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Victoria business owner calls for greater transparency in B.C. insurance industry

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A Victoria-based business owner is proposing changes to improve transparency within the insurance industry as she navigates an eight-month claim process following a flood that nearly forced her to close her doors.

Sapphire Day Spa is awaiting a final insurance settlement due to a ruptured pipe on the roof of the View Street business on May 28, 2022.

The owner says water came through the first and second floor of the spa – ultimately prompting two business closures over the peak summer period to remediate.

"We want to only tell stories about how we can benefit clients, but the truth is and the story here is that we almost had to close our doors by the time Labour Day came," said owner Heidi Sherwood.

Sherwood made the decision following the flood to pay her staff throughout the closures. She says she had requested an advance from her insurance company but it didn’t come until the end of August.

"We did not have enough cash reserve and in the time that I’ve had this business I’ve never had to [even through the pandemic] be in our overdraft," said Sherwood.

Water damage at the spa is pictured. (Submitted)

A REQUEST FOR CHANGE

Eight months since the flood, Sherwood is awaiting her final settlement. She’s also experienced another major claim under a second, former spa she ran on Government Street that was destroyed in Victoria’s 2019 Plaza Hotel fire.

She wants to see greater transparency within the insurance industry for improved customer relations. She’s pitching an online portal system where customers could log in to see the latest updates on their claim.

"Right now when I submitted all my financials to the forensic accountant and I asked for, 'What did he say our loss and our claim is worth? What did he assess it at?' He said, 'I cannot show you that,'" said Sherwood.

"The insurance industry feels like now, to me, is that they’ve created this island where they are untouchable and so they don’t have to explain themselves and they don’t have to be really transparent," she said.

INDUSTRY RESPONSE

CTV News has reached out to several resources and regulators within the insurance industry for comment.

The BC Financial Services Authority regulates insurance companies, but suggested a streamlined online portal system for the industry does not fall under its purview.

"It is not appropriate for regulators to impose processes or procedures for settlement of claims, as that is the responsibility of government," said communications specialist, Audrey McKinnon.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said reimbursement periods vary from insurer to insurer – and that they understand people need to be able to pay for their expenses.

"We encourage everyone to keep all their receipts and speak with their insurance representative about expectations when it comes to the timing and frequency of reimbursement," said the IBC through a statement.

"The length of time to complete repairs also depends on a variety of factors including the severity of damage, availability of contractors and supplies, as well as securing any necessary building or demolition permits from your municipality," the statement continued.

The B.C. Ministry of Finance says that insurance companies are private businesses and that it is up to each individual insurance provider to communicate their practices with their clients.

However, the province notes that it does have a regulatory framework for insurance contracts, which includes timelines for when a claim must be made, and for when a claim must be paid out.

"At this time, there is nothing in provincial legislation that would stop an insurer from establishing an online portal for sharing information as long as it complies with privacy requirements under the Personal Information Protection Act," said the ministry in a statement.

'NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL'

Sapphire Day Spa’s owner feels there’s been a breakdown in communication with her insurance company to settle the claim, and has chosen not to publicly name the company.

Her calls for improved transparency at a systemic-level come amid some challenging years.

"Business has not been business as usual," said Sherwood. "The obstacles continue whether they be staffing, inflationary, supply changing issues and certainly the health restrictions had a major impact on our business and our capacity limitations."

Despite a difficult time for operation, Sherwood is grateful and confident her 17-year-old spa is resilient enough to ride out the latest hits. 

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