This article is reproduced from the Daily Telegraph dated February 2014.
We can’t stop the weather, but we can act in unison to minimise the impact of extreme events. Let’s be clear, no defences, no development ~ Mark Wilson CEO Aviva
For thousands of families across the UK hit by unprecedented flooding and storms, the day they hoped would never arrive is here. And this is the time when insurers step in.
The immediate challenge is to look after those whose lives are being turned upside down and those under threat of rising flood waters and gales. The longer-term challenge is to define what steps we can take as a country to minimise flood damage and disruption in the future.
As the UK’s leading insurer, our number one priority is to get our customers back on their feet as soon as possible. All else is secondary. That’s what we do and what we do best.
Flooding is one of the most traumatic events that any householder or business can face. Families are forced out of their homes. Valuable and much-loved possessions are ruined. Businesses struggle to trade. It can be many months before the drying-out process is completed and subsequent repairs can commence. We understand the emotional cost that comes with flooding.
This trauma places huge responsibilities on us, the insurance industry. It requires us not just to honour fully and quickly our contractual commitments to our customers but also to provide advice and emotional support to people when they are at their most vulnerable.
There will always be areas where insurers can do better and we must learn from these. However, we often get our most positive feedback from customers when the traumatic events happen because that is when they truly see the value of insurance – when they see us at our best.
Our staff are encouraged to do the right thing for each customer rather than abiding by a rigid set of rules set down by head office. We fail if we treat all our customers the same.
So looking ahead, how can we stop this from happening again? We can’t stop the weather, but we can act in unison to minimise the impact of extreme events.
No single person, company or government agency carries the blame for, or can solve, flooding. And we know that the threat is only going to increase, with scientists predicting greater flood frequency and extreme weather as a result of climate change. This will cost society more and we have to face up to this.
Alongside the proposed Flood Re scheme offering affordability and accessibility to those at high risk, I believe there are four areas that need full and frank consideration:
1. Significant flood defence investment – both capital and maintenance
There is no simple answer to the issue of flood defences at a time when government finances are so tight. The insurance industry has already said it will invest £25bn in infrastructure projects over the next five years as part of the Government’s growth action plan and Aviva last year committed £500m of this, ready to invest today.
However, currently there is no mechanism for insurers to invest in flood defences. And we have a responsibility to our customers, including savers and pensioners, to invest the money they have entrusted with us responsibly where it will achieve adequate returns.
2. Listen to the experts, and make sure we only build where we can protect
So said David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions last week. I agree. In one decade, 200,000 homes in the UK were built in areas of significant flood risk.
As a nation we need to build more homes, but the cost of development must include
the cost of defences. Let’s be crystal clear: no defences, no development.
3. Reform of house purchase process so householders are aware of potential flood risk
There is a question about the awareness of prospective housebuyers of the risk of flooding – a critical factor to be considered when someone is making the largest purchase of their life. Better-quality, more accessible data should be made available to house purchasers.
4. A strong strategy for surface water flooding
Although the current focus for us all is coastal and river flooding, surface water flooding is a major concern. More homes, our driveways and supermarket car parks all contribute to more water flowing into the system, and flowing quickly.
And then there are the tough questions: how do we as a country balance the interests of those in flood-free zones with those in flooded areas? How do we as a country balance the interests of homeowners, businesses, farmers and the environment?
Government, local authorities, local communities, emergency services, Defra, the Environment Agency, hydrologists, meteorologists, mortgage providers, housebuilders, insurers and brokers all need to do their bit before the country will see a credible, sustainable response to the risks we face.
UK insurers have paid out over £5bn to householders and businesses affected by flooding since 2000. We are clear on the task at hand today and, as before, we will continue to step up for our customers in these traumatic times.
The public deserves and demands a sustainable and workable solution. That will only happen through a tangible commitment from everyone involved to play their part.
Mark Wilson is the chief executive of Aviva
So Mr Wilson, why is your company behind a scheme to build luxury homes in high risk flood zones?
Do as I say, not as I do?