Weekly Wrapup: Insurers contend with blowback toward IoT initiatives

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The Weekly Wrapup is an analysis of the week's insurance news from the editors of Digital Insurance.

Insurance companies are embracing the Internet of Things and connected devices at a growing rate, with the goal of learning more about policyholders' true risk and being a partner to mitigate it. But not all customers get on board easily.

This week, smart-toothbrush manufacturer and insurance-company partner Beam was criticized by a policyholder who didn't feel comfortable with sending the company data on their brushing habits. A Forbes article begs the question: When is the data-ask too much for insurance purposes?

"The scales that are traditionally applied in most branches of insurance are simple indications based on parameters that do not affect privacy much," writes Enrique Dans, professor of innovation at IE Business School. "In this sense, insurers carry out their work in an uncertain environment, they insure relatively blindly and trust that the parameters they establish allow them to approximate the probability of risk. In the internet of things age, it makes sense for insurers to gather as much information as possible about the risks they cover. Is this compatible with your customers idea of privacy?"

Insurers obviously don't want to alienate customers. But in an industry that has struggled with trust issues for years, carriers have to earn the right to access more granular data on customers. One company that has found success is HiRoad, a usage-based insurance company that launched in Rhode Island late last year, collecting data through an app. Two HiRoad customers who spoke to the Providence Journal said the company's message of helping them be a better driver to the benefit of their community resonated with them.

“I think, in general, everybody who’d sign up for it, if they were conscious of the fact that they’re being judged on the four categories, it would make the road safer for everybod," Corey Rastello told the newspaper. Isabella Cassell added that she had never thought of auto insurance as an avenue to make a positive impact on the world until HiRoad.

The reveal? HiRoad is a subsidiary of State Farm, which like many established insurance giants doesn't have a great reputation. But effective marketing research and positioning has given the insurer a path to grow its customer base while collecting important data.

To their credit, carriers aren't being shy: This week saw the announcement that Madison Mutual would partner with Roost on smarthome devices, and a partnership between HomeAdvisor warranties and Notion leak-detectors to proactively recruit plumbers to fix leaks in progress. Insurers clearly see the value to their businesses in the IoT -- the important part now is being open and credible with customers.

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Internet of things Customer data Data ownership Data privacy