Sunday 19 May 2019

Editorial: 'Claims of insurance cartel must be fully investigated'

EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager. Photo: REUTERS
EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager. Photo: REUTERS
Editorial

Editorial

It was said life insurance became popular only when insurance companies stopped emphasising it was a good investment, and sold it instead as a symbol of the commitment of fathers to the future well-being of their families.

Apocryphal or not, it tells us much about the importance of the trust we place in the companies offering us cover on everything from health to driving our children to school.

Integrity and mutual respect are critical to the relationship. But when it comes to insurance in Ireland, this newspaper has been raising concerns for several years about soaring costs and a lack of transparency.

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While the industry has responded with spin and endless excuses, we repeatedly called on the Government to act in the interests of consumers who have felt they are being ripped off. Strangely enough, there was no appetite for intervention despite soaring premiums.

Of course, there is myriad reasons why this might be the case. A compo culture has never been reined in.

Legal fees have also been allowed to rise without consequence. This has harboured a suspicion in the public mind that the insurance industry is untouchable.

It has also fed a creeping suspicion a lack of transparency and closed culture could be restricting competition. Yet the reticence by Government to intercede remains. But as John Fitzgerald Kennedy said: "There are risks and costs to a programme of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction."

We may finally get a sense of the true cost of "comfortable inaction" thanks to the decision of EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to order a formal investigation into Insurance Ireland.

Ms Vestager wants to ascertain if access has been restricted to its Insurance Link database system. This could have the result of limiting competition, which is clearly against EU rules.

Insurance Link holds the claims history of people who wish to take out a policy with a new insurer. This database is run by Insurance Ireland, which also represents the industry here.

Members feed their claims information into the base continually.

But Ms Vestager's concern is if companies hoping to offer their services on the Irish motor insurance market have been unfairly prevented from accessing the data pool. This would reduce the choice Irish drivers have, and also deprive them of the keenest prices.

The purpose of the Insurance Link system was to expose potentially fraudulent behaviour by claimants. It would also guarantee the accuracy of information provided by potential customers.

So any suggestion that firms may have been put at a competitive disadvantage by being deprived of access to the database would be grave.

Access to cover is critical to Irish business. Any suggestion a cartel could be in place must be thoroughly investigated in the interest of consumers as well as the industry itself.

Irish Independent

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