Your insurers will ask you to describe the exact circumstances of the damage or loss…
After 40 years, I still feel guilty that my father paid a big premium on top of our home insurance to cover my cello and bow. We had no idea that specialist musical instrument insurers existed, and that they would have charged a fraction of the price. In fact, we might have imagined such an alternative would have been even more expensive – the word ‘specialist’ had costly connotations for us back then. Fortunately, I had no accidents with my cello but if I had, we would have had to work hard to get our general insurers to understand what was involved in getting a cello or bow repaired and the possible resulting loss in value. Back in the 1980’s the best-known UK instrument insurer was known as British Reserve. Nearly forty years later, we have a much wider range of options in this sector.
There are two major issues to consider when choosing an insurer. Firstly, do they offer the best value and service for insuring the combined value of your instrument/s and bow/s? (For this you will need to get comparative quotes). Secondly, is your cover appropriate to your needs, or are you paying unnecessarily for aspects of cover that you don’t need?
Value and service. Specialist instrument insurance is very good value, compared with insuring other possessions: the annual cost is normally a fraction of 1 percent of the value of the instrument. For instruments under £10,000 a standard package of cover will offer comprehensive protection and good value. However, for instruments of very high value, premiums can constitute a significant annual cost, so it’s well worth choosing an insurer whose main business focusses on instruments in your price range as this should make them more competitively priced. For example, if you go to an insurer that normally covers instruments under £10,000 and you ask for cover for a £75,000 cello, they will be delighted to help, but are unlikely to be as competitive as an insurer that can offer a more bespoke and therefore economic service.
Find cover appropriate to your needs. Insurers that regularly cover high-value instruments (£50,000 and over) will be able to treat each case on its own merit and assess the risk individually. They should ensure that your premium is no higher than it has to be, that the cover still does everything you need and that you’re not paying for an element of risk that isn’t relevant to you.
The lowest risk level in the eyes of an insurer is an instrument sitting in a bank vault – this will command a lower premium rate than an instrument that always stays in the owner’s home (a burglar alarm may help). A higher rate will apply for an instrument in full time professional use within the UK, which is different again from a cello travelling around the world.
If you have several instruments, but only ever tour with one at a time, it would be sensible to discuss this with your insurer. Some insurers will also ask you to estimate the number of performances you make a year, to help them to calculate your premium to suit your needs. Unattended motor vehicle cover is an expensive option that very few players need, but if you elect to use it, be aware that it is only valid if the cello is not visible from the outside of the vehicle.
Making a claim. The other major benefit of using a specialist insurer is that if you suffer loss or damage to your instrument or bow and have to make a claim, they should have an experienced and dedicated claims team and will be used to working with well-known luthiers who can establish the extent of the damage or loss and the cost of repair, replacement and/or depreciation. The common scenario with household insurers is that you will be required to get three separate quotes from different luthiers for the repair, but a specialist insurer will know the main luthiers working nationally and whether their quotation is reasonable.
If you have to make a claim:
Inform your insurers immediately They will send you a claim form and a claim number.
Choose your luthier carefully. If the claim is on the basis of damage, make a careful choice of luthier to consult. This choice is very important from the point of view of the quality of repair you get. It’s also the luthier’s job to make sure that you are compensated by the insurers if there is a loss in value of the instrument associated with the damage even after it has been repaired. Sadly, we have met many players who weren’t aware that they were due compensation for depreciation for accidents that occurred during their ownership and were covered by their insurers but for which they only claimed the cost of the repairs. A classic scenario is the presence of a new sound post crack in the front or back of the cello which, even if it’s perfectly repaired, does reduce the value of the instrument (see article on sound post cracks). If you don’t already have a working relationship with a well-established luthier, it’s well worth asking friends and colleagues for their contacts.
As soon as possible, file a written report with your insurers describing how the damage happened along with a full assessment from a luthier about the remedy and any potential unknowns (sometimes the extent of the claim isn’t known until you open an instrument) and also the likely loss in value.
NB Keep your valuations up to date. It’s very important to get your instruments and bows valued regularly by a trusted and experienced luthier. If your valuation gets too out of date, you would not be compensated for the true value of your instrument if it were lost, destroyed or stolen. If you are shopping around for a new insurer, they will ask to see an up to date valuation, which should include every item of significant value including instruments and bows and sometimes cases.
Contacts: We list a few companies opposite, giving their contact details and a few extra details about their history and focus. This list is certainly not exhaustive, and the order is purely alphabetical and not based on merit or preference! As with all aspects of the financial industry, it’s illegal for an unlicensed non-specialist to offer advice; the list is offered for your convenience if you decide you would like to explore the market when your insurance next comes up for renewal.
Questions to ask an insurer:
Do they have a dedicated claims team with experience of stringed instruments?
Do they offer a no claims discount?
Do premiums increase annually?
Are their phone lines answered by a call centre, a named individual or specialist team?
Ask to see a standard application form to see if they consider details about your usage of
the instrument, for example where the instrument is stored or how many concerts a year you perform at.
Do they try to hunt down stolen instruments?
Do they have a minimum premium?
Don’t be shy to ask for special terms to suit your needs.