Insurance - Pay as You Learn

by Tony Deyal

Insurance - Pay as You Learn

I was in Barbados and needed car insurance badly which, as the man trying to sell me a Mini Moke responded, “Dey have ‘nuff companies doing that here. They’re as bad as you could get.” In insurance terms, the feeling was mutual, so I tried grammatical reconstruction. “I badly need some insurance,” I told my favourite insurance honcho Gerry Hadeed, owner of Beacon Insurance, which has branches all over the Caribbean, including in Barbados, where I had just scored a PAHO consultancy for an indefinite period and was looking at acquiring some wheels.

It was not my first vehicle or insurance policy, and I had learnt a few hard facts. The primary truth is that while nothing succeeds like success, nothing exceeds like ‘excess’, the term used to define the amount you will be required to pay when you make a claim on your policy. In some cases, especially motor-vehicle insurance, the excess is around US $1,000 and so, even if you’re not dead in an accident, you would be badly wounded, especially when you add the loss of your ‘no-claim’ bonus. As one expert told me bluntly, “It is not ‘no blame’, it is ‘no claim.’ Even if you’re right, once you make a claim, your premium rises.” Your blood pressure, too, I found out later.

There are all kinds of jokes that I drop on my insurance friends. There is one who loves the ladies so whenever I see him, I generally ask, “You still doing it with third parties?” Another old favourite that I have used, but never in the presence of my beloved wife (for obvious reasons) is the question, “What do an insurance policy and a woman have in common?” They are both expensive, difficult to understand, and what you get is not guaranteed. The guarantee and inevitable lack of it are critical. This is why when I ended up in hospital undergoing surgery for damage caused by my falling off a dirt bike, I learnt from the nurses in the ward when they passed my bed and playfully flipped my blanket that hospital gowns and insurance policies have in common that you’re never covered as much as you think you are.

Even though I tease my friends – I told the CEO of an insurance company I heard that one of his salesmen won a prize trip to New York but is now trying to win another one so he could come back home – I value their help and advice. I bought an earthquake and fire insurance policy from one and he got upset when I dubbed him Mr Shake and Bake. But when I called Gerry in Trinidad, he answered immediately. The fact is that while Barbadians do not consider a ‘Mini Moke’ a car, I had arrived in their country with limited funds and no idea how long I would be there, so the Moke was ideal. The Barbados sun can be merciless and I really could not deal with the long walk in the scorching heat.

When Samuel Selvon wrote his book A Brighter Sun, I am sure Barbados was on his mind. The other problem was my fear of the Barbados minibuses which, even now, require both life insurance and divine intervention. I found kneeling down and making the sign of the cross in one was too much of a tight fit. What helped was that I had seen this little, red Moke (Australian for ‘mule’) in a garage in Bridgetown and, despite its lack of doors and a metal roof, was immediately attracted to it. I wouldn’t have dared owning one in Trinidad because it (and even me) would have been hijacked within a few minutes of my hitting the road and, given that I could not lock the trunk or the ‘bonnet’, I would have lost my battery and spare tyre in seconds.

I believe that this seller’s market for insurance in Barbados is why the first company I called told me that it would cost me $1,500 to cover a $1,000 car. I was upset and angry. I called Gerry in Trinidad and complained, “The car cost me a thousand dollars and they want to charge me one and a half times the price of the car for the insurance. Fifteen hundred dollars!” I added, “I now reach here. I haven’t worked for a cent as yet. What they want me to do? It looks like I will have to sell the car to pay the insurance.”

He eased me up a bit with the cost, but I was still very much in the red and doubly so since that was the colour of the car, as well as what I was seeing when I had to pay the insurance. However, I had no choice since the law demanded that I insure the car, and Confucius said, “Needing insurance is like needing a parachute – if it isn’t there the first time, chances are you won’t be needing it again.” It was a chance I was unwilling to take.

What gets me about insurance in any form, fashion or type of coverage is the ability of its salesmen and executives to ignore and leave out the ‘e’ in ‘liability’. This is why I am not too hard on some of the drivers who come up witruly original excuses for getting into accidents. One said, "Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don’t have.” Another explained, “A truck backed through my windshield into my wife’s face.”

There are some others like: “My car was legally parked as it backed into another vehicle”; “The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth” (lots of those around), and “I was sure the old fellow would never make it to the other side of the road when I struck him.”

But for me, the one that takes the full premium and noclaim bonus is, “An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car and vanished.” However, none of the excuses can compete with what a salesman told his customer: “Yes, your policy does cover you falling off the roof, but it doesn’t cover your hitting the ground.”

Tony Deyal was last seen saying that it is important to choose the right insurance provider. If you sleep with your girlfriend, the one for you is Mutual Trust; if you sleep around, Group Life; but if you sleep alone, John Hancock.

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