The Norwich Union in the 1970s

Location : Norwich

I started work at
Norwich Union in the Norwich branch office on Upper King Street in 1972 aged
16. Jobs seemed much easier to come by
then. Generally one applied for a job by
letter (CVs were not in common usage) and more often than not got it, probably
because of lack of competition. I had a
very short interview and was offered the job there and then at the weekly
salary of £10 a week and free lunches at the canteen, which was located in the
basement of the building next to the Norfolk Club, which was beside our offices.

I started in the
Motor Dept and on my first day I was sent on an errand by the department
manager. I was asked to go and see the
head of another department and ask if I could borrow the Burglars’ Address
book. This, of course, was met with a
smile and he sent me on to see if another dept had it and in the end I was sent
all round the building becoming more and more frustrated. Eventually the penny dropped!

I was put under
the wing of another girl, who soon became a firm friend. I started on motor cycle insurance. I was shown how to work out the premiums
using charts. I was set to writing out
policies and certificates by hand. This
was all fairly straight forward and I moved on to car insurance and then other
types of insurance, such as commercial, agricultural, private hire, funeral
cars, policies for garages etc .

When I first
worked there, we didn’t have calculators or computers, just pen and paper, so
you had to be fairly numerate to calculate all the different premiums depending
on the risk. Of course, if there was a
change of vehicle mid-term you had to calculate a difference in premium until
the end of the year. First you had to
calculate the number of days until the end of the year, then using a ready reckoner, you turned to the page where it showed,
for example 330 days, and you could look up how much say £10 would be for 330
days, then say £7 for 330 days and then the odd pence for 330 days. Finally add it all up! As a branch office we were open to the public
and so a customer might telephone or come in and ask how much it would be to
change his car to a 1971 Ford Capri Ghia; you would give him the price, and
then he would chew his lip and say it’s a bit too expensive, what about the
price for a 1968 Vauxhall Viva and so on.
It was very labour intensive.

Paperwork for
mid-term alterations was always by hand, so customers received an alteration
note and certificate, written in your best handwriting. However, on Christmas Eve, quite a crowd of
us would go over to the Compass pub at lunchtime and have one or two drinks or
more….. One year a customer complained that he had received a hand written
certificate with writing less than perfect shall we say. The customer’s name trailed down the page as
if the writer had possibly fallen asleep while writing and so the practice of
going over the pub at lunchtime was frowned upon but they did close the office
early on Christmas Eve from then on so we could go for a drink after work.

All the policy
records were in big ledgers, containing a large sheet for each policy, with all
the personal and vehicle details written on the front and on the back would be
claims details and record of debits and credits for renewals and changes. At renewal date, once you were experienced
enough, you had to work through each ledger updating the premiums. Then it was sent to head office for the
detail to be input by data clerks to generate a renewal notice. Sometimes we had to do overtime to get the
renewals out on time. We were allowed to
send someone over to the Wimpy on Prince of Wales Rd to get burgers in for our
tea. Later on they let us take the
ledgers home to update them.

After a year or
two we were given calculators to use, which was much faster. After a couple more years they bought in a
“computer” system. Not as we know them nowadays;
no PCs on desk. We had to enter details
on a form by hand, which was then sent up to head office and punched in by data
operators and then processed by computers there. After this system was up and running for a
time, records were put on microfiche and we could look through the policy
history by placing film under a lens which would then be enlarged onto a

We had some real
characters there; one was a bit of a maverick I remember. He objected to wearing a suit for work, when
the ladies didn’t have to conform to a dress code. To make his point he took to wearing 2 suits he
had found in a jumble sale; one had bright green hoops around the trouser
bottoms and the other had orange hoops around the trouser bottoms – I have
never seen any like them since. He wore
them all the time and no one dared comment!
I, myself, was going through a glam rock phase at the time and recall
going to work in a yellow smock and red satin jacket and yellow and red clogs
with turned up toes so I certainly didn’t have room to comment. Later on I took to wearing more sedate
trouser suits to work and I think they took me more seriously then.

I should mention
that women didn’t always get equal pay in those days. My union rep pointed out that I was doing the
same job as another man but was paid at a lower grade. He took up this up on my behalf but it was
nearly 2 years before agreement was reached and my pay back dated. Later, after I had left Norwich Union aged 26,
I enquired about my pension only to be told that women at Norwich Union were not
included in the pension scheme until they were 30.

It was said then that
working at Norwich Union was a job for life and you practically had to commit
murder before they would sack you, but I did know of one young man in my
department who got instant dismissal after a fraudulent insurance claim, but he
was the only one I knew that had been sacked or lost their job.

I did get told off
by the branch manager once for being late in but, to be fair, I had been a
repeat offender because I was out most nights of the week, either working in
the Mischief Tavern, which I did 3 nights a week, or going to Scamps or Tudor
Hall, popular nightclubs at the time.

Being late in
wasn’t a problem once they introduced flex time. Everyone had a flex key which was slotted
into the flex machine when you arrived and removed at lunchtime and at the end
of the day. Some people chanced their
arm by asking others to put their key in before they arrived but I never

I took over
looking after the motor fleets held at Norwich branch. They were multi-vehicle policies with 10 or
more vehicles. They were mostly held by
commercial companies, country estates and organizations such as the
police. I had an adding machine to work
with then. It had a till roll so I could
check back what I had input. At renewal
time I used to work out a notional premium for all the vehicles and calculate
the premium/claims ratios for 3 and 5 years and then an underwriter at head
office would decide what sort of premium they were looking for and an insurance
inspector would visit the client and negotiate a price within the range offered
by the underwriters.

As mentioned
earlier, I left Norwich Union when I was age 26, to start a family. My salary had gone from £520 a year to £5,000
a year in 9/10 years. The annual
inflation rate was extremely high then, around 12-13% I recall, which was bad
news for people who had taken out a mortgage when the rate was lower. My husband and I had recently bought a 3
bedroom semi-detached property for £28,500, and the increase in repayments stretched
us quite a bit, especially when I left work to become a mother and
housewife. I had no intention of returning
after the baby was born; not many women in those days did go back to work after
maternity leave.

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