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This Policy is a Real Blessing: Deductibles Waived If Bad Things Happen on Trips to Church

Jul 15, 2007

By Tom Heinen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Jul. 16--When a pickup truck backed out of a driveway into the side of James Giles' passing Saturn Vue this spring, his FaithGuard insurance policy waived the $250 upfront deductible because the Kenosha man was driving to a Sunday morning service at First Christian Church in the Town of Bristol.

"They (had) sent us a paper on it," said Giles, a retired plumber. "I didn't think a whole lot on it at the time. You don't figure you are going to have an accident. They might have a policy for 50 pounds of ice coming out of the sky, but it's remote, really remote."

And when a hailstorm did nearly $2,000 in damage to Kim Cecil's Ford Taurus last year, the same insurance company waived her $250 deductible. That's because Cecil, co-pastor of The Journey church in Madison, was parked at a sister church in Fitchburg for a prayer dinner.

Praise the Lord, or some other higher power, and pass the claim form.

Whether they are bearing bean salad to a church potluck, fleeing from an endless committee meeting or parking in a church lot, holders of FaithGuard policies from Iowa-based GuideOne Insurance are buffered from acts of God and incidents of human error.

And if Giles, 76, or Cecil, 33, were to suffer disabling injuries while traveling to or from a church activity, their policies would pay up to $3,000 to cover auto-loan payments and up to $750 to make up shortfalls in their normal church tithing or giving.

The policyholders get these and other benefits when they are going to and from any activity that is sponsored and scheduled by a church or other religious group for faith or worship purposes.

"You'd be surprised how many fender benders you get in a church parking lot," said Jim Wallace, president of the West Des Moines company.

Such features set GuideOne apart. No other insurance company in the United States offers similar policies, Wallace said.

"From my knowledge, it seems to be very unique," said Joseph Annotti, national spokesman for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. "They have a very well-defined niche. They've designed a product that has a few different bells and whistles that no one else has duplicated."

GuideOne got its start in 1949 by offering home and auto insurance to non-drinkers, many of whom belonged to fundamentalist churches, Wallace said. Pastors suggested that the company insure their church buildings, too. That led to GuideOne reaching its current status as one of the top three church insurers in the nation, insuring at least 43,000 churches across the 50 states.

About 10 years ago, it dropped the requirement that its policyholders be teetotalers, though it still gives an average discount of 5% for non-drinkers. In April 2005, it began offering its FaithGuard coverage as a free, optional endorsement for people of faith.

"It occurred to us over all that time that churchgoers are a unique and distinct class of individual, with unique needs that really weren't being met by the marketplace," Wallace said.

That also includes people who attend synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship, he said.

What about Wiccans and other pagans?

As long as it's an organized religion with structure and discipline, people can qualify, he said.

The vehicle must be going directly to or from a qualified faith activity. People don't get the extra benefits if they get in an accident while stopping at a shopping mall or a restaurant on their way to or from services, for example.

"If (an accident) happens on Saturday at midnight in the pub district, we're probably not going to pay the claim," Wallace said. "But if the person can tell us where they were going, and we can verify they were heading there and there was a service, we will pay them. . . . Our experience has been that churchgoers are pretty honest. It hasn't been a problem."

In Wisconsin, one of 19 states where the firm sells personal insurance, 73% of its 550 auto policyholders and 66% of its 460 home policyholders have added FaithGuard. Nationally, almost half of GuideOne's 131,000 auto and home policyholders have added the endorsement.

The firm, which hopes to boost sales in Wisconsin this year, is doing a 300,000-piece direct mailing to members of religious organizations across the state. It also is placing banner ads targeting Wisconsin residents on at least 10 faith-oriented Web sites, including www.thefish.comand www.christianjobs.com.

The range of free FaithGuard benefits also includes doubling the medical limits for every occupant of a policyholder's vehicle if they're transporting volunteers for a church function. And if a member of a policyholder's immediate family household were to die in a crash during a covered trip, GuideOne would send $1,000 to their church as a memorial.

Have these benefits really boosted the insurance company's business?

"It's a hard thing to demonstrate, but I've got to say it has," Wallace said, adding that the policyholder retention rate for FaithGuard policyholders is an indicator.

"It's up in the 95 percent range, a very high retention rate."

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Copyright (c) 2007, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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