This letter is printed by Straits Times on 30 April with some editing.
25 April 2008
I refer to Christopher Tan's article entitled "Puncturing Inflated Motor Claims" in the Straits Times 21 April 2008.
I wish to share my perspective on this matter, having been personally involved in helping my team to build the largest market share in motor insurance during my period as the chief executive officer of NTUC Income. We were able to offer lower premium rates to more than 300,000 policyholders and still produce a profitable business.
For many decades, insurance managers in Singapore are aware that dishonest workshops inflate the repair bills on third party claims. These workshops aggravate the damages to inflate the repair bills, claim for parts that are not replaced and exaggerate the repair time to claim a higher compensation for loss of use.
They use lawyers to lodge the third party claim against the insurance companies. The legal fees are added to the total claim. If insurance companies do not settle the inflated claims, the lawyers are quick to file a legal suit, which takes the cases into the domain of the courts. This further increases the legal fees and now adds the court costs.
To avoid the high legal fees, many insurance company assessors find it better to settle the third party claim, even though they are ware that the claim amount has been exaggerated. The higher claim payments are ultimately reflected in higher insurance premiums paid by motorists.
What can be done to reduce these inflated claims?
Six years ago, the insurance companies introduced the Idac scheme (i.e. independent damage assessment centers). They require the motorists to report the accident at an Idac center for the damages to be assessed on the spot, before the vehicles are sent to the workshop. This reduces the opportunity for the workshop to aggravate the damages. The Idac scheme was intended to apply to all claims, including third party claims.
The Idac centers are actually more convenient for motorists. The centers are open during most hours of the day and night and are a one-stop center for reporting of accidents and assessment of damages. Many motorists who experienced the service of the Idac centres give positive feedback on their convenience and reliability.
Unfortunately, some insurance companies decided to withdraw from the Idac scheme. Without the full participation of the insurance companies, it is not possible for the Idac centers to play its role in controlling the inflated third party claims. This led to the escalation of motor claims during the following years.
In my view, the Idac scheme still represents the best way to control the inflated claims. I hope that the insurance companies will review their position on this matter.
Another possible solution is for the Government to pass a law to make it mandatory for a motorist to lodge a third party claim directly with the insurance company immediately after the accident. This will allow the insurance company to assess the damages and settle the claim, without involving a lawyer. If the claim is in dispute, the owner can then engage a lawyer to handle the case. This is a common practice in many other countries.
Without legislative support, it is a constant cat and mouse game with the dishonest workshops. Insurance managers have to devise many checks and controls to manage the dishonest claims. It is expensive and tiresome.
Singapore has an expensive and wasteful method of handling third party claims, resulting in inflated claims and high legal expenses. It is a blemish on our record as an efficient, transparent society.
Tan Kin Lian
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