Canadian Underwriter

Our Industry’s Record of Success

June 18, 2013   by Mary Lou O'Reilly

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The insurance industry’s public image has had its ups and downs over the years. But you would be hard-pressed to find our reputation at lower ebb than it was in New Brunswick ten years ago.

Rising auto insurance premiums were becoming a massive public issue. Then along came “the wheelbarrow lady”—a woman who said she was forced to shop using a wheelbarrow because she could no longer afford car insurance.

She became a rallying symbol for public anger and frustration. Politicians felt the public pressure and New Brunswick teetered on the brink of bringing in a government-run auto insurance system.

That’s when our industry, led by the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), really stepped up its efforts. It’s no exaggeration to say that insurers and brokers working together on integrated government, public and media relations saved the industry in New Brunswick.

We developed a concrete plan to improve auto insurance in the province and, in the process, dramatically improved our relationship with decision makers and the public. Today, our industry still enjoys a good reputation in New Brunswick.

A critical ingredient in that successful effort was our commitment to keep the needs of consumers—fair benefits, affordable premiums—at the centre of our efforts.

That’s just one example of our industry’s record of success influencing public opinion to the benefit of that same public:

  • Our injury prevention and road safety campaign from 2006 to 2010 helped significantly raise awareness, particularly about driver distraction, and brought further benefits to every insurer and insurance intermediary by measurably improving the industry’s reputation.
  • In the 2004-05 timeframe alone, IBC helped bring about auto insurance reforms in five provinces, reducing costs, abuse and fraud—and making premiums affordable again.
  • IBC led the charge that saw graduated driver licensing implemented all across Canada in the 1990s.
  • If not for the extraordinary combined efforts of brokers, agents and insurers in 1990, Ontario might well have a government monopoly on auto insurance, as Bob Rae’s NDP initially desired.

The profile of achievement, going back nearly 50 years to IBC’s founding, continues today.

Once again, auto insurance in Ontario is being used by political opportunists, who are spreading misinformation to blame insurers for the faults of a broken system.

And, once again, IBC is leading the counter-charge to replace myth with truth, accusation with cooperation, and anger with understanding.

For nearly a year now, we have been conducting a coordinated campaign to educate and inform both the public and decision-makers. Our message: auto insurance is too expensive in Ontario, because the system is too expensive. Ontario’s Cadillac insurance system carries a Cadillac price tag.

The message is simple, but the “Time to Talk” campaign to spread that message is a complex tapestry of strategies and tactics. A short list includes:

  • Animated ads discussing common insurance questions and misconceptions, and directing people to the IBC website for real answers,
  • A tour of shopping malls across the province, offering consumers a chance to air their concerns and get answers to their questions about auto insurance via face-to-face discussions,
  • Use of social media platforms, from Twitter to Facebook, to promote events, answer questions and counter misinformation,
  • Earned media, from radio interviews to newspaper op-eds, that allows us to cut through the clutter with accurate information, and
  • A thoughtful media outreach operation that makes strategic use of our various spokespeople to leverage opportunities, respond to hot-button issues, and build relationships with influential media outlets.

Throughout all of these and many other activities, IBC is making it clear to governments and decision-makers that we are on the consumers’ side. We agree that premiums are too high, are helping people understand why that is, and proposing workable solutions.

In short, our industry is bringing unmatched experience and knowledge to the challenge of the Ontario auto file. We are doing our part; it is time for political decision-makers to do theirs.

Mary Lou O’Reilly is senior vice-president, communications and issues management, for the Insurance Bureau of Canada.


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

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.