Let’s start off by stating the obvious – professional photographers tend to own a lot of expensive gear. Most photographers have insurance for that expensive gear and one of the most common queries that you’ll see on discussion forums frequented by those professionals is about which insurer is the best/cheapest. Insurance is proof of two of life’s most enduring truths:
- The best is rarely the cheapest (unless price is your only arbiter of ‘best’)
- The devil is in the detail (or the small print)
Having spent days or even weeks looking into insurance for photographic equipment I thought that it would be useful to write down a few things that you might like to consider and a few questions that you might like to ask when assessing the relative merits of competing quotes. The first thing that you need to know that the company offering to sell you insurance is most likely to be a broker and not an actual insurer (or underwriter).
Insurance broker noun A person or company registered as an adviser on matters of insurance and as an arranger of insurance cover with an insurer on behalf of a client.
There’s nothing wrong with a good broker – they know their industry, will have worked with people like you before and will generally know where to get the best deals with the right cover. The actual insurer will be an underwriter.
Underwriter noun A person or company accepting liability under (an insurance policy), thus guaranteeing payment in case loss or damage occurs.
There are about six or seven underwriters who have products and experience in the professional photography arena and each of them lays down their own specific rules and exclusions when offering policies through brokers. That is how it works: you go along to a broker who then offers you a policy underwritten by someone else. Most brokers stick to the same two or three underwriters for specific types of policy and will generally pick up very quickly what you want and be able to advise you on which policy to take out.
That’s all good if the broker has made an accurate assessment of what you want. Sometimes all they hear is “cheap” and will just get you the lowest priced policy which may or may not be a perfect fit for you and your work. Sometimes all they hear is “comprehensive” and get you a policy with all of the bells and whistles at a higher cost and the chances are that you might not need some of those bells and whistles. This brings up a whole series of things that you might want to know the answer to before you speak to a broker.
- What kind of cover do you want? Theft and accidental damage?
- Are you prepared to have a high excess payment?
- How would you describe the kind of work that you do? Is it hard news, sports, features, PR, general editorial?
- Do you have secure locks on all potential access points to your home and/or office where you will be leaving your equipment?
- Where do you live? Town or country, house or flat?
- What kind of vehicle do you drive? Saloon, estate, hatchback, convertible, van?
- How good is your security on and in your vehicle?
- Where and when do you leave your gear in your vehicle? Daylight, overnight, only when working?
- Do you need to be able to leave gear in hotel rooms? If so, where in the world?
- How often and where in the world do you travel with gear? Most UK insurers limit you to a total of 90 days.
- If you travel, is you gear covered in the hold of an aircraft or elsewhere whilst in transit?
- Does your work take you into area or scenes of civil unrest?
- Do you need to insure rental or loan equipment?
- Do you need to insure laptops and other IT equipment? Does that include software?
- Do you need to insure an archive?
- Do you need Public Liabilities Insurance? If you do, is £2million enough or would you need £5million?
- What about Professional Indemnity Insurance?
- How do you want to pay for your cover? Annually or monthly?
- Do you want ‘new for old’ cover or will you accept a ‘wear and tear’ reduction to get the cost down?
- Have you got a figure including bags, cases and accessories for the kit you want covered?
That’s a long list of separate questions and each of them will have a bearing on which underwriter a broker should steer you towards and by answering each of them honestly you will get cover that suits you. Sometimes there won’t be a perfect policy and you will have to accept a compromise but you need to remember that all underwriters are in business to maximise their income and minimise the number of claims that they have to pay out on. If you give false information on your application they will do their level best to avoid paying some or all of your claim. We have all heard scary stories about people who have had claims dismissed over seemingly innocuous details and when our gear gets damaged or stolen the last thing that we need is to find out that we weren’t covered for that eventuality.
There are plenty of things that you can do to help get the cost down and/or your cover up and you can can go through the list above and see what you can do to help. Improving home security (some Police forces offer free checks) is an obvious one as is improving the security of your vehicle. Some underwriters offer discounts if you have recognised security cages or locking compartments permanently fitted in your car whilst others give better deals/improved cover for saloon cars with separate lockable boots. Further down the list, if you don’t insure your software (easy if everything is recorded and/or under subscription) you can save money – not much, but it all adds up.
What else can you do to help? The most obvious is to keep a full and up to date list of your gear complete with serial numbers. A simple spreadsheet stored on a cloud somewhere is an easy win but registering your gear with either Canon or Nikon Professional Services is also a good idea. Fairly new to the market is Lenstag – which in their own words was “designed to get your gear on record with the least amount of effort, the strongest ownership claim and as quickly as possible.” It is a simple concept with a central registry of owners, gear and serial numbers which can be managed via their website or their smart phone apps.