Discounts today, but at what cost?

by Silvy Wright

Last year was marked by painful moments when the Canadian loonie soared and the American dollar bottomed out, eroding cross-barrier trade. A changing economy, a shifting competitive landscape, new regulations and increasing costs all contributed to a rollercoaster year in trucking.

But when Canadian Trucking Alliance chief David Bradley addressed delegates at the National Motor Freight Traffic Association meeting last November, he predicted solid growth in trucking for 2007. He described the trucking industry as resilient and able to “rise to whatever challenges are thrown its way.”

One of those challenges, he said, is for carriers to maintain “price discipline” in face of a temporary softening in rates and escalating operational costs.

Unfortunately, the insurance industry has not always maintained price discipline. In the past, insurance companies have overreacted to the market conditions of the day – especially when dealing with aggressive competition or when striving for top-line growth.

The truth is, insurance companies have played a part in creating the market conditions in which they operate. In the past, insurance companies seeking new – or trying to retain – customers have undercut prices. But as we’ve all learned: Pricing below costs is unsustainable in the long-term, creating financial instability. And it is stability that matters most for any trucking – and insurance – business.

When you buy trucking insurance, you’re buying peace of mind. Your choice will affect your bottom line not only at the purchasing stage but long after you sign on the dotted line. So while that amazing deal may sound, well, amazing, it can actually cost you more in the long run.

Price matters, but understanding what’s behind the price is critical to ensuring that the value your insurer provides does not diminish with your rate. The customer experience can vary wildly from one company to another. Here are some considerations:

* Claims handling expertise: When you have an insurance claim, you’ll need equal amounts of service and expertise. A good insurer will be focused on minimizing interruption to your business by getting your vehicles back on the road quickly.

Make sure that your insurer has a claims team with the trucking expertise and specialized knowledge of the areas in which you operate so that your third party claims can be properly investigated and defended – especially if you haul to the US. A mistake in how a claim is handled could mean the difference between a successful defense and a multi-million dollar nightmare. Insurance companies with little experience in managing US claims tend to dole out higher settlements, earning you a hefty loss on your record. So your savings now could cost you higher insurance prices later.

* Selectivity: Insurance is a pooling of risks. That is, if your insurer chooses to write policies for trucking companies with questionable safety and operational records or offer unwarranted discounts, you will also be affected. So when it comes to insurance, make sure your insurance company is selective. And this selectivity can only come from years of experience.

* Preventing claims through safety education: A trucking insurance partner should have the know-how to help you reduce your losses before they happen. Predictive safety assessments, practical training programs and ongoing support should be part of what you get for your insurance dollar. Discounters have little incentive – or ability – to offer these additional services. But the benefits of an effective loss control and safety program are priceless, reducing costs not only on your insurance claims but also for those losses your business may directly bear.

* Round-the-clock support: Insurance providers with excellent knowledge of the trucking industry are able to anticipate your needs. You should have access to round-the-clock claims and carrier filing services.

* Stability: A quality insurer will know how to withstand adverse market conditions, giving you the price stability your business relies on. Your insurer’s financial stability is the foundation by which it can continually deliver on its commitments to you.

In the trucking industry, insurance is a sizeable cost of doing business and it clearly affects your bottom line long after the purchase is made. It is therefore all the more important that you understand what you’re paying for. After all, in both trucking and insurance, the customer experience makes all the difference not only for today, but also for tomorrow.

– Silvy Wright is the president and CEO of Markel Insurance Company of Canada, the country’s largest trucking insurer, providing more than 50 years of continuous service to the industry.

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