Back in 1956-57 I was working for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company in Melbourne, 31 William Street if I remember correctly; which I probably do! The Hartford was the trading name in Australia of A.F.I.A., (American Foreign Insurance Association).
Being regarded as a specialized “Claims man” I was stuck in a desk in, shall we say the bottom right hand corner, of the claims department; away from the counter and general run of business where I could perform my acts of bastardry. Part of my job was to weed out bad risks.
The bulk of the Hartford’s business in Australia was motor vehicle insurance and, being an American company they attracted the bulk of their business from American companies, foremost of which was General Motors & G.M.A.C.A. (their finance arm); G.M. had the lions share of the car industry in the 50’s: the Japanese hadn’t hit the market back then.
Most of the vehicles, mainly Holdens; were sold on hire purchase which meant that G.M.A.C.A. got to finance them and the Hartford got to insure them. a very nice, very cosy arrangement. The purchasers had the option of arranging their own insurance but there was a catch. The vehicle had to be insured for the full term of the H.P. contract; usually 3 or 4 years. Being on H.P. attracted a higher rate of insurance, same as today, and there seemed to be a good, fair enough reason for this anomaly and I had no problem with this.
Vehicles under H.P. seemed, and in actual fact did have more and bigger & smaller accidents than vehicles bought outright. Obviously people who paid cash were more aware of their investment and guarded it by driving with more care. Probably todays statistics would show the same result.
“What the hell has this got to do with “Firenze Fashions?” I hear you ask.
“Firenze Fashions” had a Holden Station Sedan (Holden didn’t use the term ‘wagon’ back then,) and this poor vehicle was what you might call “accident prone”; actually it wasn’t the car but the owner. He was a Jewish gentleman in the rag trade, With a name like “Firenze” you naturally thought “Ah; Italian, Florence!”. Wrong; like most in the rag trade back then it was dominated by the Jewish people, well it seemed to be in Melbourne at least; and that was the centre of the rag trade in Australia; Flinders Lane Melbourne.
Anyway another claim had popped up from “Firenze” and this time it came to my desk. Looking at their claims record I saw that they were a complete dead loss, they were still in the first year of their contract of four and the cost of claims had exceeded the total premiums paid. The initial excess on a business vehicle was £25. which had been increased to £50 after the third or fourth claim.
Why the vehicle hadn’t been written off even though it hadn’t been totalled was beyond me, it was a dead loss policy and we kept throwing good money after bad. The company should have totalled the car paid out G.M.A.C.A. and finished with “Firenze”; but they hadn’t!
What did I do? I wrote them a nice letter telling them I was increasing their excess to £100 for each and every claim, I enclosed an agreement for them to sign and accept the new terms, or else I would cancel their policy forthwith and without further delay. The value of the vehicle for the last year of their contract would have been about £200 – £250 at most.
My letter must have hit them like a bombshell, a day or so after it went out the owner appeared at the counter almost in tears and wringing his heart out. He was also accompanied by an amazingly attractive model, somewhat in the style of Gina Lollobrigida and equally well endowed, wearing a very low cut gown.
I was summoned to the counter, this was something I rarely, if ever did, go to the counter that is, I can’t recall Mr Firenze Fashion’s name probably something like Levy anyway he introduced himself to me and started pleading with me to not be so hard on him as it was not his fault that his vehicle was always getting into accidents and they were never his fault.
By this time the claims room was getting quite full with men who never had any need to come to the department but now found it imperative, Bob Moss the “Claims Manager a terrific bloke with a wild sense of humour;( Bob had been a fighter pilot in the Pacific with the RAAF during WWII and our lunch time sojourns to the local pub were always a load of fun; but that’s another story for another time) even found time to wander around his department to keep an eye on things, especially the things that were being dangled and jiggled before me.
Believe it or not I was completely unaware as to what was going on in that area.
The outcome was I told Mr F.F that if he didn’t agree and sign the forms I’d sent him there and then I would cancel his insurance immediately, and notify G.M.A.C.A. immediately. He would then have the option to either arrange insurance elsewhere for the full term for which he’d have to pay cash up front. I warned him that any other insurer would check his claims records with not only us but every other insurer with whom he’d been involved and that his chances of getting any other insurer to accept him on any terms was absolutely none; after which his only alternative would be to pay out G.M.A.C.A. and carry his own insurance.
Of course he signed there was nothing else he could do.
At lunch in the pub my crowd wanted to know the ins and outs of the whole business and amid scenes of great fun the boys told me that the woman had been brought along as an inducement for me. I really didn’t know what they were talking about, but it seems from their understanding that had I have been a decent bloke and not held out for his signature on the dotted line; she would have been mine to do my will and bidding.
But in all truthfullness I must admit that I had no idea that she was being offered to me and I would have no idea what I was supposed to do had I taken up the offer, at 22 going on 23, I was still innocent and didn’t understand what was going on. All I was doing was my job.
I look back at this incident, episode in my life from time to time (like now!)and have a chuckle. I must admit I did a lot of chuckling in 2005 when I was in Florence.