Of Lizards and Meerkats
One of the defining aspects of modern life is the difficulty of interacting with bureaucracies. Many of the largest organizations we deal with are armed with legal powers, and all are stuffed with legal departments with unlimited budgets, against whom the customer will be arrayed if the game goes into overtime.
A few examples, from my life: the railway, the local authority, real estate agents and building managers. Your experience will vary, but I’d wager that, without much thought, you could identify organizations whose very name fills you with dread and gradually empties you of everything else.
For some, insurance companies would feature on the list of offenders. Surveys often report that a good percentage of the population harbors negative views about its insurance company.
In terms of image, insurers surely understand that they are among the damned, regardless of what happens.
The discontent begins with the quote. The applicant reels from sticker shock, hoping he might have obtained coverage for his $60,000 automobile for chump change. Neither rhyme nor reason enters the equation; it just “oughta be cheaper.”
The pain continues every time the insured receives notification of anything policy-related. The resentment deepens every year, when the policy renews, and can reach a peak if the claims process is encountered.
For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why insurers didn’t try to manage this image problem. All the charming and chatty bulldogs, lizards, meerkats and other fauna serve only to attract new business. Beyond that, for many, the “cute” goes out of the whole experience.
In terms of image, insurers surely understand that they are among the damned, regardless of what happens. No one sang the praises of the companies who paid out billions after, say, Hurricane Katrina. But the moment those same companies raised their premiums in the months following, to reflect the new risk reality, the howls could have been heard from Mars (which may have a McDonald’s by the time you read this).
The same low opinion of insurers must be in play when people commit insurance fraud, which, if it were a country, would have one of the largest economies in the world. (Its national anthem would be “Hail, Hail, Fraudonia.”)
All fraud is predicated on a disregard for the victim, yet few consider stealing from an insurance company to be a real crime.
How many people do you know who have inflated an insurance claim and then boasted about it? The attitude is: hey, relax, the insurance company will pay for it. The truth is that the company sometimes does. And then, as it must, it will reflect the loss in pricing its products, fueling the customers’ distaste.
Must it always be thus? Probably. People are strange, especially my g-g-generation. The baby boomers used to hate the pigs, man, but to whom do they turn when their homes are burgled? Those who hate insurance companies also know the number to call when catastrophe occurs.
Insurance companies must be aware that their public image cannot be artificially polished. Insurance execs can’t kiss babies, as politicians do. (Well, they could, but it wouldn’t help.)
Insurance is a utility, a cost we can’t avoid no matter how much we’d like to, and when we think of such costs, we always discount the benefits.
That was all a bit bleak, wasn’t it? Still, that is some columnists’ credo, adapted from the words of Bambi’s mother: If you can’t say nothing bleak, don’t say nothing at all.