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ombudsman news

issue 121

October 2014

share and share alike?

As a society, the relationship we have with sharing personal information about our lives is complicated.

On the one hand, when we’ve got something personal we want to share - like photos from a night out with friends - we can do it online in seconds. We “check in” on Facebook to let our friends know where we’re holidaying. We swipe reward and loyalty cards - because sharing information about ourselves and our buying habits means money off next time.

On the other hand, there are some things about ourselves we don’t want to share - or certainly, we don’t want to share with everyone. We might “lock down” our social media profiles, so only people we trust can see them. And while we might be entirely comfortable for our supermarket to know our favourite cereal, we might not be quite so happy with the idea of someone having access to our personal emails without our consent.

Across financial services, insurance is probably the sector that most relies on finding out the details of people’s lives. And since the Consumer Insurance Act 2012, it’s now insurers’ responsibility to ask the right questions to get the information they need about our lives - rather than for consumers having to guess what they think might be of interest to insurers.

Of course, people buying insurance - which is nearly all of us at one time or another - aren’t immune from forgetfulness or misjudgement. In this ombudsman news, we look at problems caused later down the line by consumers giving the wrong answers - or insurers asking the wrong questions.

It’s possible that one day soon consumers won’t be asked any questions at all for personal information - because insurers will already have the answers.

The Claims and Underwriting Exchange - a database of information relating to insurance claims - is being used more widely by insurers to confirm information they’ve been given. And information held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will be able to be instantly double-checked by insurers when someone searches for a quote.

Does all this fall into the category of personal information that people would be willing to share - or the category that makes people uncomfortable? I think it’s a question of how far they trust the parties involved. What counts is how far people trust businesses to keep their information secure - and to use it responsibly and fairly.

The law doesn’t just automatically make trust happen. But as the speed and scale of information-sharing increases, trust is something that the financial services sector as a whole will need to work even harder to maintain.

Caroline Wayman

image: Caroline Wayman
Caroline Wayman
chief ombudsman

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.