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6 Jan 2020

Six ways your insurance could change in 2020

Car and home insurers have been ordered to stamp out unfair pricing practices

Insurers have long been subject to scrutiny about how fair (or not) their prices are - specifically for customers who don't shop around.

This came to a head in October 2018 when industry regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) released a report showing that some home insurance customers were being charged significantly more than they should be.

A year later, a broader and equally scathing report arrived. This one looked at car insurance too, and concluded that six million customers weren't getting a good deal on their insurance. It also suggested a number of remedies to help fix the problem.

Here we look at six of the most significant proposals that could affect your insurance in the year ahead - and the steps you can take now to get the best deal.

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1. You won't be clobbered for staying with the same insurer

If there's been one central cause of complaint behind the FCA's extensive investigation into insurance pricing, it's the 'loyalty penalty'.

It will always be a good idea to check regularly for better deals, but insurers' practice of clobbering you each year when you renew with them is hopefully about to come to an end.

Under the existing practice - also known as 'price walking' - policies are generally sold at discounted rates to new customers, followed by continually increasing premiums as you renew year on year.

When this happens over the long term it can lead to customers paying hundreds more than is reasonable.

The FCA is considering banning or restricting insurers' ability to set their prices in this way.

2. You won't be clobbered for looking like you'll stay with the same insurer

Insurers don't just set your price based on how likely you are to bend your bonnet out of shape or burn down your kitchen. Details you provide when applying for a quote are also used to estimate how much profit they'll make from you in the long term, which in turn feeds into the price they'll offer you now.

One factor insurers take a view on when calculating your premium is how likely they think you are to renew or negotiate.

The best prices are aimed at those insurers think are most likely to switch. In other words, if it seems like you'll accept a high price, you'll probably be charged it.

This practice is also something the FCA is considering a crackdown on in the new year.

3. You could be told more about how your price is calculated

At the moment, it's next to impossible to get the full story on why your price is what it is or why it might have changed from one year to the next. But that could be about to change.

The FCA has floated the idea of compelling firms to make public more information than ever about the inner workings of their pricing, such as prices paid by different groups of customers that are of similar risk.

4. You could hear more from your insurer about whether your deal is reasonable

Insurers have been criticised for not doing enough to help all their customers make informed choices.

For instance, if a customer was aware that their latest renewal premium had increased simply because they'd not switched for a long time, they might be more inclined to seek better prices.

While some insurers have been taking action to encourage some of their more vulnerable customers to review their prices, the FCA wants to see insurers being more proactive.

One possible approach is for insurers to automatically switch customers to better deals where those deals become available.

5. It could become less of a hassle to leave your insurer

The FCA looks likely to crack down on practices by some firms that make it more difficult to switch than it should be. The use of automatic renewal is a particular concern.

As the name suggests, this is where you automatically remain with your insurer at its renewal offer, provided you haven't told it you want to switch.

It may become the case that insurers will only set up your policy to auto-renew if you've specifically opted into it (now it's sometimes the default way a policy is set up) - or there may be limits on the number of times policies can automatically renew.

6. A new data-sharing initiative could make it easier to spot better deals

Under an initiative called 'Open Banking', which began in January 2018, banks were forced by regulators to make your data available (in a secure and standardised way) to third-party companies, if you request they do so.

The idea behind this is to allow you to use apps and websites to access information about your various accounts and services, making them much easier to keep track of and manage together.

There's now a push to allow customers to be able to use their data in this way for lots of other financial products, including insurance, under an initiative called 'Open Finance'.

This is still in early stages, but the FCA thinks these sorts of services are likely to make it more convenient to spot better deals and switch between insurers, putting more pressure on firms to treat customers fairly.

How to get a better deal on your insurance

Hopefully, we'll start to see the insurance industry change for the better in 2020 and beyond. But you don't need to resign yourself to a poor deal until then. Here are five steps you can take now to get the deal you deserve.

  • Don't wait before buying: as a general rule, the closer you are to your policy starting, the higher the premium you'll pay. So don't put off buying your insurance.
  • Don't assume your insurer is offering you their best price: people who challenge their renewal premiums generally get offered better prices. Many of us would love to avoid making these phone calls, but it pays to do so, and many companies expect it.
  • See what you're 'worth': even if you don't plan to switch, use a comparison site (a few, if you can) to get a good impression of the best prices available for the cover you want. This information can be valuable for negotiating prices with your insurer.
  • Only buy what you need: insurers make large profits off selling 'add-ons'. Some of these are highly valuable, but others - on reflection - might not be vital to you. For instance, maybe you've selected enhanced courtesy car cover but own two cars.
  • Don't get sold short: if an insurer's questions, or those on a comparison site, don't seem to adequately capture your circumstances, call the insurer to make sure they get the full picture. You could otherwise end up overpaying or not being properly insured.