Finweek English Edition - - Openers - SHAUN HAR­RIS

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.

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