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Bennetts and the great “three modifications and you’re out” cock-up

A few days ago, Motorcycle News ran a story about one of Britain’s biggest motorcycle brokers refusing to cover machines with more than three modifications.

The story went on to report that the modifications could be something as simple as a sticker or complex as nitrous oxide injection, and that they would be treated exactly the same by Bennetts, so that applications to cover machines with four minor alterations including the stickers would be automatically rejected.

To say that the story has exploded on the motorcycling world here in the UK would be no overstatement.

So what’s going on? What kind of mods are we talking about here?

Maybe the stickers were just something a bit daft that slipped in whilst they were compiling a list of performance-enhancing changes like altered frames or tuned engines that they know the insurers themselves will want to know about? Or maybe MCN got the wrong end of the stick?

It seems not.

Bennetts helpfully provided a list of over 50 possible modifications that they would have to be notified about, which range from a tank protector to a specially built frame! Regardless of what the item was, if riders looking for insurance selected four from that list, Bennetts would refuse to seek cover for them.

Furious customers on the Bennetts Facebook page point out that the list includes innocuous items like tank pads, chromed engine parts and seat cowls! And of course, just in case you’re thinking “I don’t need to tell them about a sticker, surely!”, failure to declare any could invalidate the policy.

The complete list includes crash bungs or bars, reinforced engine casings and replacement bar end weights. A change of tyre make, non-original fitment bulbs, adjustable clutch levers and heated grips are all on there too. So are sat-navs and panniers! You’ll no doubt be relieved to know that if you’ve fitted a pair of knee grips to the tank, that only counts as one mod.

My initial thought was that it wouldn’t affect me – then I realised my own totally unmodified XJ6 Diversion is over the limit, as it has a chain oiler, a sat nav, a tail pack AND a tank bag. On the Bennetts scheme that would make four. Oh yes, and a tank pad too!  That’s five! Oops. I forgot to declare it’s not on Yamaha’s fitment of Dunlop Roadsmart tyres. Make that six! And I’ve got a company logo* on the tail pack. Is that seven? I have no idea!

So that was last week and to say the smelly brown stuff hit the fan after the MCN story is stating it mildly. Not surprisingly, riders who have made modifications to their own bike have been jamming the Bennetts hotline asking for clarification and posting up the results of their calls. One who’s made very similar mods to me (Scottoiler, Honda panniers, Honda heated grips, hugger and tank pad) posted last night that he’s been told he can’t ride his bike until they get back to him!

The same day as the story, the following clarification was made:

“Just to confirm, multiple stickers are classed as one modification and not individual modifications as you may have read.”

Wow!

Bennetts also said:

“We always want bikers to be frank with us and appreciate your feedback. We’ve heard you and so we are urgently reviewing our modification/accessories policy.”

As it’s fairly easy to imagine that their steady flow of new business dried up to a trickle almost overnight as rider after rider found their bike was banned from Bennetts insurance, I bet they were!

Nevertheless the fan continued to spin, with fallout landing far and wide. For example, a story on the Honda Owners’ Club website said:

“Bennetts insurance appear to have committed commercial suicide by imposing daft restrictions on their bike insurance.”

And that’s a very mild statement compared with some I’ve read!

So yesterday, up went a new post on Facebook:

“MCN said we couldn’t take more than 3 modifications. This was true. We’ve now resolved this. Simply call us. Our apologies. MCN said Bennetts claims could be rejected over a basic sticker. False. We’ve gone one further though and removed stickers from our mods list. Check with your insurer if you’re not with Bennetts, as it’s likely they will still class stickers as modifications. This was common industry practice until we heard your feedback and changed our policy over the weekend.”

In other words: “We’ve realised that we made a massive goof and are back-tracking as fast as we can”.

And “common industry practice”?

That’s the first I’ve heard of it, and I’m not the only one! MCE Insurance promptly popped up an item on their website featuring a massively customised machine entitled “Bennetts says No MCE says YES!”, and they report:

“Other major bike insurers including Carole Nash and MCE said they did not have a similar limit.”

So “common industry practice” translated means “we’ve just realised we’ve scared off people from insuring through us and now want to confuse the issue and pretend ‘everyone does it’ and bring back business”

Yet another Bennetts statement says:

“As you will have seen from the article in the current edition of MCN, a number of bikers are unclear about how modifications are taken into account when they complete an insurance quote.”

I don’t think bikers are unclear about mods – I think pretty clear it’s Bennetts who’ve completely misjudged the issue!

“In response to customer feedback, we agree that the maximum number of modifications that Bennetts can currently cater for needs increasing beyond three. We are actively working on a solution for this.”

Basically, they need to go back to assessing mods ‘as-is’, not via a tick-list.

“In terms of the use of stickers, it is apparent the article has caused confusion, and in some instances, concern, regarding policy validation. Clearly the difference between a personal/trade sticker and that of rebadging, or using decals to make a bike appear a different model or higher specification are vastly different and an element of common sense does need to be included in the mix. However, it is important to tell your provider all details about your bike at quote stage to ensure you are fully covered.

What?? If ever a statement showed a total ignorance of the market this is it! How many bikes have you ever seen rebadged to make them look like another model? Outside the odd machine like the 749/999 Ducatis and even older 250/400 Superdreams, bikes simply don’t have the same family resemblance as cars where occasionally you will see ‘3.0’ decals stuck on the boot of a 1.8 litre BMW to make it look a bit pokier than it is!

“We recognise that, in the absence of industry standard definitions regarding modifications, accessories and safety features, improved clarity is required for all bikers. We therefore plan to take the lead in providing this clarity for our customers and will update our website with clear definitions as soon as possible.”

Bennetts are NOT the insurance company, they are only a broker and according their own FAQ page:

“We use a panel of motorbike insurers and present you with the lowest quote from that panel.”

So the precise terms and conditions of each insurance company will be set out in the insurance company’s policy – I can’t see that it’s up to Bennetts to start to throw their weight around and “clarify” anything. It’s down to the insurance company to accept or decline the business.

The original statement made to MCN last week claimed the three modification limit was justified because:

“…historically the number of bikers, when quoting through one of our direct channels, who list more than one modification is very low.”

I rather suspect the very public feedback on bike forums and in the press is making them re-assess that particular perception of their business! And the story breaking just as the motorcycle show at the NEC started was probably not great timing either.

So what’s driven this apparent change of policy? It’s admittedly a guess but I wouldn’t be surprise to find that in auditing their company time, someone realised that their telephone sales people working on motorcycle insurance were being tied up by people listing modifications to the machine that required their staff to get on the phone and make a call to the individual insurance companies to see what they’d cover and what they wouldn’t. So some bright spark said:

“hey, if we get the riders to list their mods from our own list we can weed out those it takes us more than 30 seconds to arrange cover for and boost our productivity, decrease our staffing levels and increase our profits.”

At that point they got hold of an M&P catalogue, went through it and listed all the bolt-on parts they could find with no understanding of how riders use them, hence the totally non-discriminatory list of real performance-enhancing bits and pieces, things fitted to reduce damage in the event of a crash and the totally innocuous cosmetic items like tank pads that cannot possibly have an impact on claims!

Bennetts currently insure 200,000 UK riders and provides quotes to 600,000 a year, more than half the country’s total motorcyclists according to the firm’s website. I wonder how many it will be by the end of the year?

It’s interesting they’re posting up statements on their FB page? I wonder how many people have ‘unfriended’ them? That’s a pretty good measure of how unpopular you’re making yourself!

————————– * Footnote to the story – I’m not insured via Bennetts. They refused to quote me as apparently as a qualified motorcycle instructor I’m too high risk.

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