Monday, 4 January 2010

A tale of two mother in laws, Part 1

When these things happen to you or those you hold dear you somehow hope that they will turn out differently and that the anonynous powers that be that hold the health, security, wealth and happiness of your nearest and dearest in the palm of their hands will turn out not to be as in so many conspiracy theories, consumer magazines, fellow blogs et al. You hope, with no great confidence it must be said, that the reassurance offered by these global brands will deliver your relatives from the frustration, undated and anonymous letters, obfuscation, contact ping-pong and other quasi bureaucratic devices deployed to delay, depress and deter those who are actually their customers. The architect of Sears-Roebuck's rise to become a great retailer was Julius Rosenwald, who once remarked, "My ambition is to stand on both sides of the counter at once." We strive for that; would that these others would do the same.

The overlapping stories of the mother-in-laws begin aorund the same time in the late summer of last year, 2009. For one, their car, a Ford Fiesta (the model that has just been replaced so hardly aged) stuttered to a halt on the A4. For the other they returned home in outer south east London to find their door literally smashed in and home ransacked for, or so the police reckoned (yes, they at least did show up and record the crime), the keys belonging to a smart new car (believed to have been an Audi) that had been parked outside.

Both are 75, both have worked hard all their lives, paid their appropriate insurances, taxes etc etc and had relatively little contact with officialdom of any kind owing to their more or less blameless and in the eyes of their suppliers (be they state or commercial) and uneventful lives (they might argue with my interpretation of those very lives as they have of course been full of momentous events!). Both collect small pensions, watch their expenditure, look forward to seeing their children and grandchildren, wish they could get out more and so on, poster grans for the grey generation.

So, how do you think the respective suppliers have performed? Well, of course you know the answer to that because few are those who would write about a satisfactory interaction with major corporates, it just doesn't happen. Yes, sadly, Halifax Insurance and their Crawford - the world’s largest claims and risk management company - loss adjusters have behaved with abject disregard for anything regarding the circumstances of the break-in, robbery and subsequent claim. Recently insurers have taken to making utteraces in the press to the effect that the financial crisis has resulted in so many fraudulent claims that many more claims are being rejected. That smacks to me of PK Dick's 'Minority Report' with actuaries beavering away in place of the pre-cogs to predict pre-insurance-crime and eliminate such claims. OK, a bit of a stretch perhaps but evidently the hand off from Halifax to Crawford provides adequate distance for the former to wash their hands and the latter to do the former's bidding.

Gran #1, upset and likely a tad confused (she was after all on a life support machine barely 9 months previously) makes a police report, contacts the insurers and submits a modest claim, for the door, a watch, a laptop and some jewellery. You would think that the primary priority of the insurance company would be make their customer secure once again in their house. Not a bit of it. It is not unreasonable at all for the loss adjuster to request details and where sensible/practical etc proof (of existence certainly and if possible purchase and even receipt) for very recent items. Despite the genuinely understated nature of the claim the loss adjuster was despatched. Their sole objective seemed to be to dismiss the claim by seeking discrepancies, however minor, between police report and claim. For a 76 year old with a temporary fibre-board door there was no attempt whatsoever to deal with the security of the property – the door and the contents were part of the same claim and with the loss adjuster demanding ever higher burdens of proof regarding the jewellery the door and the associated security was ignored.

When my wife lost her engagment ring (for the first time – don't ask) down a sewer in Portsmouth (again, bets not to ask) we were lucky enough to have the receipt then only 2 or 3 years old. My mother in law was born in Mumbai and grew up there and in Pune until the late 1950s when together with her twin brother she embarked for England and for her husband to be leaving behind various siblings and extended family. Many will be aware that family and nuptial wealth as well as heirlooms and subsequent gifts frequently take the form of high carat gold – necklaces, ear-rings, rings, pendants, brooches, more necklaces. It may not appeal to everyone, with its high gloss yellow gold apearance and often overly ornate form but there is no doubting the inherent value. But receipts? RECEIPTS? Are you mad. Photos? As if! In fact , pretty sure she's never had a camera.

I can be absolutely and abjectly certain that my mother in law under-declared what it is that was lost to those random transgressors in search of car keys but Halifax and their Crawfords nay sayers will not countenance a claim without every last receipted detail for every item thereon.

Gran #1 is now on the threshold of calling it quits and getting the door paid for. Score 1 to the insurer - tragic, wrong, scandalous? You decide. Me, I'm changing insurers. And, if you're reading this Insurance people you know how to get hold of me and rectify your shortcomings....if you do I will blog and commend you accordingly.....

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