How to Save the World of Insurance in Six Easy Parts: Part One
I. Identify the Problem
The Whinny-pulled carriage rattled on through the night, the cold mist swirling in the wake it left along the Neopia Central-Meridell road. Many such carriages often made their way along that road in the dead of night, though most didn’t stop along the way.
Countless small hamlets had sprouted up at the side of the road, mainly existing as somewhere to rest your steed before continuing on to your destination. One in particular, Hermit’s End, was the destination for this carriage.
It came to an abrupt halt outside the local tavern, and the driver knocked on the carriage window. The door opened, and the single occupant stepped out into the cold night air.
The briefest flash of his yellow Chomby skin was visible before he wrapped himself in a regal grey travelling cloak that mostly obscured his features.
“Wait here,” the Chomby instructed the driver.
A battered and faded sign hung above the door of the tavern that identified it as the King’s Arms. The Chomby snorted as he pushed open the door. He knew full well what he would find inside, and it wasn’t noble in the slightest.
The foul stench of the place hit the Chomby as he entered, followed by the noise of a tavern in full swing. There were people singing along to songs that a Bruce was playing at a piano, and others sat in the corners, hiding in the shadows as they attended to their secretive business. The Chomby asked at the bar, and was pointed towards the furthest corner.
A red Kyrii was sat with his boots on a table, absent-mindedly sharpening a blade. The Chomby approached cautiously and cleared his throat.
“What do you want?” the Kyrii asked lazily.
“I was told I might be able to procure your services, Mr. Goldtooth,” the Chomby announced, looking down his nose at the filthy creature in front of him.
The Kyrii glanced up at the Chomby, and took in his appearance. Even with the cloak he looked immaculate, with not even so much as a smudge of dirt on his boots. There was the smell of the city about him, and the stench of money.
“I don’t come cheap,” the Kyrii informed him.
“I am prepared to pay a considerable sum,” the Chomby snapped, as if the thought of not having enough Neopoints was somehow an insult.
“Up front?” the Kyrii asked.
The Chomby snorted and placed a hefty bag on the table that jingled with the sound of gold.
The Kyrii smiled as he cut it open with his blade and the Neopoints spilled out.
“What do you need doing?” he asked.
“I need a man in Neopia Central dealing with,” the Chomby told him.
“How do you want me to deal with him?” the Kyrii inquired as he pocketed the Neopoints.
“Permanently,” the Chomby said firmly.
The Kyrii smiled broadly, revealing many of his teeth were either gold or missing.
“My specialty,” he sneered. “The name?”
“Arthur Munroe,” the Chomby replied.
Oscar pressed the doorbell firmly, and waited patiently on the doorstep, rocking backwards and forwards on his feet while he whistled to himself.
The door opened a crack.
“Who is it?” an elderly blue Zafara asked aggressively from inside.
“My name is Oscar, madam,” the small yellow Kacheek replied, tipping the brim of his blue bowler hat towards her. “I’m here to talk to you about the wondrous world of insurance.”
“Is that a theme park?” the Zafara demanded.
“No, madam, but rather, it is a revolutionary way of gaining some peace of mind for the future in these troubling times,” Oscar explained.
“You’re a salesman then?” the old woman asked.
“In a manner of speaking...” Oscar replied, floundering for something else to say.
“I don’t deal with salesmen!” the old lady snapped, and moved to slam the door.
Like a flash, Oscar wedged his briefcase into the gap, preventing the door from closing.
“These are troubling times, madam, and my colleagues at Neopia Central Insurance, Inc. can provided you with peace of mind,” he explained.
The briefcase appeared to have bought Oscar the few seconds he needed. The old Zafara’s eyes softened.
“Go on,” she said warily.
“You can’t walk down the street these days without being attacked and mugged. Thieves lurk on every corner. The world is not as safe as it used to be,” Oscar informed her.
The Zafara nodded. Things were not as good as when she’d been a girl. Everything was more expensive, and children had no respect for their elders. The world had gone to pot, that was certainly true in her eyes.
“You can’t go on holiday without being attacked by pirates, wars are breaking out all over Neopia,” Oscar continued. “In these dark times, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little assurance that the future will still be rosy?”
“This where your insurance comes in?” the Zafara asked.
“Yes, madam.” Oscar smiled pleasantly. “At Neopia Central Insurance, Inc. we can offer you travel insurance, life insurance, home insurance, the whole lot.”
“How does it work?” she asked, still a little wary that there would be a hidden catch.
“It’s simple!” Oscar chuckled. “All you do is pay a small fee every month, and in return, your house will be protected from thieves, tornadoes, fires, and the like!”
The Zafara narrowed her eyes.
“You’ll make my house fireproof?” she asked.
“No, no...” Oscar corrected himself. “In the event of fire, we would pay out a large lump sum of Neopoints to you, in order to pay for repairs, and the like.”
The Zafara licked her lips as she thought about this internally.
“So what you’re saying,” she said eventually, “is that if I sign a piece of paper and my house suddenly and unexpectedly burns down, you’ll give me money?”
“Yes, that’s it exactly,” Oscar confirmed.
The door opened enough to let Oscar inside.
“Where do I sign?” the old lady asked.
A few minutes later, Oscar left the house, carefully storing the new paperwork into his briefcase. He glanced down the street... ten more houses to do before he went home for the night.
A shrill squawking distracted him from his work, and he glanced up to the sky to see a Weewoo soaring down toward him.
The white Weewoo, clearly unused to lugging the large satchel it currently held around his neck, flew straight past Oscar and hit the wall behind him.
With a pained squawk, it fell backwards onto the floor. It pulled itself up with difficulty and managed to hobble over to Oscar.
“For me?” Oscar asked, dotting down to the Petpet.
The Weewoo prodded the large satchel meaningfully. Oscar took the hint and opened it. There was a single letter inside, addressed to him.
Oscar sighed as he read it; it instructed him to head back to Headquarters.
“Thank you,” Oscar told the Weewoo, gently patting it on the head.
The Weewoo glared at Oscar for a moment as if it was expecting something more, and then took off again, squawking madly as it went.
Oscar glanced back down the street... the other houses would have to wait. Instead, he trotted off in the opposite direction, towards the marketplace.
Once he was out of sight, the old blue Zafara emerged from her house.
She stood back from her house, and smiled silently as the flames from the kitchen consumed her house.
She’d be able to start a new life somewhere... maybe Mystery Island, and thanks to the silly Kacheek, it would be completely free.
The headquarters of Neopia Central Insurance, Inc. was a drab concrete building near the Neolodge. Unlike the other buildings nearby, there were no hat-shaped roofs or complex statues to be seen. It was a place of business and paperwork, not magic and silly accents.
Oscar made his way to the front desk when he arrived. An old blue Tonu with a stern face sat behind it, busily answering neomails in her sing-song voice that she put on for the customers.
“Yes?” she asked impatiently as she noticed Oscar standing there.
“Good afternoon, Miss Ribbons,” Oscar replied cheerily. “I got this by Weewoo.”
He handed over the letter, and she examined it critically.
“Mr. Munroe wants to see you in his office immediately,” she told him. “You’re to go straight up; he’s not to be kept waiting.”
She handed the letter back and began busily writing in one of the ledgers on the desk, ignoring Oscar’s presence.
Oscar headed off up the stairs towards the top floor, and Arthur Munroe’s office.
It must have been something important for the owner to need to speak with him; normally everything went through his supervisor, Mr. Jones. Oscar had only ever met Mr. Munroe once.
Oscar passed the rows upon rows of desk workers as he walked. All of them dealt with the paperwork, stamping the many copies in an almost synchronised way. The noise sent shivers down Oscar’s spine; he had always loved it.
Oscar paused outside Mr. Munroe’s office and knocked once.
“Come in, dear boy!” the jovial voice came from within.
Oscar opened the door and carefully let himself inside. Mr. Munroe was sat behind his desk, beaming pleasantly. The large yellow Chomby seemed to be almost unnecessarily enthusiastic about everything in life; no one ever saw the man frown. Hovering behind Mr. Munroe was Mr. Jones, Oscar’s supervisor. The ancient bearded green Skeith had been with the company as long as anyone could remember, and smelt oddly of mothballs.
“Oscar!” Munroe called, gesturing to a chair in front of his desk. “Just the man we were waiting for!”
“You wanted to speak to me, sir?” Oscar asked as he sat down.
“Straight to the point, eh?” Munroe observed. “I like a man who’s straight to the point. Well, I’m afraid it’s not good news, Oscar.”
“Sir?” Oscar asked. “Am I being sacked?”
Munroe leaned back in his chair and laughed.
“No, no... nothing like that! It’s bad news for all of us,” he explained.
“What do you mean, sir?” Oscar questioned.
“Hmm...” Munroe hesitated. “I’m not good at explaining this sort of thing... Jones, would you?”
The green Skeith cleared his throat and stepped out from behind Munroe.
“These are dark times, Oscar,” Jones explained in an old and dry voice. “Thieves stand on every corner, wars rage daily... pirates, curses and natural disasters abound.”
“I know that, sir, it's part of our sales pitch,” Oscar pointed out.
Jones smiled faintly.
“Yes, certainly it is... but ask yourself, when you were growing up... how many times were you mugged? How many times did pirates attack you on your holidays? How many times did a war break out every weekend?”
“Never, that I recall,” Oscar replied honestly.
“Exactly!” Jones told him. “That’s always been the secret of the insurance industry, we insure a lot of people against an event that we know will only happen to a handful. We play on the fears of the people; that is how we make profit.”
“But things have changed,” Munroe added.
“The Thieves Guild is organised now, more so than ever,” Jones continued. “There are more pirates around now, and they’ve got flying Shenkuu Ships to aid them. There have been more wars in the last ten years than there were in the previous two centuries. The world isn’t a safe place any more, Oscar. Our sales pitch is actually true, for once.”
“This of course is cutting into our profit margins,” Munroe explained.
“We are now insuring a lot of people against events that are happening to virtually all of them,” Jones told Oscar. “The insurance industry is losing money hand over fist. It’s not just us, either, Ultra-Quick and Insuromatic are also suffering heavy losses.”
“Where do I come into this?” Oscar asked.
“The insurance industry is failing, Oscar,” Jones answered. “Clearly, the way we are doing things doesn’t work any more. We need someone to reinvent the business, someone with fresh blood.”
“In short, Oscar,” Munroe concluded, “we need you to save the world of insurance.”
To be continued...