ILC ARTICLE

Covid-19 committee on the cards?


The possibility of forming a crisis committee was raised following some startlingly frank conversations during the eighth ACR360 webinar, held in association with I Love Claims.

It was proposed that a cross-sector committee, established specifically to deal with immediate Covid-19 challenges while also seeking post-crisis solutions that meet everyone’s needs, could be the way forward with ARC360 acting as the hub.

Panellists for the session included Chris Weeks, executive director, NBRA; Gary Barker, claims director, The AA; Ian Pugh, managing director of Fix Auto; and Mark Bull, director of Trend Tracker.

Praise

The suggestion arose as Chris praised the government for the support it has provided during the lockdown, suggesting that without the furlough scheme particularly, as well as rates relief and grants, many repairers would have gone out of business already.

However, he said, ‘Should all the support come from the government? I hear repeatedly that repairers are effectively subsidising repairs. Repairers do the work for insurers – has that sector done enough to support repairers during this crisis?’

Gary said, ‘There is a perception that insurers are benefiting due to fewer claims, but any advantage we have now will be transient. It will be competed away, or it will be given back to customers. There is absolutely no question we have an obligation to support customers (the policyholders). The FCA expects us to. So how can an insurer justify to its shareholders that spending extra money to support its supply chain is more important than supporting its customers? We can’t simply pay more.’

Benefits

Chris said repairers do not expect to receive the benefits insurers may be reaping from fewer claims but argued bodyshops are losing money while tethered to contracts based on volumes that are no longer there.

Gary said, ‘There is no question repairers have additional cost. The difficulty is the balance of where one steps in for the other. That needs discussion. But it’s really unlikely any individual insurers will accept a blanket hike in costs.’

Ian, who has worked on the insurer side and now heads up a burgeoning repair network, then raised the idea of a cross-sector committee, which received wide support.

Gary said, ‘Let’s actually commit to doing it. I’m certainly prepared to set aside some time.’

Claims volumes

Meanwhile, the webinar also looked at volumes, which have been steadily rising over the past few weeks. That upturn could sharpen depending on what government announces this weekend regarding lockdown measures. But while an increase in traffic has been evident, the rate repair volumes recover – and whether that recovery is sustainable – remains unclear.

Gary said, ‘We track claims frequency very closely and it feels like we’re halfway up the bounce-back. It flatlined for a while but in the last three or four weeks it has almost doubled every week and we’re now at about 50% of normal levels. But we can’t be sure if it’s stored up demand or immediate demand. The imponderable is what angle of increase we’ll see, and if it will flatten out again. There is a huge unknown factor about the pace of return to normal.’

Concerns

That was something Ian expressed concerns about. He said the Fix Auto network had actually suffered a slight dip in volumes at the start of May but expects a steep upturn again for the rest of the month. However, he warned that a ‘surge of repair volume in the next four weeks’ was no guarantee of a genuine recovery.

He said, ‘Volumes might be 40% in May, but we don’t know how many of these will be genuinely new claims or work in progress and VORs (vehicle off road). The actual volume might be 30% or less, and after those four weeks we don’t know.’

On a hopeful note, he pointed out that road traffic in China is now above pre-virus levels as people turn their backs on public transport

He said, ‘My budget for Fix Auto UK is that we’ll be at 70% of pre-Covid-19 volume in the third quarter.’

Cash

Cashflow remains the burning issue for many businesses, with Ian dismissing the offers of future discounts as ‘jam tomorrow’. He said the cashflow crisis demands an immediate response and explained how his team has so far secured £700,000 in business grants and the equivalent of £800,000 in rates relief.

Ian said, ‘There is a lot of red tape and it’s easy to give up, but if you put £25,000 into your account and couple that with the rates relief, it’s the number one thing you need to do.’

Fix Auto has given this laser focus since the lockdown began, and has now set up a dedicated email address – covidgrantsupport@fixauto.co.uk – for anyone seeking advice on how to navigate their way through the government grants, loans and rates relief schemes.

So far Fix Auto has helped to secure about £100,000 in grants for non-Fix shops.

Survey

Meanwhile, the webinar also revealed the results of the follow-up Trend Tracker, ARC360 and NBRA bodyshop survey which found that nearly a quarter of bodyshops have remained open during lockdown, with a further 51% planning to open after the 11 May Bank Holiday, or according to government updates.

Interestingly, nearly half  (46%) had not applied for government grants and 34% had not applied for business rates relief, although it’s unclear how many were ineligible due to annual turnovers of more than £50,000.

The poll also found that, encouragingly, 82% are either very or cautiously confident of withstanding Covid-19’s financial blow, although five per cent said they are ‘not confident at all’.

Mark said, ‘This paints the picture that a good number of shops are in severe difficulty.’

Scenarios

Findings from ARC360’s inaugural Hub event, which canvassed the opinions of 29 key influencers from across the industry, were also revealed. In terms of a recovery, 78% expect volumes to be down 10%-40% in the third quarter of the year, although opinions were split on whether this would increase (39%) or decrease (43%) repair costs. But more than three quarters (76%) predict significant change to the industry following this crisis, with a promising 86% suggesting improved relationships between repairers and claims managers will be part of that.

Both reports are free to download using the links below:

Trend Tracker, NBRA & ARC360 bodyshop report https

ARC360 Hub report

ARC360, in association with I Love Claims, is supported by corporate partners ACIS, BMS, EMACS, Entegral, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Nationwide Vehicle Recovery Assistance, S&G Response and CAPS; partners The Green Parts Specialist, Indasa, and Innovation Group; and strategic partners AutoRaise, NBRA, RepairTalks and TrendTracker.

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