‘That’s not much of a discount’: Why some auto insurers still aren’t cutting rates for all during pandemic


Some drivers are questioning why they aren’t seeing a significant reduction in insurance rates given the lockdown’s eerily empty roads, especially in light of the insurance industry promising rebates and relief in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“They offered me a reduction of two dollars a month until August,” said Craig Fenn, a ground handler at Pearson Airport in Toronto. “That’s not much of a discount.”

Fenn’s wife, a teacher, is no longer driving to work. He says their broker told them their insurance company, Aviva, would only give them what amounted to about a one per cent rate reduction and only if they changed his wife’s insurance coverage from driving to work to driving for pleasure.  

“They’re not giving discounts unless you change something on your insurance, and it has to be [a] big [change],” he said. He could have gotten his premium reduced in return for reduced coverage regardless of whether there was a pandemic, he said.

Fenn was one of a number of people who contacted CBC News after reading a story about Canada’s insurance industry promising to help drivers cut costs during the pandemic.

“I was so irritated by the fact that the insurance companies were getting good publicity,” he said.

In the United States, a number of companies are offering a 15 per cent refund to all their customers, regardless of circumstances. But the relief promised by Canada’s insurance industry has so far been a patchwork of different policies, with some companies issuing significant rebates, others cutting premiums only if coverage is reduced and at least one insurer going ahead with an increase, albeit one that was decided before the pandemic.

James Downey says his insurance company, the Co-operators, raised his premium by 20 per cent retroactive to January. The insurer says the decision to increase rates was made prior to the pandemic and reflects the claims experience from previous years. (Submitted by James Downey)

‘Doesn’t seem right’

“My premium went up 20 per cent,” said James Downey, a lighting director with his own production company in Toronto, who is with the Co-operators insurance. “That doesn’t seem right.”

He says he had had a good experience with the insurer up until that point.

“So I was actually taken aback.”   

Downey says he received the notice of the increase from the Co-operators in March, retroactive to January. He says nothing had changed in his driving record so he contacted the Co-operators, but wasn’t given a reason for the increase, other than it was a decision made before the pandemic hit.

Downey’s business is completely shut down, and his wife is on reduced hours at her job. The increase to his insurance amounts to about $400 annually.

“I’m in a spot where I can afford it for the next little while, but I know a lot of people I work with can’t,” Downey said.

Lisa Guglietti, executive vice-president and chief operating officer at the Co-operators, said, “these rates were implemented prior to the pandemic and reflect the claims experience that we have seen over the last number of years.”

The Co-operators is now offering a base 10 per cent refund for rates between April 1 and May 31.

“Due to the overall decrease in traffic on the road, this refund is available to all auto policyholders, even those continuing to commute to work,” Guglietti said.

Customers have to register online to claim the refund.

“But that still wouldn’t make up for the initial increase, which to me is not fair,” Downey said.

What some insurers are offering

Canadian Underwriter, a trade publication covering the insurance industry, has a comprehensive list of what many companies are and aren’t offering their drivers in terms of relief.

Allstate Canada is offering all its customers a one time 25 per cent refund on their May bills regardless of whether or not their driving has been reduced.

“We recognize that with fewer people driving, there are fewer collisions on our roads,” Allstate Canada CEO Ryan Michel said earlier this month, in citing the reasons for passing on cost savings to customers.

Several other Canadian companies are also offering across-the-board rebates, including CAA, Gore Mutual Insurance, iA home and auto, Unique insurance, La Capitale and Northbridge Insurance. 

Another approach

But as of publication some of Canada’s biggest insurers, including RSA, TD Insurance, Desjardins, Wawanesa, Intact, and Aviva Canada are only offering reduced premiums if you’re driving less.

We’ve chosen not to adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for our customer relief measures, as we believe each customer’s situation is unique.– Janis McCulloch, of Aviva Canada

“We’ve chosen not to adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for our customer relief measures, as we believe each customer’s situation is unique,” said Aviva Canada’s Janis McCulloch in a statement. “We know many customers are driving less during this pandemic, while some are driving more.” 

“We believe this is a fairer approach than an across-the-board reduction,” said Intact’s Jennifer Beaudry, senior consultant of external communications, “as it gives us the flexibility to provide additional relief to those who need it most and for longer than three months if needed.”

Still too early

Desjardins said it may yet end up offering across-the-board rate reductions, depending on how things play out.

“It’s still really early, and we don’t have enough claims frequency and severity data to consider reviewing our premium refund approach at this time. For one thing, the police have reported far more speeding and reckless driving on our roads. What impact will that have? We don’t know yet,” said Desjardins spokesperson Joe Daly.

Steve Kee, director of external relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), which says its member companies are providing a combined $600 million in relief for Canadian drivers, said, “Each approach is different but nonetheless, meaningful to customers.”

The bureau hasn’t broken down the savings so it’s unclear how much of that total is coming from drivers opting to reduce their coverage because they’re driving less.

Read more at CBC.ca