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Insurers urged to be responsible with big data use

One sector that's becoming increasingly attuned to the potential of big data is the insurance industry, which is looking to take advantage of the latest technology to boost customer service and deliver more personalised offerings.

But one industry representative has warned the result of this will be an "arms race" for data gathering, which could lead to some sections of society struggling to find affordable cover for items such as motor or home insurance.

It was stated by Paul Evans, chairman of the Association of British Insurers, that many companies are currently looking at predictive analytics tools that can highlight customers who are more likely to make claims.

Providers state this can allow them to offer better deals to customers viewed as less high-risk, and such initiatives are not intended to disadvantage others. But Mr Evans said it is inevitable that it will lead to higher prices for some customers. 

Therefore, it will be incumbent on the industry to act responsibly when it is planning how to incorporate big data analytics into their decision-making – particularly when it comes to offering quotes.

He told the Financial Times: "The industry will have to take great care to ensure we're not creating, because of big data, sectors of society that can't buy insurance."

Companies will also have to be aware of new regulations that could affect how they utilise big data technologies. The information gathered by these firms is likely to be highly personal – with technologies such as vehicle telematics capable of monitoring consumers' movements, while firms will also be scrutinising bank accounts and bill payments to assess people's fiscal responsibility.

The insurance sector may therefore be affected by proposed new EU rules on data protection. While these are not designed specifically to clamp down on companies' use of data, some people in the industry have raised concerns that the rules could make it harder to fight fraud, as they would give consumers the right to request their information be removed from insurers' databases.

Mr Evans, who is also chief executive of Axa UK, said the insurance sector needs to "anticipate regulators by drawing up its own code of conduct on how to ensure data is used responsibly, to be certain companies "don't fall into any pitfalls".    

He added that more individualised policy pricing is likely to be considered fair if it can ensure that consumers who are "better behaved" – such as safer drivers – will no longer have to subsidise those who are not. However, the expert added he would be concerned if individuals ended up unable to buy insurance because of factors outside their control.