Rating Downgrade Triggers PII Concerns

Standard and Poor downgraded eight European insurers this week, including Allianz’s Italian operation and Ageas’s Portuguese unit. Whilst these are big name insurers, the operations affected are the overseas companies, rather than the main European arms. The ratings downgrades follow on from the downgrading of the sovereign ratings of 17 Euro zone countries at the end of last week.

However anyone breathing a sigh of relief should think again. The rating agency has yet to decide on the ratings for some of the biggest European insurance groups.

“We have not yet completed our review of the effect of the sovereign actions on Allianz Group, Aviva Group, Axa Group, and CNP Group and have therefore not taken any rating action on these groups” S&P said in a statement.

A downgrade on any of these major insurers will result in significant problems in the market not just for the insurers, but also for brokers who recommend their products.

The insurance industry has long been proud of its gold standard A ratings and this simple measure is used as an indicator by many brokers as to the financial security that the institution presents when recommending products to customers. What is worrying about the current market is the fact that ratings are not, as is traditionally the case, slipping by a small margin, but are in some cases dropping through the floor.

Groupama is a good case in point. Here is an insurer with good reserving practices, a conservative approach to risk and a good record on underwriting, who many brokers would have recommended with confidence in May last year. However the company has seen their ratings tumble in from a healthy A- in May 2011 to BBB- in December 2011.

The problem with the headline grabbing downgrade is that brokers and customers start to get nervous. Groupama are putting up a good case to defend their reputation – they have reminded the market that the UK operation is independently capitalised and ring fenced by the UK regulatory regime with a solvency margin of around 190% and an investment portfolio that is in sterling with no exposure to Euro-debt. So in many ways this is an insurer brokers should still be able to recommend and that customers should have confidence in.

The issue of course is that the insurers have used their A ratings with such success in the past as a benchmark that it is difficult to reverse that mindset. Insurance brokers are conscious that their professional indemnity cover is rated on the amount of business that they place with insurers who do not have an A rating and their customers often demand a rating of A or above to secure contracts with councils, large companies and government bodies.

Groupama is a comparative minnow when looking at the likes of Aviva, AXA and Allianz. If the ratings for these huge insurers are downgraded and they suffer the same loss of confidence from the market then the insurance market will be in for very turbulent times.

All of this presents real challenges for insurance brokers and IFA’s who will need to consider long and hard the financial prospect of the insurers that they recommend if they are to avoid a professional indemnity claim being made against them. Bearing in mind the speed at which ratings have dropped, the recommendations that an broker or IFA makes will need to be well documented and take into account factors which go deeper than the S&P rating which will provide the insurer with the ability to survive a crisis of confidence.

Extradition Nightmare for Website Entrepreneur

Last week a judge ruled that a UK student can be extradited to the US on a charge of copyright infringement. Richard O’Dwyer funded his university education by setting up the website TVShack.net which hosted links to films and TV programmes.

In his defence O’Dwyer has pointed out that the material was hosted on a server based in the UK and did not contain copyright material. Further at no point during his activities did Mr O’Dwyer leave the UK.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has sought extradition of Mr O’Dwyer on the basis that even if the activity was legal in the UK, .net and .com addresses are routed through American infrastucture based at Verisign in Virginia and the prosecution can therefore be considered under US law.

The case is interesting for UK based web developers, IT consultants and businesses that specialise in the tech industry because it highlights the exposure that these businesses have to actions from around the world, even if the business is very small or does not trade outside of the UK. The nature of the business means that every web site has the potential to reach and breach the laws of countries around the globe. The result is the potential for legal action against both the business and the directors.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, O’Dwyer has had to face the onerous financial cost of defending himself against the extradition and the cost of appeal. These costs will be irrecoverable even if when the case is eventually heard, he is found to have done nothing wrong. In the event that he is found guilty then not only will he face up to five years in a US gaol, he may also have to pay damages for infringement of copyright.

This case highlights how owners of web sites with open forum discussion groups or income generating possibilities, whether small, huge or not for profit, must consider carefully how to protect themselves and why all Tech businesses, whether family run or Limited, should buy good quality insurance protection to pay the cost of defending this type of action.

There are two relevant types of insurance cover which are essential – Professional Indemnity and Directors and Officers cover.
Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) for tech professions will provide cover for defending claims for inadvertent copyright infringement and will also cover the cost of damages which arise from such actions. The cover will be subject to a pre agreed limit and an excess, however if you buy a good quality insurance policy then the defence costs will normally be covered without excess or limit.

PII cover for tech professions needs to be on a geographical and territorial limit basis of Worldwide (including USA and Canada) for it to provide adequate protection.

Professional Indemnity cover will not provide insurance to pay for the cost of defending the extradition hearings or appeals. However a good quality Directors and Officers policy will provide this cover. A Directors and Officers policy is normally bought by Limited Companies or Clubs, Societies or Associations, however they can be adapted to suit sole traders to provide protection against the risks faced by individuals.

For further information about Professional Indemnity Insurance for IT professionals and Directors and Officers Insurance please call PI Expert on 01825 745 410

ABS and ATE – Regulation and PII Insurance

Much has been written in recent months about the changes in how solicitor practices conduct business. The so called Tesco laws which allow non lawyers to own a solicitors practice came into force on the 3rd January 2012 and Alternative Business Structures (ABS) became a reality.
Ironically, despite five years of free advertising, Tesco’s have so far declined to take part in the party.

In fact there has been little interest so far in forming ABS’s – the Solicitors Regulatory Authority reported “more than 10 applications” had been received by close of play on the first day. With an ABS licence predicted to take up to nine months to secure, it seems unlikely that ABS will have an immediate impact on the legal market. However the scene is set for the corporate money to move in and this will inevitably be a game changer.

The Jackson reforms are the other wind of change that’s blowing through the legal services market. The Government seems set on banning payment and receipt of referral fees by solicitors and insurers by amending the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. Legal firms who rely on referral sources to generate their case load need to start planning now or these reforms will seriously affect the flow of business. Referral agents and After the Event Insurers (ATE) will also considering their future.

Inevitably the interested parties will find a work around whereby work and money continues to flow to legal firms, referral agents and insurers. This might result in the formation of ABS companies where the business owners are drawn from the three affected business sectors and possibly incorporating financial advisors to mop up commission due on investments that are made on larger compensation or court of protection settlements.

Whatever the reason for setting up an ABS, the parties need to be aware that of how the new ABS’s will be regulated in respect of the sales of general insurance and investment business. Currently any legal firm that undertakes this work or derives income from the sales of these products is covered from a regulatory point of view by the Law Society. However the Law Society has said that they will not be responsible for these companies and therefore any ABS which wishes to profit from this type of income will need to seek authorisation from the FSA. (click here to view FSA Policy Statement) An application to the FSA for authorisation will further complicate and prolong the time that it takes for an ABS to be in a position to begin trading.

From a professional indemnity insurance point of view the ABS will still need to buy cover from the approved SRA insurers, however it will be important to ensure that the policy also covers professional indemnity risks arising from the fees generated by any work that is regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

Alternative Business Structure who need advice on Professional Indemnity Insurance can call PI Expert for help and advice. PI Expert specialises in Professional Indemnity for ABS firms and Solicitor practices.

Professional Indemnity Insurers Brace for Downgrade Impact

The news that the Ratings Agency Standard and Poor is considering downgrading the credit rating of a number of European Insurers will strike fear into the heart of the Insurance Industry in the UK and the Professional Indemnity Insurers that underwrite General Brokers and Independent Financial Advisor’s.

The underwriters under threat of a ratings down grade include household names such as Aviva, Allianz, Axa and Generali. RSA Ireland is also on the credit watch list. If the downgrade goes ahead they will join the recently downgraded Groupama, a well regarded medium sized insurer who has already seen their credit rating downgraded as a result of their exposure to Government securities.

The problem facing insurers is that to maintain their credit ratings, they have placed their funds in what has traditionally been considered as safe investments. The current economic crisis has changed the face of safe investments – investments in financial institutions, banks and government securities have been undermined, maybe irretrievably. Reinforcing this view, Standard and Poor have stated that the review of the insurers ratings will be based on their review of the Eurozone member governments.

It follows that if there is a downgrade in the credit rating of the government underwriting the securities then the insurers investing in them will also suffer a downgrade in their credit rating. S&P have stated that the rating review could see some insurers long term ratings lowered by as much as two notches.

The effect of Government Debt on the profitability of insurers is illustrated very well by the recent results published by Allianz. In November this year the firm announced a fall in third quarter profits of 80%, largely due to losses on Greek debt. To put this in perspective the German Insurer made profits of just 258m euros in the three month period, down from 1.27bn a year ago.

The Greek debt is the tip of the Iceberg, and exposure to Government debt in Italy, Spain and Portugal has yet to really play a part in insurers results. If S&P carry out their threat to down grade Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Luxembourg and Austria by one notch and France by two, this will have a significant effect on insurers and could put pressure on solvency margins, leading to possible insurer failures.

For Insurance brokers and IFA’s these potential downgrades are significant cause for concern. The British Insurance Brokers Association recommends that members place cover where possible with A Rated insurers. As a rule of thumb to recommend an unrated insurer or one with a lower rating must be justifiable if a professional indemnity claim is to be avoided. Circumstances where this might be appropriate would include risks where no alternative insurer is available for example some solicitors Professional Indemnity or Surveyors PI cases or those where the only affordable insurance cover is unrated or low rated.

The fifteen firms affected by the S&P credit watch negative ratings warning involves some heavy hitters within the Insurance Industry and will make recommending insurance cover more challenging over the coming months. Brokers will have to consider how the Euro crisis could affect the rating of insurers over the period of the policy. Now, more than ever, it will be important for brokers to document the consideration that they have given to the financial security aspect of an insurer when making their recommendation – a factor which many brokers would not have even thought to question with the likes of Axa, Aviva or Allianz in the past.

IFA’s will need to be extra careful too- some of the insurers affected have a big exposure on the UK Life and pensions side as well as on the general market – Aviva, AXA and Generali are all major providers of Life Investment and Pension products to UK consumers.

Many Professional Indemnity Insurers look to see each year what the exposure is to unrated and lower rated providers as a rating factor when setting premiums. A broker or IFA who has made sensibly based recommendations during the year to what appeared to be strong financial institutions, could find that as a result of an insurer down grade, unforeseeable even three months ago, they have a portfolio of higher risk policies. This will affect Professional Indemnity Premiums.

The decisions take this weekend by the Eurozone leaders may well be a step in the right direction to strengthening the Euro and thus avoiding a crisis, however the will to push this through will need to be considerable and PI Expert is not convinced that this exists in either the politicians or the populations of the member states in the Eurozone.

For incisive help, advice and quotations on Professional Indemnity Insurance for Insurance Brokers and Independent Financial Advisors please call PI Expert on 01825 745 410

Avoid a claim – Top Tips from PI Expert!

1. Know what your professional duties and legal responsibilities are at all times

2. Be conscious of what could cause a professional indemnity claim – remember if a complaint escalates and becomes a PII claim and insurers might consider that the compliant was the notifiable circumstance. This might invalidate your cover if you have note reported the circumstances quickly enough to your insurers – this can be as little as within 14 days.

3. Keep complete and accurate written records of all of the advice that you give as well as any recommendations or communications you have with your clients. Don’t forget to keep telephone notes.

4. Know when to ask. We don’t all know everything – recognise what you do and don’t know and when you should ask for help or guidance form peers, associates or a governing body.

5. Never assume that your client knows or is aware of something that appears to be obvious to you. Not everyone is as insightful as you are.

6. Never send a written communication without double and triple checking it.

7. Never put anything in writing that you would not want read out in public or in court.

8. If you don’t know for certain say so don’t wing it or make things up just to get a sale.

9. If you are worried you might be about to get a claim call your PI broker immediately – far better to check now than be sorry later.

10. Buy your Professional Indemnity Insurance form an expert, not a call centre. If you need to claim you will want someone on hand to help you who you can rely on and to be sure that your Professional Indemnity policy gives you the best protection available.

PI Insurance – Falling Ratings Cause Concern

The current economic gloom creates an interesting environment for insurers. It is unusual for UK insurers to fail and this is largely due to the solvency margins that have been enforced by Government and the FSA over a period of years. This means that the UK is very safe place for people to insure their business and property.

One of the problems that the industry will face over the coming months will however be one of stability. The investments that insurers have used to maintain solvency levels have traditionally been regarded as very safe vehicles. However as he financial crisis has begun to bite one of the interesting features has been that these traditional safe investments have come under attack and this is having an effect on how they are rated by rating agencies.

Evidence of an insurer’s financial rating is key components that brokers should use in assessing and recommending cover. An insurance broker has a duty of care to their clients in selecting and recommending an insurer. In most cases brokers will look for what an insurer who has an A credit rating.

In recent times there has been an abundance of such companies to choose from, however if the current package of measures that have been put forward to save the Euro are unsuccessful, then a situation could arise whereby the gold plated A rating becomes much more elusive and exclusive. This could present an issue for brokers as the absence of a credit rating could leave them vulnerable to allegations of a breach of duty of care.

Like most brokers PI Expert has a policy wherever possible of recommending A Rated insurers. This is an essential not just for our client’s peace of mind and the professionalism that we bring to the deal, but also for our own Professional Indemnity cover.

Increasingly Professional indemnity Insurers who cover general insurance brokers are asking about the security of the markets used when granting cover and this is something that brokers will need to bear in mind over the coming months and years as the marketplace becomes more turbulent.

FSA Proposes PII Public Policy Disaster

In their response to the Joint Committee on the draft Financial Services Bill the Financial Services Authority (FSA) used the justification of “Public Policy” to call for changes to the law to remove the direct link that exists in law between causation and compensation.

PI Expert believes that this argument is fatally flawed. It is our view that altering the laws of natural justice in the way suggested by the FSA will directly result in the public being less well protected than as is the case under the current regime. To suggest otherwise implies a failure on the part of the regulator to understand the very mechanisms that are in place to protect customers.

The effect of the FSA’s proposals will result in advisors being required to compensate not only for the affects of inappropriate or bad advice, but also in cases where the advice that they have given is correct, but during the course of the advice being given an FSA rule, however minor, has been broken. This might include for example failure to record the issue of a key facts document or Initial Disclosure Document.

The net result will be an increase in the amount of compensation paid, and when claims farmers get wind of a no fault compensation scheme, a steep increase in the level of spurious claims.

Of course it is not the Advisor who pays these claims, but their Professional Indemnity (PI) insurers. The bottom line therefore is that it is the PI insurance cover, not the rules and regulations put in place by the regulator, which underpins and provides financial security to consumers

The PII market for Advisors is currently in a good position. General brokers are not seen as a high risk and pay relatively low premiums. Mortgage Advisors saw some upward pressure on premiums during the early days of the economic crisis, but largely this situation has now stabilised. IFAS’s have experienced issues arising out of pensions, endowments and market specifics such as Key Data and similar market issues, although rated more highly than other types of advisors, are still able to buy PII cover at relatively reasonable premiums.

There is a good range of well resourced, reputable, A rated insurers who are prepared to underwrite the advisors PI market. This is a significant benefit to the consumer and, indirectly, to the Financial Services Compensation Service.

Rating of PII is largely controlled by the level of claims. Advisors who regularly give bad advice receive more claims than those who provide good advice. Advisors with poor claims histories pay higher premiums or struggle to find insurers prepared to cover them. As evidence of PII cover is a requirement for continued authorisation this rating process forms a natural barrier to trade for advisors that give poor advice and in itself provides a method by which the industry silently polices and removes bad firms.

The proposals made by the FSA would have the effect of removing this self regulation process.
The moment that the law requires firms to pay 100% compensation when they have not caused or contributed to a loss the differentiation in PII claims patterns between good and bad firms will be lost. If claims go up then premiums go up. If claims go up exponentially, and underwriters can’t make a profit, then insurers will start withdrawing from the market. And if Insurers withdraw from the market or advisor can no longer afford to pay premiums then the mechanism that protects customers (PII) is fatally undermined.

This is a scenario which has already played out across two other professional sectors – Solicitors and, to a lesser extent, Surveyors. For both of these sectors there is a limited and decreasing market of A rated insurers who are prepared to underwrite to the stringent requirements of the regulatory body.

The Solicitors PII market provides an unpleasant vision of how the insurance advisors PII market could look if the FSA proposals on causation and compensation are accepted. Over the years the number of insurers prepared to underwrite solicitors business has dwindled to just 19. Premiums have sky rocketed.

There are still A rated insurers on the SRA approved list, including Allianz, Liberty and Travellers, however many of the A raters are refusing new business or have priced themselves out of the market for existing clients. Chartis, who were the largest solicitors PI insurer in 2010, withdrew from writing new business for Solicitors PII in 2011 and actively worked to reduce their exposure for existing policyholders. The emerging theme in the solicitors PI market has been the entrance of a number of foreign unrated insurers – Alpha (Denmark), European Risk Insurance Company (Iceland) and Enterprise (Gibraltar).

The Solicitors Regulation Authority states clearly that it does not regulate, vet or approve insurers on the list. The SRA famously gave Quinn access to market shortly before the company suffered a solvency crisis. To be fair to all concerned at the point of authorisation Quinn did carry a credit rating, but it fell short of the gold plated A that most brokers look for when placing business.

Evidence of an insurer’s financial rating is key component in placing cover. The financial security offered by unrated foreign insurers may be better than some of the UK markets, however in the wake of the Quinn fallout Steve White, Head of compliance and training at the British Insurance Brokers’ Association commented in an interview with Insurance Age

“Brokers have a duty of obligation and care. While the broker is not the guarantor of the insurer, the law does expect the broker to exercise due care in selecting an insurer and brokers should be mindful of that when making their selection. One of the factors that a broker can take into consideration is the credit rating. Though there may be other considerations, the absence of a credit rating could leave a broker vulnerable to allegations of a breach of duty of care.”

If the Insurance Advisors PII market followed the same course as the Solicitors PII market, as well it might if the FSA’s request is enacted into law, the industry could well see a deterioration in the financial rating of its own insurance carriers. This would be a disaster for the industry as a whole and for consumers in particular.

PI Expert hopes that the regulator will reconsider this ill conceived suggestion. For our part Brokers and Advisors must make our voice heard in this important debate.

PI Expert – Independent, Authoritative, Incisive Professional Indemnity Advice for the Financial Industry For help and advice call us on 01825 745410. www.facebook.com/PIExpert

FSA Proposal To Penalise Brokers and IFA’s

There has been a mixture of good and bad news recently for Brokers from the Financial Services Authority (FSA). On the one hand is the welcome news that the FSA it is to restart its funding review of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). On the other is the alarming news that the FSA is seeking to impose absolute liability on brokers and IFA’s to provide compensation to customers for losses that were not caused by the firm’s faulty advice.

This latest wheeze by the FSA goes against the natural laws of justice, and will impose a huge financial burden on the industry as Professional Indemnity Premiums will have to rise to meet the increased levels of awards for non fault compensation.

The proposal by the FSA seems to have slipped in without the implications being picked up by the industry. The FSA’s alarming request formed part of their response to the joint committee on the draft financial services bill. In their memo the FSA stated:
“Our experience is that members of the public and Parliamentarians have been of the view that – as a matter of public policy – the breach of the FSA’s rules should in all cases entail the consumer receiving 100 per cent redress.”

PI Expert agrees that any breach of the rules that results in a clear loss for a consumer should result in compensation to the customer, but we take issue with the suggestion that this should result in compensation being paid where there is no link between the customer’s loss and the advice provided.
The FSA’s went on to say:
“However, the FCA’s ability to ensure that consumers receive redress is constrained by the general law, in particular by questions of causation. If the breach of rules either did not cause the loss, or was merely a contributory factor, the FCA will not be able to require firms to pay full redress.”

“If society expects as a matter of public policy that the regulator should be in a position to require greater levels of redress to be paid then the FCA needs to be given a clear mandate and powers to do so in the new legislation. This is a difficult issue that gives rise to real questions as to how far the regulator’s powers should extend and we would very much welcome the Committee debating this matter, in particular to achieve further clarity as to the FCA’s mandate in this area.”

This statement should be sending shivers of fear down the spine of the industry. If adopted, this change will alter the current legal position whereby a firm is only liable to compensate customers in respect of losses which stem directly from the advice that they have provided.

If the FSA gets its way the law will instead provide the FSA with the dispensation to totally disregard the principles of causation. Firms could find that a small technical breach in for example providing documentation such as failing to provide a demands and needs statement could result in a firm being required to compensate a customer for a loss that has arisen for a totally different reason that is unrelated to the advice provided by the firm.

The FSA has said that the proposal to the committee is a suggestion for consideration and is not a firm FSA policy, however there is a real danger that this proposal could get through by default if the industry lets it slip through without protest or comment.

PI Expert cannot see how the FSA proposal can have any benefit to the industry or indeed customers. Of course the FSA would be a net beneficiary of such a draconian change as it would significantly reduce the time and level of expertise needed to investigate complaints. If a customer only needs to provide a minor breach of rules to achieve full compensation a less through investigation will required which could be undertaken by less well qualified staff. This would give the FSA, who are under huge pressure at present due to the large number of payment protection claims, a huge saving in terms of time and staffing costs.

If the FSA’s real motive is to reduce their admin costs then this could end up being a method of getting brokers to foot the bill of the banking sectors miss selling of PPI and Creditor Insurance by the backdoor. However the long term affects of such a major alteration to the laws of natural justice would be far reaching.

The net result of a change of this magnitude can only be that Insurance Intermediaries will end up paying a huge cost in compensation payouts and this will have the knock on effect of increasing PII premiums, potentially to the type of levels that have been seen in the surveyors and solicitors markets where in many cases firms have had to fold due to the unaffordable cost of obtaining PII cover.

If passed into law, the proposed change will open the door to greedy lawyers and claims farmers who will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of such easy pickings. PI Expert questions how the FSA can believe that it is in the public interest to legislate for a firm to take responsibility for any loss that does not arise from their own actions.

There is no justification for this proposal. It negates the principle of indemnity that underpins the insurance industry and imposes an unfair burden on advisors across the entire financial sector. We must not let this slip into law by inertia.

PI Expert – Independent, Authoritative, Incisive Professional Indemnity Advice for the Financial Industry For help and advice call us on 01825 745410.

Professional Indemnity Insurance saves the day for Procurement Firm

One of the effects of the current economic gloom is that it seems everyone is looking for a deal. This is great news for freelance procurement advisors because there is a real demand for their services. However in such uncertain times, when money is in short supply, customers are often looking for every opportunity to make or save a few pounds. This mind set leaves procurement advisors more vulnerable than normal to court action on trumped up charges of poor advice.

Defending claims involving allegations of poor advice can be costly and time consuming, however procurement firms can protect themselves from this type of expense by purchasing Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII).

It is fair to say that sales of PII insurance are not widespread within the procurement industry, this is largely because the drivers to purchase cover that are found in other industry sectors normally arise because of a clients demands. With Procurement Consultants it is different as few specifiers ask for procurement consultants to provide evidence of PII cover.

So how vulnerable are procurement professionals to a PII claim? PI Expert has a wide range of experience in helping Procurement Consultants to find suitable PII cover, but also in assisting clients with claims.

Recently we helped a procurement consultant who had provided advice to their client on a major new purchase. The work involved putting together a tender document and sourcing suitable suppliers. There then followed the typical tender evaluation, interviews and final recommendation and selection.

Although the client signed off the selection of the chosen supplier, they later alleged that a more reasonably priced alternative was available who had been excluded from the tendering process by the procurement consultant. An action was brought against the procurement consultant for poor advice in the selection process.

The procurement consultant asked insurers to defend the claim against him because he had clear evidence both in the original contract with the client, and later in the paper trail of documents as to why the supplier was not part of the final tenders. Insurers successfully defended the claim, however legal costs of £36,000 were incurred in the course of the defence. These were covered in full by the Professional Indemnity policy that PI Expert had arranged.

In today’s no win no fee world there is no doubt that PII insurance should be on every Procurement consultants shopping list. For help and advice please call PI Expert on 01825 745 410

Great Day For Affinity Select, Home of PI Expert!

It’s been a great day for all of us today. Not only have we made it into the shortlist of three finalists for the Insurance Times Award for Commercial Lines Broker of the Year where we are up against two of the largest UK Brokers but our two trainees have passed their exams too!

Well done us!