Posted June 2011
What a freebie. While most
companies probably show their appreciation for their employees
with an increased salary, a free night out or a generous bonus
package, the German insurer Ergo decided a night of sex in
Budapest’s Art Nouveau Gellert baths was the best way to keep
100 of its top-performing salesmen motivated. The motto of the
grotto event? Coitus ergo sum. Naturally, all this was paid for
by Ergo’s insured to the tune of EUR 83,000.
According to media reports,
twenty women were hired for the event in 2007 and were required
to wear colour-coded wristbands: red for hostesses that were
available for flirting but who did not perform sex acts and
yellow for women who were available for sex.
This being organised by
Germans, the orgy in Gellert’s thermal waters must have given
off about as much heat as a pair of very tired old glow worms.
Not only were the prostitutes
stamped on the lower arm in order to keep track of how often
each woman was frequented – thus preventing the pimps from
overcharging Ergo on the bill – there were also women with white
wrist bands. They were reserved for executives and the very best
sales reps. Just in case things got too steamy, the white
ribbons served as a reminder to the navy seals of Germany’s
insurance industry where they stand at the feeding trough of
Or as George Orwell wrote in
Animal Farm (1945): "All animals are equal, but some animals are
more equal than others."
The public laughed, the public
cried, and Monika Gruber, a satirist, hissed: “How about this
incentive? Put all of Ergo’s board members on a party carriage
of German Rail, give them yellow wrist bands to wear, bring on
an all-female skittles club plus a 100 litre barrel of Riesling
bubbly and tell the girls: ‘They are yours!’ If this does not
motivate them, they should be sent on a week-long holiday at a
pony farm in the German sticks, where they will be fed muesli
and get woken up at the crack of worm’s fart to attend a yoga
lesson by a raving-loony fat lesbian-feminist.”
The whole sordid affair only
came to light in April 2011when a shareholder wanted to know
about the company’s “fringe benefits in the pink-red zone” at
the General Assembly of Munich Re, Ergo’s parent company and one
of the world’s leading reinsurers. Munich Re’s CEO promptly replied
that it could not be ruled out that there had been excesses.
Speaking of excesses, it has
since transpired that Ergo’s unit Victoria Insurance persuaded
thousands of customers to terminate life insurance contracts and
reallocate the money in special accident insurance policies.
That this was to the financial disadvantage of customers – so
what? Insurance salesmen gladly picked up their commission fees.
As if that were not enough,
another Ergo subsidiary, Hamburg-Mannheimer also made headlines.
In 2005 it had charged 14,000 clients markedly higher
administrative fees for state-subsidised pension saving schemes
than outlined in the contracts.
Ergo believes that these
misdeeds were leaked to the media by greedy former insurance
salesmen aggrieved over Ergo’s stubborn refusal to pay them
hefty severance payments (rumoured to be EUR 24 million).
Whatever the whistleblowers’
reasons, these incidents raise the question as to how
“Ergo-nomic” the whole insurance industry is.
The evidence suggests that
insurers have a problem with morals. Right up to the top.
Because how can they put such immense pressure on their salesmen
to sell their stuff and not be aware that this forces them to
dish out false advice to their customers?
The bottom line is: selling
insurance is not about taking people’s worry away, but about
ambushing the vulnerable and unsuspecting.
That’s the real scandal.
· may10 · march10
february 09 ·