A U.S. insurance company is running amusing TV ads where a 1970s-era couple call up a page on the “information superhighway.” When it finally loads, all they get is a phone number.
In another scene, they jump in their AMC Gremlin and head out to renew their car insurance. “Should be back in two hours,” the mullet-haired driver says on his CB radio.
I was reminded of these commercials while discussing with Attorney General David Eby the latest evolution of our great 1970s public utility, the Insurance Corporation of B.C. The topic was competition for collision and other optional coverage, and how that works – or doesn’t work.
Eby began by denying there is any obstacle for private insurers to compete for optional coverage, which he has argued is the main cause of big increases being faced by new drivers. Private insurers insist there is, and by the end of our chat, Eby was inclined to agree.
Eby’s overhaul of ICBC rates took effect in September, after he vowed to douse the “dumpster fire” of billion-dollar deficits. Contrary to political claims, this is no longer inflated by government scooping revenues. That ended a few years ago, as deficits ballooned due to soaring crash rates, injury awards and legal costs. Basic rates are going up as much as 12 per cent for new drivers, and there are new procedures you’ll face when you go to renew your insurance.
I’ll explain the competition problem by describing how to shop around to see if you can get a better deal on optional coverage than ICBC offers. First, do a web search for “ICBC driver abstract,” to find where you can have your driving history and claims record emailed to you.
If you don’t use a computer, you can call 1-800-663-3051 and have it mailed or faxed to you. (Eby repeatedly told me it’s easy to fax your driver record to an insurance company to get a quote. I reminded him that faxes are no longer an option for most of us.)
You can also have the “abstract” emailed directly from ICBC to a private insurer, if you can find one. Again, the “information superhighway” produces a few search results, but as the Insurance Bureau of Canada reports, there are only a couple of private companies offering meaningful competition in B.C.
Bureau vice-president Aaron Sutherland explained how it looks from an insurance broker’s point of view. Customer walks in, asks for a quote on optional coverage. Chances are he doesn’t have a copy of his driving record in hand, and unlike other provinces, ICBC doesn’t allow competitors to get it directly. Customer either gets coverage on faith, or is asked to retrieve the record and send it in.
The government monopoly controls not only driving records, but geographical accident data, which means private insurers are often steering blindfolded as they take on new customers.
From the driver’s point of view, there aren’t going to be enormous savings here, especially since so few companies attempt to compete with ICBC on unfair terms. Eby assured me that he is concerned about this, and willing to help. But he added that no “policy work” has been done yet.
Sutherland wrote to Eby a year ago, offering to have member companies pay a fee for direct access to ICBC driver information. When I asked him about it, Eby had forgotten about the letter.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org