Ask a stupid question … get a better answer

My car insurance renewal notice arrived this week and when I saw what they were asking I almost wept. After getting a couple of alternative quotes online, both of which were substantially higher, I realised that I was going to have to pay up.

Then the thought occurred to me: what if I got my insurance through an insurance broker instead? It’s what people do if they want to get the best rate on a home loan, so why not car insurance too? Thing is, I don’t know any brokers, and I don’t know how to find a good one.

As luck would have it a week or so earlier I’d met Paul Ryan, founder of online service simplyaskit, which is designed to allow people with no or little knowledge of an issue, like me, to ask questions and get answers from people who know what they’re talking about.

So I submitted a comically general and naïve question on Ryan’s website – “How do you go about arranging a quote for comprehensive car insurance through a broker, rather than direct with the insurers?” (posted three times: once with typos, once corrected and one duplicate post by accident) – and within perhaps 10 minutes two meaningful and helpful responses came back, one containing a name and a phone number and a personal recommendation.

This is exactly how Ryan had explained to me that it should work. But journalists are supposed to be professional sceptics (if not cynics) so I wasn’t prepared to write up the website before I’d seen for myself if it works. Which it does. And in the time it took to write five paragraphs of this review, a third response arrived, containing a useful website link.
Ryan is a co-founder of the Wizard home loan business and he founded simplyask it a couple of years ago when he realised people didn’t know simple things about their home loans like the interest rate they were paying. It’s since expanded into areas outside home loans.

“I always found it fascinating that for such a big purchase as a home loan, people didn’t know their rate, and equally importantly didn’t know who did their loan,” he says.

Ryan says he has “always been one to ask questions, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t know what questions to ask, or necessarily who to trust”.

“Generally speaking, when you are left to you own devices, and you’re dealing with finance most people put it in the ‘too hard’ basket,” he says.

Ryan says the thinking behind simplyaskit is to empower consumers. In the same way some people are emboldened by the anonymity of the internet to say things to other people they wouldn’t say to their face, simplyaskit emboldens its users to ask the questions they might not otherwise ask, to become more informed and to become better consumers.

“They now have a platform that’s convenient, transparent, where there’s no judgements, and where they can ask as many or as few questions as they’d like, to help them gather the information to help them make better decisions,” Ryan says.

“People don’t know what they don’t know, and people think they can’t ask questions.”

Ryan says other platforms provide a question-and-answer service, but Ryan says “you don’t necessarily know who’s answering the questions, their qualifications or expertise”.
“On simplyaskit you know who they are because they have to say who they are,” Ryan says.

“Industry experts are accountable to their answers. I don’t mean that in a negative way; what I mean by that is, if I ask a question and someone comes out and provides an answer that’s incorrect or misleading by 100 per cent or even 5 per cent, what happens than is the other industry experts can rectify that and provide the answer.

“So if the first answer is a little bit misleading and the second, third, fourth and fifth answers have a common thread, most importantly consumers feel comfortable they’re getting the right advice because there’s that consistent thread.”

The experts behind the scenes of simplyaskit self-select for the job. Anyone with expertise can register and jump in to answer questions. Consumers rate the experts they deal with and over time each expert earns a rating. It quickly sorts those who really know what they’re taking about from those who do not; the experts who responded to my question about car insurance were rated by other users on average 4.7 out of five.
In the end the due-date for renewal caught up with me and I got a small discount on my premium after I phoned my insurer to express dismay at how much they were asking. But I’ve already got a note in the diary to contact a broker before renewal next year.