Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Insurance Helpline | Why can’t FSC be more like OUR?

Published:Sunday | September 18, 2016 | 9:00 AM

QUESTION:

I recently had contrasting experiences with two entities that are regulated by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) and two companies in the insurance sector - a broker and an insurer - that the Financial Services Commission (FSC) supervises. In the case of the two utilities, whose performance is subpar based on the recent outages, it was my impression that the OUR was doing a much better job for consumers than the FSC. The mishandling of my claim left me feeling unfairly treated and without any avenue where I could get recourse. Why can't the FSC be more like the OUR?

- S.B., Kingston 6

INSURANCE HELPLINE:

Thanks very much for posing this question, especially now. Customer service has been on my mind for the past few days.

Those thoughts were triggered by a discussion that I had with a professional colleague. She recommended that I "cut some slack" to a particular government department. It had given me a six-month turnaround time, at the very least, to handle a particular transaction. I could not persuade her that my expectations for a much shorter time were not unreasonable. She, on the other hand, felt that my service expectations were "too high".

At the end of our conversation, I seriously wondered if I should toss my smartphone, smart television, cancel my broadband subscription, stop using WhatsApp; and replace my two computer systems with a manual typewriter - assuming that I could find one!

A company's website should provide insight into and reflect the philosophy and mission of the organisation that it speaks about. At first glance, the OUR's website provides a clear message that it understands it mission to consumers. This fact is indicated by a consumer information tab.

Even though insurance and other buyers of financial services are just as important as consumers of electricity and other utilities, there is no similar consumer information tab on the FSC's website. There is, however, one tab that deals with the making of complaints and a 'library' that contains information on a variety of topics.

 

Are the differences merely stylistic?

 

One of the specific topics which is discussed as a consumer issue on the OUR's website is the matter of guaranteed standards. These are defined as "minimum service level agreements between the OUR and the utility companies to ensure value to customers. A breach of a Guaranteed Standard results in a compensatory payment to the affected customer/account. Breaches may attract automatic compensation by the utility provider or a claim submission by the affected customer."

Below is a list of some selected standards and the yardsticks against which performance will be measured in the case of the electric utility:

 

Name of Standard Yardstick

 

1. Connection to supply new installation 5 working days

2. Response to emergency calls 5 hours

3. First bill 40 working days

4. Complaints/queries Acknowledgment in 5 working days

5. Complaints/queries Completed response 60 working days

6. Reconnection 24 hours

When performance standards are breached by the service provider, the consumer may be entitled to monetary compensation as prescribed by the OUR.

There are no equivalent set of standards or yardsticks against which the performance of insurance service providers can be assessed, according to information on the FSC's website. Why? Are there justifiable reasons for the regulatory discrimination between the two different groups of service providers? What are they?

Your question has dumbfounded me. I wish that I had an answer. For many years, I have felt like a voice crying in the wilderness! I have written many articles about the FSC. Some criticised the manner in which it went about the business of regulating the insurance industry.

During last month, some members of the pension sector expressed unhappiness with how the FSC was carrying out its functions. The number of its public critics, albeit very small now, is growing. Welcome to the club!

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: aegis@flowja.com.