Workers and drivers pay price for this market mess
Published 26/06/2015 | 02:30
The general insurance market, and the motor side in particular, is in turmoil. Workers in the sector and drivers are paying the price for this mess as evidenced by large numbers of staff layoffs and premium rate rises.
Premiums shot up 16pc in the last year.
Liberty Insurance is laying off 270 people, RSA Ireland is making around 200 redundant, while FBD has issued repeated profit warnings.
Only a year ago Setanta collapsed, with 1,700 claims still to be sorted out. The list of culprits for this mess is long. Motor insurers here collectively lost €195.4m in 2013, the most recent figures we have shown.
A price war initiated by RSA led most insurers to offer policies too cheaply, with a general failure by the industry to put sufficient reserves aside to cover claims. This is referred to as under-reserving.
The upshot of this was that almost €400m had to be poured into RSA by its British parent to shore it up.
And it's not as if we have not been here before.
Quinn Insurance ended up being put into administration in 2010, before it was acquired by Liberty. One of the main reasons for this was that its premiums were too low.
And we are all paying for that. A levy of 2pc is imposed on all motor, home and business insurance policies to fund the losses of the old Quinn Insurance.
The levy is likely to be in place for years as the bill that is set to be as high as €1.3bn.
Other factors negatively impacting the market are the failure of returns from investing some of the premium income to make up for losses on motor insurance books.
And more claims from people represented by lawyers are pushing up costs for insurers.
Giving this disarray you would expect the regulators to be on top of the situation.
But correspondence that emerged recently showed Central Bank deputy governor Cyril Roux rowing with the Department of Finance, saying he did not have sufficient powers or staff to effectively regulate the insurance sector.
While the mandarins argue, the motorists and the staff in insurance companies take the hits. This is not good enough.