Wealth Blog

Piste risk

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 7:52am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 9:05am

When I resided in the UK, I used to buy Piste Closure Insurance (PCI) in conjunction with booking my ski holiday, a reader writes. He did this in case his booked resort received insufficient snow, leading to some of the lifts and pistes being closed when he got there. He could then claim under the PCI policy.  “As a result, most of the money paid in booking the ski holiday could be recovered from the PCI,” he says.

Last year, he looked into buying PCI online, but UK insurers required you to be UK resident. Such PCI policies were not available to people resident in the HKSAR. He then checked with HSBC Insurance in Hong Kong - the provider of HSBC Multitrip Travelsurance.  HSBC Insurance told him they did not provide PCI. He then asked HSBC Insurance (HK) to check with its UK counterpart, whether the latter could provide PCI to someone resident in Hong Kong.  A day later, he received a telephone call from HSBC Insurance confirming in the negative.

He then checked with an experienced Hong Kong-based insurance broker (for a variety of insurance policies). The considered answer was that PCI was not available in Hong Kong, from any insurance companies, for HK residents.

This lack of piste cover, our reader says, is driving ski-ers who book their holidays in advance, further up the ski slopes in search of guaranteed snow. “Personally, I nowadays make bookings only for resorts with pistes above the 10,000 feet mark,” he says.  “But that means ruling out, realistically, all resorts in Japan and the Republic of Korea, some in Australia & New Zealand, plus many in Europe and North America. In sum, the non-availability of PCI seriously limits peoples’ holiday choices.”

No No-Claim Protection

So if the piste is bare, what about the rest of the insurance market? I remember it being nearly impossible to get insurance cover to work as a counsellor here some years back, something which cost just HK$2,400 per year in the UK. I was told there was no demand for it. We’re always hearing that cliché about Hong Kong being the “level playing field” for legal and financial services - not so with insurance.

With car insurance, it seems it’s nigh on impossible to get a Protected No Claims policy here: PNCB. Common in the UK, such a policy allows you to lock in your no-claims bonus, earned over several accident-free years, in the event that you do have a crash. After five years the no-claims bonus can amount to a 60 per cent saving on premiums. For an extra payment, you can keep your NCB by getting a PNCB, but you lose it if you have another prang in quick succession.

“I have made enquiries, but the insurance agents I have talked to in Hong Kong, told me that PNCB insurance is not available,” another reader writes. Certainly, none of the other car owners I have talked to in Hong Kong hold PNCB insurance. It seems strange that PNCB insurance has been available (to almost all private car owners), at least in the UK, since the 1990s. For some reason PNCB insurance seems unavailable in Hong Kong.

The fact that both have been in the UK (if not most of the EU) for decades, implies there is a reasonable market for both. As for PCI, by virtue of Hong Kong residents' proximity to ski resorts, there must be an even greater per capita demand for PCI here than where PCI is presently available.

After talking to a few insurance bods, the answer seems to be two-pronged. Firstly, Hong Kong insurers don’t like “unusual risks,” and those companies in other countries that do, are probably diverting from their core business because times are hard. The Hong Kong insurance market, although somewhere between “emerging” and “developed,” is finding pickings sufficiently good that it feels no need to diversify into more exotic products.

Got a Wealth Management topic to share? Email anna.fenton@scmp.com