Long Live Norwich Union!

It’s old news by now that pay-as-you-drive innovator Norwich Union has withdrawn from the fledgling PAYD insurance market. Many were taken by surprise. Listening to spokesperson Erik Nelson explain why provides that perfect 20-20 hindsight for the rest of us. He also provides a fabulous insight into the value of this program. He still clings to one critical, false hope however. But let’s hear from Erik first. He is interviewed here by Traffic Technology International, and transcribed below for your convenience.

TT: Norwich Union's innovative telematics-based pay-as-you-drive insurance policy was withdrawn earlier this year because it was costing too much to operate, but as spokesman Erik Nelson reveals, the company plans to re-enter the market once economic conditions prove more favorable.

EN: What we did was we installed a box in their vehicles, a GPS-based box and that box tracks their movements, it tracks a couple of things actually. It tracks how far they were traveling, it tracks the time of day and it tracks where they were traveling - that is what type of road specifically they were on. The reason we are interested in a road – what type of road - is because we know for example that motorways are ten times safer than urban roads so we’re able to give you better rate on motorways than driving on an urban road which is more dangerous. We also know for example that driving at night, especially for young drivers is much more dangerous than it is traveling during the daytime, so we take in the time of day, we take in the road that you’re using and we’re able to give you an individualized pence-per mile tariff. Now based on that, [and] the number of miles you drive, you get your premium.

TT: Did you find that people actually did change their driving habits as a result of this policy?

EN: That’s a very interesting question. I think that’s very difficult to answer, because of course we didn’t know what they were driving like beforehand. What we did see was that people were driving over the time gradually a little bit less, I think they were very conscious of how far they were driving. The big thing is not about how far they were driving, though. It’s about the times of day and they types of roads they were using. We definitely saw safer driving behavior. As a result our claims reduced by more than 30% which is a staggering statistic and a huge boon for road safety. But when you are able to incentivize, for example, young drivers not driving during the most dangerous times of day for them, when they are 10 times more likely to be involved in an accident at night, 14 times more likely to be involved in an accident at night on the weekend. And you incentivize them to take the taxi, take public transport or whatever when they go out during those times you see accidents drop more than a third, you’re really on to something in terms of roads safety.

TT: I understand that renewals were really quite high on this, the policy seemed to be popular, yet you didn't carry it on from the Spring of this year.

EN: That’s correct. The retention rate was at or above 90% during the time that we operated the policy, and feedback from customers was overwhelmingly positive. This is probably because customers were saving around 30% on their premiums. So we paused it because, simply put, because the economics of the policy don’t work out for us right now. We thought that telematics was going to be a lot further along than it actually is. We thought that motor manufacturers would be installing telematics devices in the vehicles that they are making at the point of manufacture, but that did not come to be, and certainly not on the scale that we imagined. So instead of piggy-backing our little insurance policy on the back on existing piece of kit in a car, we were actually forced to provide the kit and install the kit ourselves which from an operating model point of view becomes very expensive and that is why we have temporarily withdrawn.

TT: Is it the case that the motoring industry just isn’t ready for this yet?

EN: I don’t know if it is the case of whether the motoring industry is ready for it. You’d have to speak with the motor manufacturers about that. Certainly it’s the case from our perspective I think we were just a little bit ahead of our time. I think we as a company still have faith that the telematics industry will continue to evolve and at some point the time will be right for us to re-enter the market because their will be more telematics devices in vehicles and it will be much more sustainable for us to operate a policy such a pay-as-you-drive and we look forward to re-enter the market in a very good position at that time.

TT: Do you foresee that technology like that is very much going to be a key part of insurance policies in the future, like red-light boxes that stop cars maybe from driving over red lights, that sort of technology’s going to be key?

EN: There are so many different ways that this technology can be used. As an insurer, our main objective is to find a way to calculate a premium. I think that is what pay-as-you-drive did incredibly cleverly and incredibly well and that is calculate a usage-based premium that motorists found fair and transparent in a way that has never been done before.

TT: Erik Nelson from Norwich Union. If you have any questions about this feature contact tt@ukintpress.com.

The false hope Erik Nelson clings to is that the automotive manufacturers will soon pre-install the telematics he needs. While this is technically possible, it is unlikely – mostly because we do not yet know everything about how we want these telematics to behave. To do insurance-only is an unworkable business model – as Erik can attest. We’ll need a whole fleet of cross-subsidizing services to make the pre-installation calculus work out. Even a package like OnStar causes the new-car purchaser some pause before adding it to the invoice. We will soon be paying for road use via GPS, which itself remains unreliable for most telematics manufacturers in built-up cities. And why not handle parking while we’re at it?

The assumption that we will record GPS tracks and process them off-board will hit a privacy wall. The counter assumption that we will pay everything on-board raises equal security concerns. The ISO standards to guide all this were completely scrapped a couple of years ago after nearly a decade of work. Only some components of the new edition, which I estimate to be about ¾ complete, will survive a hard privacy review in the EU and the US. What little the privacy advocates leave intact of the new standard will cause more hesitation on the part of the automotive manufacturers.

I believe all this will serve to postpone the time when the automotive manufacturers will provide a “whole product” that an insurer could simply “piggy-back” on. The telematics market segment that will handle financial transactions (insurance, road-use, parking), must be “liability critical” – in other words, it must be critically reliable and repeatable – something we call “financial grade” GPS. The technology to do this is not the same as navigation grade GPS and the automotive manufacturers know this.

This, and the fact that there is already a world fleet of well over 500,000,000 vehicles that will need an aftermarket fitting, informs my prediction that the early years of PAYD will based on self-installed, specialized, “financial-grade” systems that can be purchased anonymously, monitored without knowing the vehicle or owner ID and without data retention, and that also provide a couple of other payment services such as road and parking tolls.

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