Insurance telematics could ‘flip the underwriting model on its head’

Avatar photo

Insurance brokers and providers may soon be asking fleets for access to their telematics data, in an effort to provide more accurate insurance pricing and to help fleets better utilize that data.

It’s a bold new approach that’s already happening in other parts of the world, including Europe and Australia. Here in Canada, Industrial Alliance made waves earlier this year, when it launched a program in Quebec that allowed young drivers to install data recorders in their car and then pay premiums based on their specific driving habits.

Truck News has learned that the concept – sometimes referred to as Pay How You Drive or Pay As You Drive – will soon be rolled out to the Canadian trucking industry. Insurers realize telematics provides the basis for a more accurate means of underwriting risk. Today, brokers and insurers collect the same old data (such as CVOR and CSA scores as well as a five-year claims history) to determine premiums. But insurers have come to realize that basing premiums on past claims isn’t the best way to do things. For starters, it doesn’t address those fleets that employ risky drivers but have avoided accidents through sheer luck.

Using telematics, insurance providers will be able to identify risky driving behaviour that will most likely result in accident over time and can push a fleet to intervene with offending drivers and address unsafe behaviour before that accident occurs. Insurers who tap into their customers’ telematics data will be looking for information on speed, hard braking, abrupt lane changes and rapid acceleration, among other risky behaviours.

“From an underwriting standpoint, it flips the underwriting model on its head,” Scott Cober, vice-president, national leader with Marsh Canada’s trucking practice told Truck News in an interview. “It becomes more of a predictive underwriting model.”

At the very least, using telematics to determine insurance pricing will allow insurers to charge premiums that better reflect a fleet’s likelihood of being involved in a crash. But ideally, insurance providers will use that valuable information to alert a fleet to worrisome trends and encourage interventions before such accidents even occur.

“Fleet insurance underwriters currently review driver abstracts for tickets and look at accidents to assess a high-risk driver in the fleet,” Cober explained. “A fleet’s risky drivers may not be the ones with tickets or accidents, but those who are trending towards bad behaviours on the road – making unsafe lane changes, cornering at high speeds, etc. These drivers are potentially your future accidents and claims. The driver behaviour data (collected through telematics) will help safety managers prevent accidents before they happen.”

Marsh itself will soon be rolling out a new program called the Marsh Driver Improvement System, which will use telematics to monitor driver behaviour and then provide online training for drivers who require it. Zurich Insurance is also at the forefront of using telematics data to improve its services and is in the final stages of developing its Zurich Fleet Intelligence (ZFI) program for the Canadian market. ZFI will consist of a central portal to which its customers’ telematics data will be streamed and then organized for interpretation by both Zurich and the fleet itself.

“In Canada, ZFI takes telematics data provided by the customers and then through a number of different dashboards, not only provides a visual around organizing the data but also allows customers to be able to then take the data from a behavioural standpoint and create training for the particular driver,” Angelique Magi, national director of transportation with Zurich explained.

Zurich is currently in the process of developing Canada-specific training and is working with the leading telematics providers to facilitate the transfer of data to the ZFI portal. It expects to be offering the new service commercially within weeks.

In most cases, insurers will be able to tap into data collected by existing and widely used telematics systems. Other programs may encourage fleets to invest in specific real-time monitoring and coaching systems such as those provided by Green Road and DriveCam. Green Road’s system alerts drivers to risky behaviours in the cab as they occur, while also sending reports to the fleet manager. DriveCam features an in-cab camera that captures video of what transpired in the moments immediately before and after a risky maneuver occurred. In-cab camera technology provides insurers with a useful tool when trying to reconstruct an accident or determine who was at fault.

“We’re using that not only as a behavioural tool, but as a claims tool,” Cober said. “For the first time, we’re gaining insight into what happened and we’re seeing drivers become exonerated from the claim. I think video is going to have a fundamental change on the whole claims process. A fleet can say ‘My driver wasn’t at fault, he was cut off by this driver,’ and on the reverse side, he may know the driver was at fault right away and from the insurance standpoint we can set the reserve up and get ready to pay the claim.”

Some fleets, naturally, will be reluctant to share their telematics data with their insurer. But insurance companies insist fleets have plenty to gain by doing so. This applies both to safe fleets (because they’ll pay premiums that better reflect the skills of their driving force) as well as unsafe fleets (because their insurer will work with them to identify unsafe practices and provide corrective training measures proactively).

“The safest fleets are already being very proactive and are more advanced than the other fleets,” Cober said. “But if you have claims, there’s an issue with your drivers on the road. Fleets that want to improve and become more efficient will turn to technology. To be competitive in this marketplace going forward, those fleets are going to have to do this.”

It’s likely that such programs will be voluntarily, at least initially. But don’t rule out the possibility of an insurance provider requiring the use of telematics for fleets with frequent claims.

“I can see possibly in the future, if a fleet cannot control its claims, that an insurer will say ‘We will insure you, but you need to put these measures in’,” Cober predicted. “I can see insurers using that as an underwriting tool.”

Zurich’s Magi says fleets she has spoken to about sharing their telematics data have so far been receptive, though she is quick to point out Zurich insures mostly large fleets with high US exposure, and the majority of those carriers already employ and understand the benefits of collecting and analyzing telematics data.

“I have never had a customer say ‘I’m not giving you the data you need’,” Magi said. “If anything, they’re asking ‘How can you help me analyze this information so I can utilize it better?’ What telematics does is it gives you a granular view of what’s happening with each particular driver and vehicle on a daily basis. You’re going to see a picture there. Insurers are going to see there is something there and it’s to the customer’s benefit to be able to speak with an educated risk services re
presentative who’s going to be able to dig deeper and find out where the big issues are.”

Eventually, insurance providers may look to provide insight into the operational side of a fleet’s business, in ways that extend beyond managing driver behaviour. As an example, Magi foresees an opportunity to assist with route planning. Insurers may look at a carrier’s lanes and then suggest a route that avoids litigious states or areas where there are weather-related risks at certain times of the year. Carriers would then be faced with the decision of taking the most direct route and possibly paying a higher premium, or a safer route that will provide insurance savings. All this while meeting the demands of the shipper, which in many cases will be looking for the most expedient delivery of its goods.

“Ideally in the future the technology will get to a point where you look at ‘What is the safest route to get to a point?’ and there’s a charge for that,” Magi said. “If you (as an insurance company) have a true partnership with a customer, you’re going to sit down together and talk about this from a pure business perspective. What is the cost-benefit analysis for your operation to take this particular route versus the potential loss if you take a different route? It factors into their deductible. There are going to be customers that are going to be absolutely operations-minded and some customers will look at route utilization with a holistic approach as to how it’s going to affect their insurance.”

Magi noted insurance, in many cases, is a carrier’s third largest expense and so she expects fleets will be willing to alter their routes to lower costs.

Proponents of insurance telematics insist the data that’s collected and shared will always belong to the carrier.

“This isn’t about Zurich going in and mining information from the customers,” Magi stressed. “The customers can share this information with us if they choose to. Ideally, the purpose of what we’re trying to do is to show them how to better utilize that particular data.”

There are privacy issues, as well, to consider. Cober noted Canada’s stringent privacy laws mean insurers won’t be drilling down to assess drivers on an individual basis, but will be looking at a company’s fleet-wide performance.

“Because of the privacy laws, we are saying to trucking companies ‘You supply the data to your insurer in a condensed manner without giving driver names, without giving vehicle numbers, just give a holistic view of how the fleet is doing,’ and we’ll take that monthly or quarterly and what we want to see is continuous improvement,” he explained. “Canada has some pretty tough privacy rules.”

While fleet managers may see the benefit in participating in a telematics-based Pay How You Drive-type system, drivers themselves may be more resistant. Cober insisted the systems endorsed by insurers will be sophisticated enough to account for false alerts caused by other motorists.

“We know things happen on the road and it’s going to be quite common to have errors because of third-parties cutting in front (of the truck),” Cober said. He suggested fleets employing driver behaviour monitoring use it to reward the best drivers rather than installing the systems for strictly punitive or corrective reasons.

“If it’s seen as a penalty or Big Brother, I think the safety culture of the company won’t flourish,” he noted. “It needs to be promoted as positive reinforcement for the drivers and to reward drivers for good behaviour.”

Regardless of how drivers and fleet owners feel about sharing telematics data with their insurer, it seems inevitable. Canada is late to the party, but globally the auto insurance industry is already moving in this direction.

An Oliver Wyman Financial Services report, titled Uneven Road Ahead: Telematics Poised to Reshape Auto Industry, concluded: “As technology costs fall, privacy concerns recede and regulations become more supportive, telematics is fast moving into the mainstream and will fundamentally disrupt the auto insurance business. The threat to late adopters is real: better drivers will enroll in telematics programs, leaving behind a shrinking pool of poorer risks to the traditional insurers.”

The same could be said for trucking companies.

Cober noted that by 2017, it’s expected that new vehicles manufactured in North America will come equipped with some form of telematics hardware already installed, “making the insurance telematics process easier for consumers who may be confused on what actual hardware is required in their vehicle.”

Another objection likely to be faced by insurers is the cost of implementing the necessary technology, particularly for smaller fleets that don’t already employ some form of telematics. But Cober said the cost of the technology is rapidly dropping and the potential savings extend beyond lower insurance costs, delivering a quick payback.

“Traditionally, only the big fleets could afford the technology. But because the technology costs have been dropping, we’re beginning to see the middle market fleets – the fleets with 10-50 power units – can now afford this technology and can see the return on investment,” he said.

Because telematics can improve driver behaviour and address bad habits like rapid acceleration and hard braking as well as speeding, Cober said many fleets are realizing fuel savings of 5-10% when employing a telematics system that monitors driver behaviour.

“We’re seeing fleets that in the first three to six months, are seeing their investment returned,” Cober said.

And for fleets that proactively monitor and address poor driving habits, the insurance savings will also be tangible, he noted. While premium reductions are generally a reward for lower claims costs achieved over a period of time, Cober said it’s possible insurers will provide some up-front savings for fleets that enroll in a telematics program.

And when fleets discover the additional savings that are achievable by analyzing their telematics data with some help from their insurance provider, Magi said the idea will become an easier sell.

“At the end of the day, really, they’re truckers,” she said. “They want to be able to move freight and run their business. They’re not actuaries that deal with statistics. If we can provide them with the tools and solutions that make it easier for them to very quickly analyze (data) and see a problem, we’ve done them a huge benefit but we’ve also done our bottom line a benefit as well.”

– The above feature article appears in the September issues of Truck News and Truck West

Avatar photo

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.