Zeppelins, entrepreneurs, missing links, EU law

I had a busy few weeks in April, writing four articles for Insurance Times’ supplement for the British Insurance Brokers Association conference. I interviewed a long-standing broker about the days of private fire-fighting services, insuring Boots the Chemist against zeppelin damage and staying in business for 130 years,  got credit-crunch survival tips from firms who never miss an opportunity to find new business, made the missing link between loss adjustors and brokers, and got to grips with the latest complex EU legislation on pollution.

Preparing for Armageddon

Loss adjustors may not be everyone’s idea of the fourth emergency service, but when a disaster happens, they’re one of the first groups on the scene to assess the damage. I visited the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjustors for a insider’s view of the worst-case scenario. I suppose it’s comforting to know that there are people slaving away on contingency plans to prepare us for all eventualities. What’s less comforting is that they always refer to “when” and not “if”.

Credit insurance drought

The lack of trade credit insurance is one of the biggest issues affecting Building’s readers across the construction industry. I spoke to the firms struggling to survive, the brokers trying to help them and the insurers they claim have deserted them in their hour of need. Firms who’ve had their cover stripped accuse the insurers of profiteering during the boom, but delving into the finances and ownership of these companies, I found a more complicated picture

A simple twist of fate

People blame all sorts of things on their genetic make-up these days, but how much can DNA really tell us? And does its potential outweigh the ethical problems with discriminating on the basis of someone’s genes? Insurers have already agreed not to use genetics test results until at least 2011, but I found out that a dystopian future of DNA-typecasting was probably a lot further away than we might have been led to think…

Lies, damned lies and insurance fraud

Fraud costs insurers millions every year, so detecting it is big business. I investigated “voice stress analysis” software, which is supposed to monitor micro-tremors in your voice to suss out when you’re lying. Some insurers swear by it, but others have found their teams of former social workers and police officers consistently outperform any computer. Meanwhile, scientists in the US have said VSA is about as effective as astrology, and there’s even an application for the iPhone. Why not try it for yourself?

On the frontline of the recession

The UK’s 4.7m small and medium-sized enterprises are bearing the brunt of the recession – according to BDO Stoy Hayward, five will close their doors every hour for the rest of this year. I wrote the lead article for Insurance Times’ SME focus, speaking to struggling business owners, financial advisers and brokers to find out what was really going on in this hard-to-reach sector. On a cheerier note, I wrote a separate piece on the retail sector, and found that despite high-profile high-street failures, small local shops weren’t doing too badly…

Crash-test dummies and expensive write-offs

A visit to the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre doesn’t sound like the most exciting afternoon you’ll ever have but Thatcham (as it’s known for short) is a mecca for car enthusiasts all over the world. I went to find out about their work on whiplash claims and came away reeling. An expensive car won’t protect you from the most common car crash injury – BMW and Porsche have repeatedly refused to supply their seats for testing – and VW-devotees would be horrified to see Golfs that have been written off at just 6mph. Most shocking of all was the 2008 Nissan Navara, one of the biggest, meanest looking 4×4 pick-ups on the road, which folded in half in a crash-test at 44mph, and received the worst safety rating since the Rover Metro in 1996.