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A tale of meerkats, robots, and italian tenors

September 22, 2015

One of the more surprising British financial facts of recent years is that, despite an advertising arms race from price comparison sites urging consumers to shop around when renewing insurance, switching between providers has actually decreased.

Motor insurance is perhaps the most striking example. According to our Financial Research Survey (FRS), switching motor insurance providers has fallen to its lowest level since before the financial crisis, while those electing to simply auto renew without taking out any quotes at all, now stands at almost 40% – the highest since 2009.

Less switching appears to have been heavily influenced by falling premiums. Like many drivers recently I have experienced a pleasant surprise when renewing my car insurance – it has got cheaper and this is not just because I drive a safe unfashionable car more John Craven than Lewis Hamilton.

For the majority of drivers prices have also dropped, falling by an average of 10% since 2012, knocking around £50 off the average bill. And so while messages from the likes of meerkats, robots, and Italian tenors advising me to shop around for car insurance don’t go unnoticed, I have stuck with the same insurer.

However, things may be about to change. Premium prices are beginning to rise reflecting a general increase in claims. Over the last six months the majority of insurers have issued warnings that prices are going up. In addition, the announcement by Chancellor George Osborne in the summer Budget that Insurance Premium Tax is going up from 6% to 9% in November is expected to add £12 to the average comprehensive policy. With price overwhelmingly dictating opinion as the main reason for picking a provider, the expected future uplift in premiums is likely to cause increased switching in the coming months.

The worrying aspect for insurers is that despite the recent fall in premiums, the public’s view of insurers is still pretty awful. Motor insurance is perceived by many as a necessary evil rather than a positive purchase. This underlying mistrust even extends to a notion that the forced purchase of motor insurance enables insurers to exploit motorists and make easy profits. In reality, the industry is barely profitable at best due to fierce competition between providers and rising claim costs.

This lack of trust has manifested itself over the last 18 months in falling levels of satisfaction and recommendation. Complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service about general insurance are also on the rise – up 16% in the first six months of 2015 compared with the previous six months.

Overcoming trust issues are particularly difficult across insurance because customer touch-points are so limited. Typically, interaction between insurers and customers is limited just to the annual renewal notice, meaning that insurers rarely have any positive evidence regarding what they offer. Some insurers are now addressing these issues by talking less about price and more about the inherent value that comes with being insured.

But the real game changer could be the rapidly emerging Internet of Things with its potential to provide specific behavior based data. This could revolutionize the insurance industry by making sure that the risk of insuring a person, vehicle or property is better understood and is priced accordingly. By doing this insurers could offer genuine personalized products thereby differentiating themselves beyond price. As Aleksandr the Meerkat would say, Simples!

For more information, please contact Jamie Talmage at jamie.talmage@gfk.com.

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