In November 2015 the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA),1 a UK financial services regulator, announced that it intended to investigate the use of “big data”2 in retail general insurance in the UK. In September 2016, it announced that it was not, after all, going to pursue this investigation. Why this apparent turnaround?
The opportunities big data provides general insurers are widely acknowledged and the reason general insurers are investing heavily in this area. But with such opportunities come potential threats: big data could potentially lead to better service and outcomes for many consumers, but could it also lead to some consumers effectively being excluded from the market, or to the exploitation of consumers who are less price-sensitive than others? They are the concerns that the FCA sought to address when announcing its investigation in November 2015.
Since then, the FCA has been gathering and evaluating relevant information, mostly relating to private motor and home insurance. It has found a lot of evidence that the use of big data results in benefits to users of insurance, through products and services being better tailored for individual needs, through more focused marketing and better customer service, and through increasing feedback to consumers about the risks that they run and how to manage them effectively, most notably to those with telematics auto insurance.
While its concerns remain, the FCA concluded from this preliminary investigation that the increasing use of big data is “broadly having a positive impact on consumer outcomes, by transforming how consumers deal with retail GI firms, streamlining processes and encouraging more innovation in products and services.” As a result, it has decided that there is no immediate need either to push ahead with the full investigation that it had originally proposed or to change its regulatory framework in response to any issues raised. However, it will continue to look at big data, in particular looking for any related data protection risks and seeking to understand how big data is used in pricing.
Full details of the FCA’s views can be found in its Feedback Statement FS16/5.
1The FCA regulates the financial conduct of the financial services market within the UK and shares with the Prudential Regulation Authority the prudential regulation of the businesses within the UK financial services market.
2There is no universally accepted definition of “big data.” In the context of its investigation, the FCA considered big data very broadly, embracing data sets that are larger or more complex than have hitherto typically been used by the insurance industry, data sets derived from new sources such as social media, and the emerging technologies and techniques that are increasingly being adopted to generate, collect, and store the data sets, and then to process and analyse them.