A very boring week I’m afraid. So much to do at work that my brain is too tired to write in the evenings. The press has gone quiet since the Brexit feeding-frenzy last week. And now we are half way through Portugal vs. Wales – more boredom. Even the weather has been a bit boring, no thunderstorms or heatwaves for a week now.
Ariane and I started a small call-centre business just over two years ago and we’ve just hit the “growing pains” stage. I’d like for us to grow at a nice steady rate, but business doesn’t work like that and we are being swamped at the moment. We work for insurance companies making outbound calls to people who have just damaged their cars and organise a repair or hire car for them. Really the insurance companies, our clients, should be able to do this themselves but they don’t have the time or resources to make a good job of it. In England the business we are in is called “claims management” and has a justly-deserved bad name. The English motor claims business used to be about getting your car fixed. Now (due to unintended consequences of legal changes at the turn of the millenium and a general moral breakdown within the insurance industry) it is full of referral fees for personal injury claims – most of them made-up whiplash claims. It’s a national embarrassment and has nothing to do with that great British characteristic – fairplay.
In Germany, things are a little different. There is no “whiplash industry” because the laws governing motor claims are fairly sensible. If you are the innocent victim in a traffic accident you will get your claim paid quickly and if you are injured your treatment will be paid for of course. If you know how to milk the system you can make a few extra euros but on the whole it is a fair system. The insurers complain that they have to pay too much, the lawyers complain that the insurers should pay more. There is an uneasy equilibrium which has worked well for the past few decades. Probably the main reason that the claims industry hasn’t mutated into a UK or US bun-fight is that lawyers are not allowed to advertise in Germany.
Actually, that’s not quite true. They are allowed to advertise but only in a very limited manner. Basically you can print your name and address and say in which areas of law you specialise but that’s about it. One thing which strikes me when watching TV back in England is the sheer quantity of lawyer’s advertising – all stoking the compensation culture. Here we have none of that, and thankfully less of a compensation culture.
That’s not to say that in Germany people don’t care about the law and their rights. Here the opposite is probably true. In many households you will find the “BGB” (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch – Civil Code) sitting on the bookshelf. They won’t be much used for looking up the minimum mandatory sentences for first degree murder, but more often for the little niggles in everyday life. Is it my fault if somebody slips on the icy bit of pavement I should have cleared? How noisy can the neighbours be after 10pm? Is the landlord allowed to charge me that much for renovations? Inevitably you do have a certain type of person who “knows their rights” and will waste no time in explaining them to you – and the Germans have a good word for them: Paragraphenreiter – paragraph rider. These people never let common sense get in the way of the letter of the law, or in fact any other written rules.
The digitalisation of the world’s data has lead to a whole new area of law – data protection. In the typical German “if you’re going to do it, do it right” fashion, we have embraced the data protection rules here. All the Paragraphenreiter that were hidden away in dingy offices somewhere in the corridors of the insurance world have been able to break out of their cocoons and spread their wings in the world of data protection. Which brings me back to my business – our clients are insurance companies and the lengths we have to go to to keep the data protection specialists happy keep me busy (and keep me from writing this blog). Still, in the end, it is comforting to know that I won’t be selling your data to a personal injury lawyer anytime in the near future. Some EU regulations aren’t that bad after all.