IF YOU WANT the true picture on crime in the country, talk to the short-term insurance companies. It’s an old adage and only partly valid as a large portion of the population – and the portion probably most affected by crime – don’t have short-term insurance cover. So claims aren’t made and the crimes don’t make the insurers’ records.
But stats from the large underwriters do offer a view on crime that’s no doubt more accurate than the official police figures. This is borne out by the fact that the crime claims experience at the large companies tend to follow the same pattern.
On a very general level, the pattern is both encouraging and disturbing. Overall crime claims – the number of claims submitted by clients – have levelled off, or at worse the increase has slowed a lot compared to about five years ago. But the value attached to these claims continues to increase, as does the severity of the crime committed.
Mutual & Federal (M&F) recently reported full-year results that showed vehicle hijackings up by 2% and theft up by 3%. That might not seem bad but it’s an increase off an already high base.
Keith Kennedy, claims executive, says of the personal lines and commercial books, that claims are fewer, “but we’ve seen an increase in the severity of the crime attached and claims are larger in value”.
While not scientific in the actuarial sense, Outsurance stats show what could be two related trends in vehicle theft crime. Joint MD Willem Roos says overall it looks like crime claims are moving sideways, but adds it’s quite complicated to analyse.
Hijackings show a slight increase – not dramatic, but up.” Vehicle theft, on the other hand, has been showing a continual decline in frequency. “But you must remember,” Roos adds, “that newer vehicles have much better anti-theft devices.
This comes back to an observation made by Nick Beyers, MD of SA Eagle, more than a year ago. At the time SA Eagle’s vehicle theft figures were stable, but hijackings were escalating. Beyers put it down to far improved anti-theft devices that made cars just about impossible to steal, but also noted that a car thief did not change his spots – merely changed tactics. So if he couldn’t steal the car in the middle of the night, he would hijack it when the owner came down the driveway in the morning.
As with more violent and threatening burglaries, hijackings also have the potential to increase the severity of the crime.
Steffen Gilbert, CE of Santam, says on a general level Santam’s crime claims increased last year.
Santam, SA Eagle and Outsurance will all be reporting results within the next week or so. That will give a further indication of which way the real crime trend is going.