Seven motor insurers have agreed to limit the amount of data they share with each other after the trading watchdog warned their actions could reduce competition in the market.
The insurers, including industry giants such as Aviva and Axa Insurance, had been exchanging details on prices through a market analysis tool known as Whatif? Private Motor. The tool, which was run by Experian, provided brokers with details on insurance premiums, including any price hikes that insurers were introducing which had not yet gone live.
But it was also possible for insurers who contributed to the tool, to use it to gain information on their competitors’ pricing policies, including their underwriting practices and which areas of the market they were particularly competitive in. It also enabled them to monitor premium increases being made by other firms before the information was in the public domain.
The issue came to light after RSA, which used the tool, became concerned that it may breach competition rules and notified the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The OFT said that the tool increased the risk of price fixing among insurers and raised competition law concerns, although it added that its use did not constitute a secret cartel.
In response to the investigation, the insurers and IT software providers, which also included Ageas Insurance, Liverpool Victoria, RBS Insurance and Zurich Insurance, and IT group SSP, have agreed that they will no longer be able to access each other’s individual pricing information through Whatif?.
They will still be able to get details on other premiums through the tool, but the information will now be anonymous and will represent the average for at least five insurers. They will also only find out about price changes once they go live.
The OFT is currently consulting on a draft text for the commitments made by the groups, and once it has been formally accepted, it will end its investigation, without making a decision on whether the Competition Act was breached.
The trading watchdog said it had limited its investigation to a small number of insurers in order to complete it quickly. But it stressed that the outcome had implications for a number of other similar tools that were being used by the industry.
Clive Maxwell, executive director at the OFT, said: “Active competition between firms drives better value for consumers and growth for the economy, and anything that potentially dampens that is a cause for concern. We are aware that similar market analysis tools exist both in motor and other insurance markets and we urge companies using them to ensure that they are complying with competition law.”
Insurance premiums have soared by 40% during the past year, but the Association of British Insurers (ABI) insisted the rise was due to a combination of increased fraud and personal injury costs, rather than a lack of competition among insurers.