Underwriters May Soon Be Using Social Network Data

By | November 7, 2011

The insurance industry is paying increasing attention to what people and businesses post on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Already, scouring the social network pages of insureds is a common practice on the claims side of the business. Some investigators say it’s one of the first things they do when looking into fraudulent claims.

Currently, social network data are being used as evidence in courts of law in claims cases. Individual underwriters are retrieving risk evaluation information on their insureds through searches on social sites.

But in a few years, automatically mined data from social networking sites could find their way into the underwriting pricing process. This data could become a factor in determining premiums for both personal and business insurance, according to a new report from Boston-based research firm Celent, titled “Using Social Data in Claims and Underwriting.”

Regulators have no guidelines on overall use of social data.

Insurers are now using social media for sales and advertising, Michael Fitzgerald, Celent senior analyst and co-author of the report, told Insurance Journal. “Some are using it in claims. Underwriting is next.”

Regulators have not yet offered guidelines on the use of social data, Fitzgerald added. But that could soon change. “Just as insurers recognize a link between credit health and risk in auto insurance, social data may offer similar insights for insurers who set out to crack the data,” the report says.

As users purchase items online, and communicate with others in public forums, they leave behind data about their preferences, lifestyle, operations and habits, according to the Celent report. This data can be used to develop a risk profile for an individual or for a company.

On the corporate side, companies postings also include descriptions of new product offerings (hence new added risks), services and operations.

Also useful is the “social graph,” which shows how individuals or companies are linked together: a picture of who is friends with whom, and what friends of friends people have. These graphs can give insurers insight into how an individual may perform as a risk, based on the behavior of those he or she is connected to.

Such data can be integrated into an insurer’s existing process and automation environment and compared to previous risk information to identify material changes that should be addressed from in underwriting.

Celent predicts that over the next three years, social data will be “incorporated into core underwriting and claims processes” and become standard inputs into risk evaluation and settlements.

Celent contends that social data has the potential to join existing third party data sources such as CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange), motor vehicle reports, and MIB fraud reports to enable more accurate underwriting evaluation/pricing and to help lower claims costs.

Pew Research Center shows that the young are still the dominant users (77 percent of U.S. Internet users in the 18-29 age group use social networks). But those in the older age group of 30 to 49 are also using social sites in big numbers (55 percent of Internet users in this group now use social networks). In the 50-plus age group, 23 percent of Internet users utilize social sites and the numbers are increasing.

This expansion into additional age groups is meaningful, the Celent report says, since people in older groups are the target market for many lines of business including high net worth personal lines, life and annuities, and small commercial.

The report says claims professionals have been learning how to link relationships on social sites to gain information on profiles which use the highest privacy settings. Investigators report that “People always have friends of friends willing to ‘accept’ a new ‘friend,’ and that friend’s privacy settings aren’t always set, allowing us to access pictures and the ‘private’ claimant/insured’s comments indirectly, detailing events they attend, groups they’re associated with, etc.”

While bypassing certain privacy settings is technically possible, it also raises a different question: what is ethically or legally allowed when mining social networking sites, and to what extent should they be used for insurance?

Celent suggests one way to deal with this issue is engaging with customers, seeking permission to use their social data, and then automatically gathering it. Depending on regulatory rules, insurers could offer customers discounts as an incentive.

Challenges That Lie Ahead

There are plenty of hurdles. Companies need to develop more sophisticated authentication methods, (Is that the same John Smith who may be filing a fraudulent workers’ comp claim?) improved data extraction tools, and more advanced analysis techniques. The challenge for underwriting organizations is to develop methods and procedures for collecting, sifting, analyzing, and incorporating social data information into their existing system environments, the report says.

According to Celent, there are untapped analysis opportunities in tapping into recent advances in actuarial science, predictive modeling, and tools to analyze social data and to discover and leverage “hidden relationships in social data.”

Topics Claims Underwriting

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Insurance Journal West November 7, 2011
November 7, 2011
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