial mess public as a way of avoiding political fallout on the ICBC file. According to a recent article by Postmedia, “The former Liberal government wrecked the finances of public auto insurer ICBC by choosing to ignore recommendations delivered as early as 2014 on how to avoid a financial crisis.”

The accusations were levelled by the current Attorney General, David Eby, who took over last year after the B.C. Liberals were chased from office. According to the story a December 2014 draft report commissioned by the government included more serious recommendations to deal with ICBC’s mounting financial problems at that time. But the bit of text that suggested fairly drastic measures to stem the tide of red ink never made it into the copy of the report released to the public.

Eby uncovered the mess when he came into office. He is quoted as saying that the previous government was not just ignorant of the issues at ICBC. “Now, it’s starting to look a lot more like malice. The government knew in 2014 it could have avoided a crisis if it had taken action. Now we’re living a crisis because they didn’t,” Eby is quoted as saying. He went on to demand the former transportation minister Todd Stone and finance minister Mike de Jong explain, “… why the recommendations were removed from the final report.”

To the credit of the previous government, at that time they did reduce executive salaries, increased fines for distracted driving and introduced new tools to fight fraud.” According to the Postmedia report the 2014 draft report suggested more serious action such as capping minor injury claims, hiking premiums for high-risk drivers, and changing the way ICBC set capital reserves, as measures that could be implemented to fix up the problems at the organization. Said Eby, “It’s really, thoroughly disturbing information.

It’s really disappointing to me to know that our options have been dramatically limited… the previous government avoided difficult discussions with its suppliers, such as autobody repair shops and lawyers, about significant changes. I don’t know why Todd Stone would remove that section from the report. I can’t explain it. I think he should.” Read more here.

An interesting article appearing in a local B.C. newspaper discusses a challenge that will be familiar to many in the industry – how to deal with encroaching development around existing collision repair shops in urban locations.

The Vancouver Courier story relates the case of a Craftsman Collision shop that has been forced to close to make room for a new nine-story office tower. The reporter on the story interviewed well-known industry personality, Greg Hatswell. According to the report the shop being forced to move is the single busiest shop in the Lower Mainland of B.C. The plight of Hatswell will strike a sympathetic chord with anyone dealing with encroaching development around existing shops. “We’ve known for about two years and are shutting down the business at the end of June. It’s disappointing,” Hatswell is quoted as saying.

The piece goes on to relate the history of the popular and successful Craftsman group, noting, “[Greg’s] father, Bill, started the company in 1977 a block away from the soon-to-be closed bodyshop at Yukon Street and Sixth Avenue.” At the location in question Craftsman Collision leases the space and so pays the property taxes, which are rising. According to the article the property taxes are now “… about 80 percent of the annual lease payments.” Hatswell has applied for tax relief from the city, but to no effect.

Now it looks like the shop will have to move. The industrial zoning on the location had been grandfathered for the current location but now it’s become “next to impossible” to find another space in the area that is zoned for industrial use. “We are being rezoned out. There is no local replacement. There are no buildings that suit vehicle repairs,” Hatswell is quoted as saying. In a discussion with the developers Hatswell broached the idea of “… having a bodyshop on the ground floor of the office or residential tower.” He explained how it is the modern collision repair industry has become much more sophisticated in the way collision repair shops are run.

According to the story, Hatswell explained to the developers that, “We don’t use solvent-based products any more and fumes are next to nothing [under current guidelines]. It wouldn’t and shouldn’t be impossible for the city to allow this. Even if a developer were to include us, however, a developer will want significantly higher rent than we could afford to pay. We’re being pushed out of the core of the city.” He went on to say that what’s happening in the core will soon spread outwards to other areas.

The piece also discussed the nature of the collision repair business around Vancouver. “As [development] pressures mount, [Hatswell] can foresee a day when cars are dropped off at a shop in Vancouver and then trucked to a shop in the Fraser Valley to be repaired,” according to the report.

Nevertheless, Hatswell is confident the business will continue to service its many clients. He is quoted as saying that, “As a business, we’re still growing. We’re not losing our ability to service the market. When we lose some options, we come up with other options. I don’t expect Craftsman Collision will lose a high proportion of customers. People have brand loyalty and will go a few kilometres out of the way. Plus, there aren’t many shops in the centre of Vancouver anyway. It’s becoming a matter of fact.” The relentless tide of urban development rolls on. http://bit.ly/2FaGsln

Another bit of news from the world of provincially run insurance organizations: A 12-year-old Winnipeg girl hit in the head with a piece of shrapnel is pleading for witnesses to come forward and testify to a car crash at the location she was hit as Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) is denying her family’s claim for benefits.

According to a television report on CTV, “Jordyn Snyder says a red SUV and a beige car collided as she was standing at an intersection near the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport on Thursday afternoon. A piece of debris from the collision hit her in the head.” The youngster is quoted as saying, “It kind of looked like an explosion happened, but without all the fire.”

The mother of the youngster says doctors diagnosed her daughter with a moderate concussion and shouldn’t be left alone for the next two weeks. To help cover the costs of home care during that time the family filed a claim with MPI did not have a record of the crash, and so some of the benefits claimed have been denied. According to MPI the organization needs, “… licence plate numbers or the names of the drivers,” to okay the claim. The City of Winnipeg does not have a traffic camera at that intersection. As a result the family is making a public appeal that someone might have dashcam footage of the accident.

“I don’t want anything to happen to [the drivers]. I just want them to provide the information we need to make sure [my daughter’s] cared for,” the mother is quoted as saying. A CTV news team visited the site of the accident, “… and found several pieces of debris on the side of the road.” Read more here.

The UK insurance industry took a couple of hits to the chin this past week. A report earlier in the week found that an insurance company, Admiral, charged more for auto insurance to people who had a hotmail.com email account than it charged to people who use other email services. The thinking seemed to be that clients who were unable to afford pricier emails services or did not have the tech savvy to update to, say, a Gmail account, and assumed to be less reliable clients and are charged more for auto insurance.

According to a news report, “Research by the The Sun found that Admiral could charge users more than £30 extra on their car insurance – simply for using a Hotmail email account instead of a Gmail one… When applying for quotes through price comparison website Gocompare, the same motorist was charged £31.36 more when using a Hotmail account… Admiral said that certain email domains carry more risk, and therefore affect a motorist’s premiums. ‘Certain domain names are associated with more accidents than others,’ it said.

‘We use a variety of pieces of information to accurately produce a competitive price for our customers.’ Just a couple days after that story appeared The Sun conducted another investigation. It surveyed rates in ten cities across the UK and found that motorists with the name Mohammed are being charged more for car insurance than people with a more traditional English name.

According to The Sun, “… top firms like Admiral, Marks & Spencer, Bell, Elephant and Diamond charged low price for insurance if the vehicle’s owner has the English name ‘John.’… For example, an investigation in Admiral revealed that one John Smith paid only £1,333 for a fully comprehensive insurance for a 2007 Ford Focus in Leicester, which was £2,252 for a Mohammed Ali… Marks & Spencer asked for £3,182 to insure one Mohammed Smith’s car in Cardiff, while asking £2,949 from a ‘John Smith.’ …”

The story goes on to quote an “infuriated” Mohammed Butt, who balked at the discrimination, calling it a, “classical example of racism. It cannot be said that Mohammeds are worse drivers than Johns.” It appears that, in the the eyes of the UK insurance system, it can. It also notes a case where a nursing assistant that was a client of Admiral found his rates increased when they found out his name was Mohammed and not Suleman as first thought. Read more here.


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