What if your largest competitor knew your buy rates for product and had access to your customer list? Would you feel vulnerable? What about if that competitor controlled market access for you and actively worked to reduce it? Would that make you angry? What if that competitor marked you for acquisition or destruction? How helpless or scared would that make a you feel?
Looking back, 1984 occurred 30 years ago and it is indeed a brave new world out there. AGRR, about 15 years ago, began a corporate philosophical shift that has moved to big brother-like mentality, but without the family ties. As more time passes, I believe we are in real danger of losing not only choices, but our existence as well.
I have heard stories and boasts that store managers and salesmen from both the wholesale and retail side of Belron’s U.S. operations have shared confidential data of competitors acquired from each other or from its glass claims’ administration arm—Safelite Solutions. They seem to know how many insurance jobs go where and to whom and for how much. Enough stories have come in from trusted sources to make me take notice and worry that many companies are forced to work through their biggest and most powerful competitor.
Belron is not the only company that has both retail and wholesale distributing outlets. They just have far more of them than anyone else. Add the fact that Belron also manufactures automotive glass products, which gives the company a distinct price advantage in every marketplace. This is all perfectly legal and somewhat admirable. They have rightfully earned the nickname of being the “Walmart of automotive glass.”
Any shop that does business with a distributor/retailer should expect a certain amount of pricing information to be shared internally. Belron is different since it has grown to national scope and influence
I feel the real privacy culprit is Safelite Solutions, the third-party glass claims’ administration arm (TPA) of Belron’s U.S. operations. If one believes that this company operates as an innocent standalone company whose only mission is as a clearinghouse for insurance glass claims, he is sadly mistaken. Not only is Safelite Solutions a golden funnel for profitable glass installs for Safelite AutoGlass, with service as a direct beneficiary, I believe it may provide real data for the entire corporation for use against any and all competition. Are we to believe any sort of disclaimer that Safelite Solutions operates in a confidential vacuum?
Safelite Solutions has the easy ability to report every claim that they process, where they occur and how many of those claims that Safelite AutoGlass completed. That alone can prove the efficiency of the Safelite Solutions CSRs and spoken scripts that make up first contact with an insurance client.
However with Safelite Solutions being a TPA for 18 of the top 20 insurers (the company’s statement, not mine) and an unknown number of lower tier auto insurance providers, it possesses the capacity of having the most comprehensive overview of the national automotive glass claim scene. Belron could easily discern the market percentage and penetration of any competitor in every marketplace where it competes. Safelite Solutions could provide data that identifies what competitor is doing best where and for which insurer. As Belron continues to acquire regional glass companies, would one opine that this can be a revealing and potentially a useful leverage point during negotiations.
Does being small mean one is safe with data sharing? If one is an “affiliate” with the Safelite Solutions network, what privileges does that bring? Can the firm receive favorable buy rates? In a crowded market place, do they receive referrals? One would think the greatest amount of presumptive referrals go to affiliates which are in geographical areas that Safelite feels it is not profitable to operate in. Since my one man shop is not an affiliate and I operate in an urban area with a Safelite store, I have never received one unsolicited referral in my entire career despite thousands of successful and apparently satisfied clients. That is not a complaint but just a fact. Safelite, however, knows what I charge, my tax ID number, and which insurers I have connections with. For all I know, they may have a video of my truck, the constant need of mine for a haircut and are aware of when my companion dog Peabody needs his grooming as well.
Belron seemingly is not bashful at all when it comes to aiding the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) in gathering statistics. And, from what I understand, providing photographic and data evidence when fraud is suspected. In fact, how much of a straw organization the NICB actually is for Belron is a question some observers would like answered. I applaud any chance to root out fraudulent actions within our industry but what restraints if any exist when a company with an enormous amount of concentrated power and influence decides to wield it to maintain its supremacy?
Privacy and corporate data sharing are national issues that can be addressed through Washington, D.C. and not state-by-state. One may also be able to avoid the well-placed and financed political influence that the insurance lobby has used to fight anti-steering measures. This gathering of meta-data for specific business reasons is just as potentially harmful to an independent glass shop owner as if a key employee was hired away by a competitor.
Any abuse of privacy underscores the single greatest need for reform when it comes to the insurance sector of automotive glass. No TPA should ever have any financial ties to any automotive glass-related company. Whether it is Safelite Solutions or Pittsburgh Glass Works-owned LYNX Services, the foxes are guarding the chickens and they are simply using their positions to fatten themselves up.
Never forget that AGRR’s big brother may be watching over you and he is not your guardian angel. Far from it. It is up to the rest of the industry to push for change to restore some balance to the automotive glass marketplace. Dismantling corporate glass-owned third-party administrators would go a long way in doing so.