Insurance Industry Must Polish Image

Article excerpt

The insurance industry has a terrible track record in public relations and must polish its image for a new era of "consumerism," some 350 independent Oklahoma insurance agents were told Thursday.

Harlan Miller, director of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of California, told the story of "Proposition 103," a consumer revolt against the insurance industry that resulted in one of the most expensive and divisive election campaigns in American history. Last November, Californians voted to force the insurance companies to reduce their rates to 20 percent below 1987 levels.

"You're not as well thought of in Oklahoma as you think you are," Miller told the agents, gathered at the Marriott Hotel for All Industry Insurance Day, sponsored by the Coalition of Property and Casualty Associations. "We found that out very quickly in California. As an industry, we have failed very miserably in public relations and consumer involvement."

Miller said there may not be a movement afoot to reduce insurance rates in Oklahoma, but the state's initiative petition system for calling elections would make it easy to do.

"The insurance industry is going to have to change the way it does business," Miller said. "Consumerism is here, and here to stay."

Insurance companies and their political action committees have done a fine job of having their way with state legislatures, Miller said, but as hikes in premiums go unexplained to those who pay them, trouble brews.

"And the solution is not going to come from advertising," Miller said. "It is grass-roots, not media-hype. …