Time passed (impossibly slowly, I seem to recall) and the boy became a man. Well, a big boy, anyway, and that boy acquired a driver's license. To get me out of the driveway, my parents bought me a car, which had been my aunt's. It was a Hillman Minx, an automatic, which sets our story squarely in England, in a time long, long gone by.
Although the car was 10 years old, its seats still bore the factory plastic, and the odometer read 1,800 miles. To describe the vehicle, despite its stateliness and hideous lines, as my pride and joy would have been a criminal understatement.
I worked, at the time, in the City of London, the "square mile," then the world center of financial ingenuity and stuffiness. As a trainee accountant, my life was composed largely of adding columns of numbers and fetching cups of tea for my principal, the accountant to whom I was articled under a contract that most slaves would have envied.
It may have been the single most one-sided document in the history of paper, but it provided me with a small stipend, which turned out to be just enough to pay for gas and insurance for my antique transportation.
This was a time when parking could be found in London, a notion now so out-of-date as to be incomprehensible. The second time I drove to work, I was involved in an accident. It may only have been a fender bender, but my aunt's perfectly maintained vehicle was scratched and I was incensed. Incensed!
I approached the driver of the expensive limo that had tried to cut in front of me and had instead cut into me. He was, as it ultimately turned out, a liveried chauffeur. The word chauffeur is French for heatmaker, or it should be. He had certainly made me hot under the collar. I demanded his insurance details, the exchange of which is mandatory under such circumstances.
When he told me that his employer was Willis Faber Dumas, and that he was "self-insured," I became enraged. I'd never heard of his employer or self-insurance and assumed he was just trying to weasel out of his legal obligations.
Spotting a passing beat policeman (another quaint notion these days), I fairly dragged him over to the scene of the crime. "This man has no insurance," I asserted. "Arrest him at once!"
Following some conversation, the cop explained to me that Willis was a large city broker and that self-insurance, in their case, was perfectly legal.
Not entirely mollified, I took the name of the chauffeur, his boss, the policeman and half a dozen witnesses. In due course, at the first time of asking, Willis met its obligations without demur.
In my middle age, I am somewhat changed from the know-it-all teenager that I once was. I cringe now at the contrast between how much I thought I knew then and how little I know now. But I do know who Willis are.
a Bermuda-based writer, editor and former accountant, is a regular columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He also covers issues on alternative risk.
April 15, 2005
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