Put insurers’ data to work against crime

Business Day
25 Sep 2018
Matthew Garrun ● Garrun is a director of the Garrun Group.

The recent publication of the 2017-2018 crime statistics will have triggered insurers to recalibrate the costs of the various — and growing — risks they face, with an inevitable effect on the “grudge purchase”, which perhaps hurts consumers more in SA than elsewhere in the world.

Taxpayers fork out for what the state ought to be delivering: on health, private security and boreholes. The reasons why people pay for insurance are as complex as the country: a history of oppressive governance; government inefficiencies; and corruption.

According to a 2017 survey, the short-term insurance industry reported gross written premiums of R92.1bn in 2016. This was 4.2% higher than the R88.4bn written in 2015, and much higher than SA’s GDP growth of 0.3% in 2016.

Successful insurance companies profit from the state’s inefficiencies but, other than a reactive safety net taxpayers have already begrudgingly paid for, what do they offer society in return?

A few companies have made real efforts to recognise the potential of their critical role and pay it back — like Outsurance’s pointsman service to alleviate inner-city traffic congestion during peak hours. Some insurers publish tips on what to do in the case of a robbery, and high-level crime trend analysis is offered by others — which confirms what everybody already knows.

A call to a broker or insurer is often the first step after an incident – even before a crime is reported to the police, which is done increasingly solely to obtain a case number for insurers, with little expectation that the crime may be solved.

Some provinces have shown consecutive year-on-year increases in serious crimes over the past 10 years, so it is clear that law enforcement structures are under-resourced and unable to effectively arrest this trend.

But these calls, the completed claim forms and the behaviour-tracking devices consumers are expected to install, channel to insurers an increasing volume of detailed data on crime — including time, location and type.

The public should be given access to this information to make their own decisions about where to live, work and relax.

Surely it is morally incumbent on the insurance industry to use the data of SA’s collective hardships – crunched, cross-tabbed and actuarially analysed – in the fight to make the country safer? Almost all major insurers are proclaiming that they have enhanced, efficient systems and complex data analysis. Can people expect the industry to share this information on a regular — perhaps even live — basis rather than merely in a backwards-looking trends analysis and as a means to manage their internal risk?

Technology has brought about revolutionary changes to people’s safety, with neighbourhood watch WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages, live security camera feeds to cellphones, car trackers, fraud detection tools and number plate recognition CCTV cameras. Yet, South Africans remain largely uninformed about the actual, current crimes and trends affecting their communities.

Carjacking in the Western Cape, for example, increased from 448 incidents in 2010 to 2,182 incidents, according to the 2016-2017 crime statistics — an almost 400% increase over the eight years. Where are the maps showing people where the carjacking hotspots are, so they can avoid them at the times when most incidents occur?

The industry can and should be regularly updating these statistics and making them public. Annual crime statistics do not provide the level of detail the insurance industry holds and can use to improve safety.

Between 2007 and 2017, robberies at nonresidential premises across the country more than doubled from 9,836 to 20,047 annually. Businesses in or near affected areas might ask their armed response service to increase patrols. Their staff might be more alert when pulling into parking areas and more vigilant when securing the building at night.

Insurance firms could send policy holders individualised reports every month. Why aren’t they? An active, informed citizenry and partnerships with communities are needed — a call often made by big business, followed by very little action.

Insurers can continue to talk excitedly during quarterly results announcements about how the crime statistics mirror their own information, but until they actually share their data and put it to good use, their customers and country remain as ill-informed as ever.
Data is the world’s latest and, many would argue, most valuable commodity, providing infinite opportunities that can be used more effectively than vacuously improving advertising sales attempts based on Google searches.

A moral obligation has gone unchecked for too long and insurance companies need to start proactively linking and supporting community partnerships that actions the rhetoric they so often spout. They should share their data with the public who live in fear, waiting for their turn to become a statistic.

SA has proven time and again that it is a resilient nation, but that shouldn’t require its citizens to continue living in fear of crime. The insurance industry has the ability to play a concrete role in
empowering citizens, whether insured or not. Many of their online portals exist or could be easily tooled for access. Why aren’t we already asking for this?