The notion that the Insurance Corp. of B.C. could save lots of money by shifting to online vehicle insurance renewals is not valid, B.C. Attorney General David Eby says.
ICBC uses a network of private insurance brokers to sell its policies, and they are currently working through major changes as B.C. drivers come in to renew their vehicle insurance under new rules that took effect in September. Those include registering occasional drivers and paying a new risk-based insurance premium calculated on regional and personal accident records.
“Brokers are more important than ever to talk to people through these changes, to understand how listing or not listing somebody on their insurance could affect their insurance pricing and their liability,” Eby said last week. “It’s really important that people be able to talk to a real person. And if ICBC eliminated brokers they’d have to bring that in-house, it would result in very significant hiring of people at a help desk of some kind, to assist people through the online process.”
With ICBC paying hundreds of millions each year to insurance offices for their services, it’s been suggested that moving to online insurance renewals would save big money as the corporation struggles to break even. Eby says that’s not the case.
“It’s not a zero-sum game where you eliminate the brokers and then everything’s free,” Eby said. “If you set up an online renewal system for ICBC, people will have difficulty with it, they’ll have questions about it. You need people to respond to their questions, you need to train them, you need to set up the infrastructure.
“It’s a very significant project. We haven’t done the detailed work yet about how much that would cost, because basically we’ve been plugging the holes in the bottom of the boat right now, getting ICBC’s finances turned around.”
ICBC reports to government show $434 million in commissions to its 900-member Autoplan broker network in 2016-17, up to $490 million in 2018-19.
ICBC pays a flat fee to brokers for selling basic insurance and a sliding scale for optional insurance, where it competes with private insurance companies. Optional commissions were reduced in September from 19.93 per cent to 19 for the lowest-risk optional customers, and from 15.5 to 15 per cent on average, an ICBC spokesperson confirmed to Black Press on Monday.
ICBC’s first quarter results this year suggested it may be getting back into the black, with a net income of $55 million for April through June 2019. That comes after two years of deficits totalling $2.5 billion, and a bailout in this year’s B.C. budget to keep the corporation solvent as it struggles with rising crash rates and legal costs.
Eby said his latest reports show a slight decrease in crash rates for the current year. The NDP government has upgraded intersection cameras at 140 high-accident intersections to run 24 hours a day, and to issue speeding tickets to the owners of vehicles that exceed the speed limit by an undisclosed amount as they pass the cameras. The province has also cracked down on distracted driving, particularly use of phones.
The main reforms to ICBC came earlier this year, as the government brought in a $5,500 cap on “pain and suffering” awards, introduced a civil resolution tribunal to keep minor disputes out of court, and imposed limits on expert witnesses for cases where injured people sue ICBC.
The Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. has challenged all three of those in court, and won a judgment on the expert witnesses that the province may appeal or overturn with new legislation.