Volume 13, Issue 6 - November/December 2011

Independent’s Day
an iga viewpoint

The Opposite of Fair is …
by Alan Epley

Thanks to all for the comments and feedback from my last column/opinions about unfair trade practices. It is very gratifying to hear from you, but it would be even more gratifying to see many more independents speak out about unfair trade practices in the auto glass repair and replacement industry.

The opposite of unfair is fair. Following are just ten of the multitude of fair trade practices that occur in competition for auto glass claims (from consumers), but only when you define “fair” as currently legal.

My Top-Ten List
1. It is fair for third-party administrators (TPAs), hired by insurance carriers to administer glass claims, to have an undeniable conflict of interest. I do not know of any other industry in which this happens, so it’s fair.

2. Many times the conflict is a financial one that affects every single claim processed, no matter who submits the invoice. This is the concept behind the Guaranteed Average Invoice (GAI) that has been testified about in court as fact (see related story in May/June 2011 AGRR™, page 10). That’s fair!

3. It is fair for folks in the glass business to advise insureds and communicate with them at the first notice of glass loss that their choices of repair facilities may have undesirable traits. Sometimes a rebuttal to consumer choice is intended to confuse. For example, the TPA’s CSR may say, “This shop is not on the approved list” or “We can’t guarantee their work.” That’s fair!

4. It is fair to advise an insured during the claim reporting process that his shop of choice’s invoice might be too high or low. In other words, the TPA (which often is our competitor) can tell an insured that what another competitor may charge is too much/too little. Fair again.

5. It’s fair to say to a claimant “you have the right to choose,” but, unless the consumer choice is favorable with the TPA or many of its clients, a consumer likely may be talked out of his right to choose a glass shop. All is doggone fair here, too.

6. It’s fair also for carriers to threaten to financially punish or release agents who are not in “compliance” on exactly which shop(s) are directed large amounts of claims via the TPA system. Also, TPAs providing bonuses to employees based on the amount of work they can direct to company-owned operations—this is compliant with the law as well.

7. It’s fair for TPAs/competitors to reportedly have major influences with some insurance carriers and dictate fair and reasonable charges demanded for services and materials to its independent competition. Quite fair indeed.

8. It’s fair that one carrier’s opinion of fair and reasonable may be as much as an 80 percent difference than what another agrees is fair and reasonable. That makes sense so it’s fair and righteous.

9. It is fair (and thus legal) for hundreds of employees of a glass company, acting as representatives for an insurance carrier during the glass claim process, to discuss pricing with the company’s competitors. That’s a fact, Jack. I can’t even be facetious on this one; that ball is definitely a foul.

10. It’s fair and thus legal for TPAs to broker claims; that is, to sell the job to a glass shop at lower pricing than is paid by the carrier and keep the difference. The issue is that the proceeds belong to the policyholder, not the TPA.

“I have asked top-ranking people whom I consider adversaries if they would sit still if the situation was reversed. The usual answer always comes: silence.”

What Do You Think?
Again, these are a few of the many possible, potential or current fair trade issues in our industry. I have asked top-ranking people whom I consider adversaries if they would sit still if the situation was reversed. The usual answer is silence.

If you have thoughts on any of the above, or documentation of issues you’re having, you may want to share those with the U.S. Department of Justice. The email is antitrust.complaints@usdoj.gov.

Another idea is to contact your state lawmakers to see if they will sponsor legislation.

As you read this, there are major legislative battles going on around the United States. Both sides know what is at stake. Fight back and never give up.

Alan Epley is president of the IGA. He also serves as president of Southern Glass and Plastic in Columbia, S.C.

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