‘Do you have any questions?’ said the man at the insurance company after an hour of me trying to take out a new car policy.
‘No. I wouldn’t know how to ask you a question about what has just gone on even if I wanted to,’ I replied, because insurance is now so complicated there is no way a person not employed in the underwriting industry can understand it.
And that would not matter, except we do need to get our heads around it, because we have to change it every year.
Insurance companies are good to you until they’re not, because insurance is like a toxic love affair. After a few years of one being nice to me, I got the inevitable punch in the face renewal quote and had to go on one of those price comparison websites they ought to call abused.com.
I found a policy, but entered the wrong start day, and when I tried to make it start a day earlier, the price unfathomably shot up.
So I rang this company and a nice man explained that if I started the policy on a Wednesday it would obviously be a lot more expensive than if it started on a Thursday. ‘It’s the algorithm,’ he explained. ‘Policies starting on certain days of the week are more expensive because it tells us something.’ Yeah, it tells you you’re in the right business, I wanted to say.
But I let it go because the process of trying to understand any of this was destroying good brain cells.
By the time I put the phone down, I was in no fit state to deal with a horse insurance policy that was automatically due to renew, according to a letter I had received, at £200 more a year for no apparent reason because I hadn’t made a claim, other than they just felt like metaphorically pushing me down the stairs.
Like a fool I rang the number and got a recorded message with a voice that sounded like Alan Bennett speaking very slowly and whimsically:
‘Hell-ooo!… and welcome to the Insurance Emporium, a trading name of the Equine and Livestock insurance company limited… an insuuuurance undertaking permitted to carry out insuuuurance distrib-uuuuution… which is authorised by the Prudential Regulaaation Authority… and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority… and the Prudential Regulaaaation Authority! Our registered address is Thorpe Underwood Hall, Ouseburn…’
And he said every line of a long address, with dramatic pauses, including the post code, very slowly. Then he said: ‘Our financial services register number is…’ And he slowly read out a number. All right, I get what you’re doing, I thought. ‘And this can be checked by visiting the Financial Conduct Authority website at w… w… w… dot…’ Yeah, you read that FCA website address and phone number. Go on.
After that, he started reading out the small print of the FCA rules, and the data protection rules. It was a long time before he even got started on the options to press. There were seven of these, and he read them out so slowly that I actually started to admire the ruthless ingenuity.
There was no option for cancelling a policy, obviously, so I pressed the ‘sales’ option and after a brief pause got this:
‘Hell-ooo!… and welcome to the Insurance Emporium, a trading name of the Equine and Livestock insurance company limited… an insuuuurance undertaking permitted to carry out insuuuurance distrib-uuuuution… which is authorised by the Prudential Regulaaation Authority… and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority… and the Prudential Regulaaaation Authority! Our registered address is…’
And he read the whole thing again, right down to the website and phone number of the FCA and all the FCA small print.
I shouted: ‘Now you’re taking the…’ And a rude word. But it didn’t matter because there was no voice recognition. Just Alan Bennett, or someone who sounded very much like him, droning on in a whimsical way, as though thoroughly enjoying the business of sending innocent people round the bend for daring to ring a customer services number.
He repeated everything down to asking me to choose again from the same options. I chose again, and at a full seven minutes, got as far as some recorded music. After ten minutes I called it a day.
The only email address was email@example.com which hardly filled one with confidence. The same could be said for the letter, which bore a picture of a bowler-hatted Mr Benn, their logo, and was addressed to me and my horse. ‘Dear Melissa and Darcy. Thank you for continuing your adventure with us!’ I nearly cancelled the last time I got a letter like that, and they talked me round.
This time, I sent an email telling them it’s really over. I can’t go on like this. We’re through. I don’t want to continue this adventure any more.
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