Archive for April, 2014

Just Sayin’ Blog – A Matter of Self-Interest or Consumer Choice

Dominos

 

Last June 3, 2013 Dannel Malloy, Governor of the State of Connecticut signed a bill that was passed by Connecticut’s House and Senate the previous month into law. This link to the summary of the act that was first introduced in the Insurance and Real Estate Committee of the Connecticut House states,

“The act requires that a glass claims representative for an insurance company or its third-party claims administrator, in the initial contact with an insured about automotive glass repair services or glass products, tell the insured something substantially similar to: “You have the right to choose a licensed glass shop where the damage to your motor vehicle will be repaired. If you have a preference, please let us know. ” By law, appraisals and estimates for physical damage claims written on behalf of insurers must have a written notice telling the insured that he or she has the right to choose the shop where the damage will be repaired (CGS § 38a-354).”

This law seems to be a reasonable approach to provide and ensure consumer choice to the residents of Connecticut.

As it appears on the State of Connecticut’s General Assembly bill tracking web site the law – Public Act Number 13-67 – states,

 “AN ACT CONCERNING AUTOMOTIVE GLASS WORK.

To require an insurance company doing business in this state, or agent, adjuster or third-party claims administrator for such company to provide additional disclosures to an insured regarding such insured’s right to choose a licensed repair shop or glass shop where such insured’s motor vehicle physical damage or automotive glass work will be performed.”

Again, this language also seems to be a reasonable expectation for residents of the state. Everyone believes that consumer choice is a good thing right?

The signing of the law was reported by number of industry publications (glassBYTEs.com, Autobody News, Automotive Fleet) due to the dramatic effect that it would have when fully enforced on insurance companies claims management programs, as well as automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry players (Harmon Solutions Group, NCS/Netcost Claim Services, TeleGlass/Strategic Claims Services, Gerber National Glass Services, PGW Lynx Services, Safelite Solutions)  that provide network and/or Third Party Administrator (TPA) services to the insurance industry. AGRR networks and/or TPA’s tend to steer business to either company owned stores and/or to affiliated network repair or glass shops that conform to the pricing or service requirements of the network and/or TPA. That has been a long standing business practice of networks and TPA’s and it’s not hard to understand the financial benefit to these companies to continue doing so. The passing and subsequent enforcement of this law requires a pivot away from the long-standing AGRR industry practice of placing the decision of which company provides the repair or replacement into the hands of the consumer needing service and out of the hands of a network and/or TPA that has always been heavily involved in the decision. This also seems to be a positive for consumer choice. Again, everyone believes that consumer choice is a good thing right?

In order to protect its network and TPA business Safelite Group, Inc. and Safelite Solutions LLC (the Plaintiffs-Appellants) have gone to court against GEORGE JEPSEN, in his official capacity as Attorney General for the State of Connecticut and THOMAS LEONARDI, in his official capacity as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Insurance Department (the Defendants-Apelles) in hopes of overturning the law. The law clearly prohibits the steering of Connecticut consumers to specific repair shops by TPA’s and/or auto damage appraisers so one can understand the self-interest involved. Connecticut’s “Department of Consumer Protection” web page states that:

“Ensuring a Fair Marketplace and Safe Products and Services for Consumers”

The purpose of this government department is pretty obvious by its title. Public Act Number 13-67 protects the interests of consumers in the state and their “right to choose”; and the State of Connecticut unquestionably is within its rights to enact such a law, right?

If the State of Connecticut prevails in its defense of the constitutionality of Public Act Number 13-67 through the appeal process, as Safelite continues to fight to overturn the law, the future landscape of networks and/or TPA’s that provide AGRR services to consumers in the state will forever be changed. And if this law stands it will have an effect on the landscape of the AGRR industry in the entire United States. You can be sure that similar consumer protection bills will be introduced in state assembly’s’ across the country. Is that why Safelite is so strongly fighting this law duly enacted by the State of Connecticut?

If you visit the Safelite web site you will find that the company describes Safelite Solutions LLC as providing:

“….complete claims management solutions for the nation’s leading fleet and insurance companies.

The company currently serves as a third-party administrator of auto glass claims for more than 175 insurance and fleet companies, including 19 of the top 30 property and casualty insurance companies. Safelite® Solutions manages a network of approximately 9,000 affiliate providers and operates two national contact centers in Columbus, Ohio and one in Chandler, Arizona.”

The Connecticut law could serve to undermine a business practice that has existed in the AGRR industry since the late 1970’s. The genesis of call centers (a.k.a. a network or TPA) was when Joe Kellman, former owner of Globe Glass & Mirror, visited an auto glass call center facility in Bedford, England operated by Belron’s Autoglass and brought the idea back to the United States starting the U.S. Auto Glass Network. Since then, the impact, influence and control of consumer auto glass losses by networks and/or TPA’s operating in the AGRR industry has continued to grow each and every day. The networks and/or TPA’s obviously work hard to control and steer auto glass repairs and replacements to either company owned stores or to glass companies that agree to join and follow pricing arrangements that benefit the goals of the network and/or TPA. A business practice worth fighting for right?

The State of Connecticut is interested in protecting consumers in the state, who are in need of auto glass repairs or replacements, from being steered by a network and/or TPA. This law seems like a reasonable next step action in a state where those that are engaged in the AGRR industry are required to be licensed by the state (in my last blog I wrote about “Is it Time for Licensing?” in the AGRR industry). The Department of Consumer Protection oversees the licensing flat glass and automotive glass work.

We will have to wait for the appeal process to work its way through the courts to find out if this law stands, is amended or falls. But whether you believe that the law is a positive development for Connecticut consumers or you believe that the law violates free speech in commerce, the fight will continue as the stakes are too high. If the law passes through the appeal process and stands, it could be the tipping of the first domino and could be the beginning of big changes for the AGRR industry.

So where do you stand on Public Act Number 13-67? Are you on the side of consumer choice or on the side of the networks and/or TPA’s? Perhaps it depends on your own self interest.

Just sayin’.

 

Dominos

 

 

Associated Articles and Reference Material:

Zauderer’s Scope (page 589) https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/files/1566-keighley15upajconstl5392012pdf

http://www.autobodynews.com/news/regional-news/northeastern-news/item/7277-connecticut-governor-signs-anti-steering-bill-into-law.html

http://www.nldhlaw.com/content/uploads/2013/07/UpToSpeed_July2013A.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/2014/04/connecticut-officials-file-brief-in-support-of-anti-steering-law-in-appellate-court/

http://www.glassbytes.com/newsConnAutoGlassBillGoestoGov20130523

http://www.glassbytes.com/newsConnecticutSteeringPasses20130606

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/03192014SafeliteSecondCircuitBrief.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/04232014SupplementalIndex.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/04232014JepsenBrief.pdf

http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=5072&which_year=2013

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Is it Time for Licensing?

I read an article relating to the Novus Super Session at the organization’s Annual Franchise Conference held last week in Tucson. A representative from one of the networks that operate in the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry in the United States attended the conference and discussed industry related issues and ideas. One of the issues discussed related to the responses to survey questions that the network had asked of some number of in-network shops that either are:

    1. required to bill through the network for the insurance or fleet work that these shops do for an insurance company that utilizes this network as an administrator or
    2. shops that are asked by the network to do work on the behalf of the network for an insurance company or fleet account that the network either can’t or doesn’t want their own company owned technicians to do for some reason.

The survey question that the representative said received the most comments related to unlicensed and/or unregistered AGRR shops. The network representative reported that when the survey responders were asked if they would support the regulation of auto glass shops in their states a resounding 74.2% responded with a yes. I think the question relating to regulation of auto glass shops an interesting one and I support the regulation of auto glass shops that do replacements.

When you consider all of the various “services” that are regulated by states, it is inconceivable to me that auto glass replacements (and other automotive repairers) are not. I looked on the web site of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation (IDFPR) that oversees and licenses those considered “professionals” by the State of Illinois. There are 237 professions that are regulated by the IDFPR starting first with those who provide “Acupuncture” services. That seems like a profession that should be regulated. If you’re going to have someone perform acupuncture on you, would you want just anyone off the street be allowed to stick needles in you? Probably not. The listing ends with “Veterinary Technician”. The professional listings include some in the medical profession, but not every specialty is listed so if you add every regulated and/or licensed professional’s in the medical field to the list on the web site would be much longer. How does the state you live regulate those they consider professionals? Do you have 237 different professions regulated and/or licensed by your state?

I think it’s interesting that some of the professions that are regulated and/or licensed by the State of Illinois include:

Real Estate Appraiser                                             Athlete Agent

Cemetery Customer Service Employee                    Community Association Manager

Detection of Deception Trainee                                Nail Technician

Shorthand Reporter                                                Timeshare Resale Agent

Understanding that a few of the professions on the truncated list above taken from the IDFPR web site could, for instance, certainly cost you money if you had a bad appraisal via a Real Estate Appraiser, but in all likelihood none of these licensed and/or regulated professions are going to put your life at risk. A faulty windshield installation, on the other hand, could cost you and/or passengers riding in your vehicle serious injury or in a worst case scenario a life.

If you visit the AutoGlassSafetyCouncil.com or SafeWindshields.com site you’ll find a variety of information regarding the importance of windshields in auto glass safety. A question on the SafeWindshield.com site asks:

What role does my windshield play to ensure my safety in an accident?

The windshield provides a significant amount of strength to the structural support in the cabin of the vehicle. For instance, in a front end collision the windshield provides up to 45% of the structural integrity of the cabin of the vehicle and in a rollover, up to 60%.

There should be no dispute regarding the importance of a windshield in ensuring the safety of auto and truck passengers, asking that those who install your windshield to be licensed and/or regulated doesn’t seem unreasonable to me? If in the State of Illinois the state government feels that there is sufficient need to regulate and/or license Nail Technicians, Athletic Agents or Shorthand Reporters, wouldn’t you think that the same state legislature would take a look at various automotive repairs that if not done properly, could cost someone a serious injury or death?

The network representative at the Novus meeting was quoted as saying that for those that the network surveyed:

“By far, the largest problem was unlicensed/unregistered shops.”

You can certainly downplay the network that provided the survey results when asking the question “What was the largest problem in the AGRR industry?” (some might suggest the right answer to the question is the network providing the information is actually the largest problem in the AGRR industry), but is it time to consider the licensing and regulation of the AGRR industry considering the importance of the windshield to occupant safety? Perhaps that licensing or regulation could include adherence and verification of replacements to the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard®. That might be an unpopular position for some, but would it be so bad? As auto glass professionals what are we afraid of?

Just sayin’.

 

AGW 2014 Free Admission

Link to Free Admission Ticket to Auto Glass Week 2014

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Wind at Our Backs? – Part III

Last September and December I wrote blogs titled “Wind at Our Backs?” and “Winds at Our Backs? Part II” writing that “it appears that we may have some wind at our back” when looking at the key drivers (the weather, the economy and miles driven) of the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. If you focus mainly on the weather as a key driver and look at what we’ve experienced in the United States this past winter, many would describe it as harsh or brutal in much of the country. Based on the weather over the past week, even though the vernal equinox or the first day of spring arrived on March 20, 2014, our winter really hasn’t seemed to have ended yet. I live in Chicago and this past winter was the coldest (December – March) ever on record and snowiest (9.7 inches from snowiest on record – 1978-79 as reported by the WGN-TV Weather Blog) I’ve ever experienced anywhere, except maybe for one when I lived in Montreal.

Chicago Lakefront 2014x

Chicago/Lake Michigan February 2014

The Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasted that the 2013 – 2014 winter season would bring us colder weather and heavier snowfall in many sections of the country and for those who were hoping that the forecast would come true they weren’t disappointed. Stretching from the Rockies to the East Coast the weather has been a big boon to the industry with extreme or unseasonably cold weather that included snow and ice storms. I’ve talked with a number of retailers and suppliers who had a great first quarter of 2014 which followed a rather lackluster 2013. One supplier told me, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, that on a trailing twelve months he looked like a genius since all the strategies that his company had used in the past year to increase business had really paid off.

Starting in 2011 The Weather Channel started naming winter storms that are strong enough that meet the criteria set by the prognosticators. For the winter of 2013 – 2014 The Weather Channel’s list of 26 alphabetical names were developed with the help of a Bozeman, Montana high school Latin Class. The potential storms this winter began with the name Atlas and will end with Zephyr. Through today there have been 24 named storms with the current storm that hit the Upper Midwest with up to 18” of snow before heading off to Canada. Since it is now the first week of April and a couple of weeks since the first day of spring winter storm Xenia is dumping snow in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. Enough already. Although this winter may have been good for some in the AGRR industry I’m thinking of it more like a Dr. Seuss book I read countless times to my sons when they were growing up – “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!

 

When you look back at this past winter named storms starting out with Atlas in early October that delivered feet of snow from the Rockies to the Upper Plains winter storms kept hitting almost every week including some areas that haven’t seen much in the way of winter weather for a few years. In early February starting out in Georgia and hitting especially the Atlanta metroplex were a couple of storms that CNBC described as a catastrophic ice storm that effectively shut down Atlanta for several days before continuing on up the east coast wreaking havoc along the way. In early March the greater Dallas-Fort Worth and North Texas area got hit with an ice storm that crippled the metroplex. The Carolinas got hit by a couple of storms in February and March with the last one being Ulysses hitting around March 10th. If you live in the North you expect to get snow and you’ve learned how to deal with it, but it’s not quite the same below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Every year there is a contest that awards a trophy called The Golden Snowglobe that recognizes the snowiest city with a population of 100,000+. The trophy typically goes to Syracuse, Rochester or Buffalo, New York each year, but as of today it appears that for the winter of 2013 – 2014 the winner for The Golden Snowglobe will be Erie, Pennsylvania with 137.2” of snowfall.

For this blog I’m not going to address the economy or the miles driven. Neither of those has really changed all that much since my December blog. Regardless whether you feel the wind is at your back or not, you and your employees are the key driver(s) in your business. How you’re dealing with the various opportunities and obstacles that you face each day in your business determines the success you achieve. All that really matters is what is going on in the market or markets you operate and I hope that you’re achieving success in the markets you compete.

As good a predictor that The Old Farmer’s Almanac was for this past winter, the prediction for the 2014 – 2015 winter season from this long-time source hasn’t been published yet, but I recently saw a very detailed prediction made by The Weather Centre for next winter. Please take the time to read and interpret all of the information and let me know what you think what the upcoming winter will be like.

Since weather is so important to the AGRR industry, in the coming months I’m hoping that you get some hail in the markets you compete. I know a couple of suppliers that think that could be their winning strategy for 2014.

Just sayin’.

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