RCIB identified as one of the top 1000 companies to inspire Britain

Right Choice Insurance Brokers has been identified as one of London Stock Exchange’s 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain. The report is a celebration of the UK’s fastest-growing and most dynamic small and medium sized businesses.

To be included in the list, companies needed to show consistent revenue growth over a minimum of three years, significantly outperforming their industry peers. More detail on the methodology can be found in the report online at www.1000companies.com.

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It’s back! £150 to switch to Clydesdale bank

If you’ve ever thought of switching current accounts, now’s a good time – especially if you tend to carry a credit balance. Clydesdale is offering a £150 thank you if you switch your main bank account to its Current Account Direct

What’s the deal?

Following its debut £150 offering in November last year, Clydesdale’s Current Account cashback deal is back and offering the same sizable sum for those looking to switch their main bank account.

Switch to Clydesdale’s current account and you’ll receive £150, beating its nearest competitor’s (Halifax) cashback offer by £25.

Beyond the cashback, the Clydesdale account offers a decent and ongoing 2% AER (variable) on in-credit balances between £1 and £3,000, and charges 9.9% EAR on arranged overdrafts.

Who’s it good for?

Cashing in on £150 for switching is a great option, arguably, even if you’re pretty content with your current bank. And if you are consistently £250 or more overdrawn (we’ll explain this later) the 9.9% EAR on planned borrowing it’s also competitive.

Any catches?

A few, yes. First off, to qualify for the £150, you need to use Clydesdale’s Current Account Switch Service, which means completely closing down your old bank account.

You’ll also then need to pay at least £1,000 a month into the account to keep it running – and set up two direct debits.

The first £1,000 payment will need to be made within 31 days of your switch completing – this doesn’t include any balance transferred from your old bank account, nor any other accounts you might have with Clydesdale or Yorkshire Bank.

The way the account is operated is a bit unusual too. It’s a ‘self-service’ account which means you’ll need to manage it by internet or phone. Only if a transaction can’t be carried out this way can you use one of the bank’s 292 branches.

And while the planned overdraft rate comes up trumps, if you go overdrawn by more than you’ve agreed, you’ll pay a whopping 29.99% EAR!

What’s the verdict?

The switching bonus offered by Clydesdale certainly makes it stand out from other deals on the market. A recent Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) review found that people who have switched their current account (under the 7-Day switch rules) were happy with the service. But it added that current account providers needed to do more to make customers aware of the benefits.

Our head of banking Kevin Mountford, said:

“A lot of banks and building societies are taking advantage of current poor rates on savings accounts by offering attractive in-credit interest rates on their current account deals instead. The result is that many current accounts now pay better rates than the majority of savings accounts.

“Add to that the fact you can now earn as much as £150 just for switching and it’s madness not to shop around for a better deal.”

That said, if building up a savings balance is high on your priority list, the M&S Current Account may be further up your priority list. Apply exclusively through MoneySuperMarket and you’ll land yourself a £125 voucher to spend in store – plus access to its Monthly Saver Account with a fixed rate of 6% AER/gross for 12 months.

Top tip

Don’t worry about all your bank account’s standing orders, direct debits and incoming payments – the 7-Day switch service automatically reroutes them all. You even get a 36 month redirect on the old account, making sure that any cash sent to your old account still get to you.

Lloyds mis-selling scandal: Q&A

What were the staff incentivised to do, and who was affected?

Lloyds Banking Group has been fined £28m for putting branch staff under such pressure to sell products in order to claim bonuses or avoid being demoted that they may have mis-sold them to customers.

What kind of pressure were they under?

Staff earned points for each policy or investment they sold, and could be automatically promoted or demoted based on their sales performance, getting a pay rise or pay cut at the same time. An adviser who didn’t hit 90% of his or her target over a nine-month period could see their base annual salary drop from £33,706 to £25,927, and if they were demoted again it could drop to £18,189.

Sales of insurance policies earned around double the points of sales of investments. The pressure was such that in one case an adviser sold insurance to himself, his wife and a colleague in order to hit his target and prevent himself from being demoted.

What products were they selling?

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) fine is based only on an investigation into investment and insurance products, not other products that staff may have been incentivised to sell. The products being sold to customers included stocks and shares Isas, critical illness and life insurance policies, income protection, personal investment plans, and investments into open ended investment companies (Oeics).

Who was affected?

Anyone who bought an investment or insurance through an adviser at Lloyds TSB, Halifax or Bank of Scotland between 1 January 2010 and 31 March 2012 may have been caught up in the discredited sales process – around 700,000 people, according to the FCA.

It said Lloyds TSB advisers sold more than 630,000 products to more than 399,000 customers; Halifax advisers sold in excess of 380,000 products to more than 239,000 customers; and Bank of Scotland advisers sold more than 84,000 products to more than 54,000 customers.

I am one of them – was I mis-sold to?

Not necessarily. An initial review of sales made by 420 advisers (approximately 12% of those working during the period in question) who were thought to pose the highest risk, found that about 54% of sales may have been unsuitable. The FCA estimates that ultimately about 14% of cases could be found to have been bad sales.

Will customers be compensated?

Some will. The bank is unlikely to compensate people who have not lost out as a result of being mis-sold to – for example, anyone who has claimed on an insurance policy they bought, or profited out of an investment.

The FCA says that “due to increases in the value of the stock market since the start of the relevant period, actual customer detriment from any unsuitable sales of investment products may be low. Given the volatility of the stock market this may change in the future.”

What do I do if I think I was mis-sold to?

Lloyds Group has said it is contacting customers, and will continue to do so over the coming months. These will include some customers who are now part of TSB – letters will come from the Lloyds Group not TSB.

If you want to contact the bank to ask it to look at your policy, these are the numbers you need:

Lloyds – 0845 300 0000

Halifax – 08457 20 30 40

Bank of Scotland – 08457 21 31 41

TSB – 08459 758758

I am a taxpayer – won’t I be paying this fine?

Lloyds says it expects to spend up to £200m settling the fine and other issues involved. It says this won’t have a “material impact on the group”, but it is likely to hit the bank’s profitability and as part owners that means taxpayers will take a hit.

Is this the end of the story?

It’s unlikely. Although Lloyds has changed its selling practices, earlier this year staff were still saying that they were under pressure to sell. There is also the issue of sales of packaged accounts and other products during the period in question, which don’t form part of this review. Other banks also incentivised sales through bonus schemes, so may come under the regulator’s scrutiny.

Markerstudy to cut 120 jobs from BDML

Consultation for all staff at Colchester site ends 20 January

Markerstudy has placed all 120 staff at BDML Connect’s Colchester site at risk of redundancy.

Markerstudy took over affinity specialist broker BDML as part of its acquisition of Capita’s loss-making retail broking division this month.

In total the Capita businesses employ 635 staff across three locations.

Managing director of Markerstudy’s retail division Russell Bence said: “Given the current status of contracts and the declining workloads at the Colchester site, Markerstudy has taken the decision to place all roles on this site ‘at risk’ of redundancy.

“We have embarked on a 45-day consultation period, which concludes on 20 January.”

No staff have been placed at risk of redundancy at the other sites in Cambridgeshire and Portsmouth, but Markerstudy is talking to “a small proportion of specific staff regarding potential exit packages”, Bence said.

The acquisition, covering Lancaster, Delta Underwriting, Hero Insurance Services and Sureterm Direct, doubles the size of Markerstudy’s retail broking arm.

Rowan Atkinson car crash biggest-ever motor insurance payout.

Actor’s crashed McLaren supercar racks up £900,000 bill

Insurers have paid out the largest ever sum for a car crash repair to fix Rowan Atkinson’s £3m McLaren F1.

The Mr Bean star escaped with an injured shoulder after losing control of the 240mph car on a slippery section of the A605 near Peterborough in August 2011.

Most of the back of the car was destroyed, and the 6.1 litre engine landed 20 yards away.

Mechanics at McLaren’s Woking base took a year to repair the supercar.

The £900,000 bill was three times higher than the previous record payout by Aviva in 2010.

Atkinson bought the car for £647,000 in1997. He is again driving the car, and said that slipping into the driving seat was like “putting a familiar sweater on”.

Insurance brokers warn of policy payout battles

Cars that have crashed into one another

In the year to March 2012 the FOS saw a 26% increase in complaints relating to motor insurance. Photograph: David Levene

Insurance companies are increasingly refusing to pay out money to policyholders for motor, household and health claims, brokers have claimed.

The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (Biba) said 90% of members it questioned believed insurers had become more strict on paying claims, largely because of the economic climate and fraud.

Almost two-thirds of brokers said they have had to fight harder to get claims paid, and nearly three-quarters have successfully appealed against a claim rejection by an insurer in the past year.

The assertion is backed up by findings from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), which deals with claim disputes which cannot be resolved by the insurer and its customer.

In the past year the ombudsman has seen a 12% increase in complaints about insurers, the majority of which are about disagreements over claims.

“We are finding that insurance disputes are being harder fought on both sides,” a spokesman for the FOS said. “One way insurance companies are controlling costs is by fighting insurance claims harder.”

In the financial year to March 2012, the FOS saw a 26% increase in complaints relating to motor insurance from the previous year, a 31% increase in buildings insurance complaints, a 23% rise in disputes about contents insurance, and a 55% increase in complaints involving critical illness insurance.

In its report the ombudsman said: “It is disappointing when insurers continue to pursue cases to the final stage – requesting final decisions from an ombudsman – in areas where our approach is well known and clearly set out.”

In the case of motor claims it said: “Insurers can still be too quick to assume thefts are not genuine.

“We have also had concerns in some cases about the way in which the insurer has investigated issues around ‘non-disclosure’ by the consumer. This has included disputes where the insurer had not properly considered whether the questions they asked the customer – or the questions on a comparison site – were sufficiently clear.”

Biba cited the case of an insurer that wrongly rejected the claim of an armed forces family posted overseas. While abroad the family put their belongings into storage; when they returned the belongings had been damaged, so they took steps to claim from the insurance policy of the storage company.

“The claim was unsuccessful due to policy wording interpretation from the insurers, and the family was offered £4,000 – although their belongings were worth significantly more,” a Biba spokesman said. “An insurance broker became involved and helped the family navigate the policy wording and evidence that their claim was valid, resulting in it being settled for £12,000.”

The Association of British Insurers said it rejected Biba’s research claims. Nick Starling, director of general insurance, said: “We do not accept any suggestion that it is getting more difficult for genuine claimants to be paid and we have seen no evidence pointing to this.

“The priority of insurers is to pay all genuine claims as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

You’re on a slippery slope if you ski without proper cover

As thousands prepare for a winter sports trip, travellers are warned that the right policy is as essential as your passport. Esther Shaw reports

If you’re one of the many skiers and snowboarders planning on hitting the slopes, travel insurance may not be top of your to-do list, but going without could prove costly.

One in five people goes on holiday uninsured according to travel association Abta, but this makes little sense when findings from insurer Esure show a helicopter evacuation alone would cost around £1,500, while being carted off the slopes on a blood wagon could set you back around £200.

“Repatriation bills will also cost you dear,” warns Asia Yasir from Esure.“From Europe it could cost you £4,000, while from the US or Canada this figure could rise as high as £8,000. No matter what your level of competency on the slopes, accidents do happen, and you can soon rack up huge medical bills.”

This is a view shared by Stephen Ebbet from insurer Protect Your Bubble, who warns that one of the firm’s highest winter sports claims totalled almost £15,000.

“Anyone hitting the slopes without the correct cover is taking a massive financial gamble,” he says. “There are few of us who could afford to pay a medical bill or mountain rescue bills for several thousand pounds.”

As a starting point, it’s worth applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), as this gives UK residents access to state healthcare for free, or at a reduced cost, within the EU. There is no cost for the card (visit Nhs.uk) and it is valid for five years.

“It’s useful to carry an EHIC card with in Europe, but it’s no substitute for having proper travel insurance,” warns Jeremy Cryer from Gocompare.com. “The provision of state care varies from country to country, and you can’t expect to be treated as you would if you visited your UK doctor or hospital.”

He points out that few EU countries pay the full cost of medical treatment that you would expect from the NHS. “An EHIC also does not cover the cost of medical repatriation following accidents or serious illnesses abroad,” he adds.

This is why you also need to shop around for a decent travel insurance policy that includes specific winter sports cover.

If you already have an annual policy, you need to check whether cover for skiing and boarding is automatically included, or whether you need to upgrade your insurance. The same applies if you’re relying on a travel insurance policy linked to a bank account or credit card.

When buying a policy, Bob Atkinson from Moneysupermarket.com recommends aiming for a minimum of £2m cover for medical expenses, £3,000 cancellation, and £250 for cash. He also suggests flight delay cover of £20 per hour for the first 12 hours is advisable, as weather-related delays are not always covered by standard compensation.

Cover levels for ski equipment will vary, but the key is to have enough to replace all of your gear if it is lost, stolen or damaged. When it comes to personal liability cover, at least £1m is advisable.

“If you ski into someone and injure them and they take legal action against you, costs could run into thousands of pounds,” warns Mr Ebbett. “Comprehensive winter sports cover will include personal liability to protect you should this happen.”

On top of these standard criteria, you should also look for features such as piste closure, no snow, avalanche delay and loss of ski pass.

“A policy with cover for piste closure can be helpful in case you can’t ski due to a lack of snow, or other adverse weather conditions,” says Mr Cryer. “This cover will pay an amount towards transporting you to an area where it is possible to ski – or offer some compensation if you can’t ski at all.”

Crucially, however, you do need to scour the small print, as some policies will only cover if the piste is closed for 24 hours or more.

If you’re planning on taking part in “adventurous sports” during your time away, you also need to check your paperwork carefully.

“Winter sports insurance may cover activities such as sledging, sledding, ice-climbing, snow-mobiling, ski-touring and ice-diving, but you may have to pay a higher premium if you want to be protected,” says Mr Cryer. “Other areas of your cover may also be affected, such as having an increased excess for medical treatment, or losing personal accident or personal liability cover.”

Michael Ward from Payingtoomuch.com adds that skiers and boarders also need to scour the small print if entering any competitions.

“Many policies will only cover for non-competitive winter sports,” he says.“Generally speaking, you are unlikely to be covered when engaging in organised competitions; the same applies when skiing against local advice or warnings.”

As a seasoned skier or boarder, you may also be unaware that going off-piste is not automatically included in your insurance.

“Some policies will only offer cover subject to certain conditions, such as being with a qualified instructor,” says Mike Powell from analyst, Defaqto. “In addition, you now also need to check whether your insurer insists you wear a ski helmet before hitting the slopes – both on-piste or off-piste.”

This is a relatively new requirement from certain insurers, such as Essential Travel.

“While a helmet does not reduce all sports injuries, it seriously reduces the risk of potentially fatal injuries,” says Stuart Bensusan from Essential Travel.

“Skiers who do not wear a helmet risk invalidating their policy.” At present, many insurers will still cover you even if you’re not wearing a helmet, but you do need to check this.

Finally, think carefully before indulging in too many drinks while on the mountainside as if you’re drunk and an accident occurs, you could unintentionally invalidate your insurance.

“Most policies will not cover you if you have an accident under the influence of alcohol,” warns Lynda St Cooke from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The key is to drink in moderation, or save your drinking until you’ve finished skiing or boarding for the day.

Zac Schwarz from London knows the importance of having winter sports cover in place after a nasty skiing accident last February.

“My intention was to propose to Laura on the mountain on our fourth day in Switzerland,” says Zac, the 32-year-old creative director. “But on my way to meet Laura, I was hit by someone. I have no idea exactly what happened. I was found on the slopes dizzy and confused, with a cut above my right eye. By the time I reached the clinic, I had very bad memory loss and my face was very droopy.”

He was taken to a hospital in France; this involved a 45-minute ambulance ride.

Zac ended up needing to claim for just over £1,000 from Global Claims Ltd, the independent claims handling firm used by his insurer, Columbus. “This included costs for the hospital stay, clinical examination and ambulance,” says Zac. “I was very grateful I had the right cover, without it, this would have been a very costly trip.

“I was also fortunate to be able to propose to Laura later that same week – albeit in a neck brace; very happily she said yes.”

‘Without insurance, the clinic, hospital stay, and ambulance would have been very costly’

Winning insurance firm: Secrets of our success

by Jane Ball, News Editor, Romford Recorder

A Havering insurance brokers – which started life with just four staff four years ago and is now one of the 50 best in the country – was honoured at the Havering Business Awards.

Right Choice Insurance Brokers in Ashton Road, Romford, specialises in ‘difficult’ insurance clients, including those who have had accidents, those with convictions and young drivers.

The company has also got some star names on its books, including socialite Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, presenter Kirsty Gallagher and sailor Ben Ainslie.

It is an astonishing success story for a company just four years old and whose reputation has spread by little more than word-of-mouth alone.

Managing director Mike Joseph, 41, credits the achievement to good business ethics and a strong staff – now nearly 100 strong – striving to do their best for clients.

He said: “It might sound like a cliché but we’re like a big family here.

Experience

“I have worked with most of my staff before at some stage in my professional life and the experience per head is incredible.”

The company picked up the Growing Business of the Year award at Maylands Golf Club in Colchester Road, Harold Park, last Friday.

This year the company made it on the prestigious Insurance Age top 50 brokers rankings.

The success is measurable at client-level too with many satisfied customers leaving glowing testimonials about the service – highly unusual in the business.

Mike explained: “We have a unique selling point; we bridge the gap between old-fashioned insurance brokering and modern technology.

“Unlike some Internet companies, we do not accept applications online. We use the Internet to generate enquiries and not just transactions.

“We deal with every customer individually and our staff make sure the information is correct and speak to people so we can get the best possible deal for them.”

He added: “The Having Business Award was a fantastic reward and recognition of all the hard work of staff. This year has been especially tough.”

Points record is licence for car insurance firms to raise premiums

Insurance firm retains driving penalty points on records after statutory period – the result: a higher car insurance premium.

I got three penalty points on my driving licence that were removed last month after the statutory four-year period. But when I attempted to renew my car insurance I was told by my provider that it retains points on its records – and charges the consequently higher premiums – for five years. I have paid the price for my speeding offence; surely it’s unethical that my provider should punish me for an additional year. DG, Woodford Green, Essex

You’ve guessed the reason: money. Insurers price their policies according to the perceived risk of a claim. The riskier a customer’s profile is perceived to be, the more they’ll be charged and, although new laws forbid firms from taking gender into account they are free to use other personal circumstances to calculate premiums.

Most insurers will require details of any endorsements or convictions for the last five years and, although you say this is the only time you’ve ever been penalised for speeding, if an insurer’s claims history shows that customers with speeding convictions are more likely to make a future claim, it will judge you to be a higher risk even after your penalty has expired.

The Observer,