Money Editor for NZ Herald

Could your social media posts make insurance more expensive?

A photo of you bungy jumping posted to Facebook could add to the cost of your insurance premium in the future, says insurance expert Michael Naylor. Photo / Michael Craig
A photo of you bungy jumping posted to Facebook could add to the cost of your insurance premium in the future, says insurance expert Michael Naylor. Photo / Michael Craig

Could that Instagram image of you bungy jumping in your 20s result in having to pay higher insurance costs in the future? One insurance expert thinks so.

Michael Naylor, a senior lecturer in finance and insurance at Massey University, says people should expect insurers to mine their social media accounts in the future to determine how much they will charge for insurance premiums and if they will pay out on claims.

"People have to be aware everything they do on social media can be effectively public.

"You can set privacy settings, but of course they can be hacked."

He says New Zealand insurers are not set up to deal with social media at the moment but they will be.

"Some in the US are already doing it."

Naylor says the cost of paying a person to do the research has made it prohibitive up until recently but apps that can identify a person from an image by using social media are making it cheaper and more likely.

He predicts it will be one to three years away in New Zealand and says it may not come from existing insurers but new entrants to the market who will use personal data to cut insurance premiums for less risky customers.

That could leave old-style insurers with more risky customers and the prospect of rising premiums to cover their costs.

He says the change could have implications for people who seek adventure when younger and record it all on their social media pages.

"Of course the internet doesn't die."

They may have to prove they no longer undertake those activities to get insurance in the future or sign exclusion agreements meaning they won't be covered for certain activities, says Naylor.

Insurers are already warning home-owners to be careful about what they post on Facebook about going away on holiday because it could be in breach of their duty of care policy provisions for house and contents insurance.

Vero, one of the country's largest insurers recently posted a blog, giving people tips on how to avoid making this social media faux par.

Jimmy Higgins, Vero's head of claims says it is not telling people to stop posting their holiday snaps online but to be careful about revealing too much detail and casting that information too widely.

We are not saying don't show those family photos of you on holiday - it is just one of those things to be cautious of.
Jimmy Higgins

It might not be your Facebook friends that act on the information but a friend of a friend, he warns.

Higgins says people can protect themselves by not being specific about the dates they are away and making sure they don't identify where they live.

He also recommends having tight privacy settings on your social media pages so people outside of your close social network don't get information you would rather they didn't have.

But that doesn't mean Vero is trawling your Facebook page looking for reasons to turn down a claim.

"It would have to be pretty obvious and also deliberate to even contemplate that," he says.

A spokeswoman for Vero confirmed the company does not use social media to vet potential customers and doesn't plan to do so in the future.

Tim Grafton, chief executive of the Insurance Council New Zealand says he would be surprised if any New Zealand insurers monitored social media routinely.

But he said the gathering of data across a wide range of technologies - from phones to GPS, fitbits and Google searches meant there was a higher potential for insurance to be more personalised in the future.

"I think no matter what industry you are in there is a phenomenal amount of data that is collected by one thing or another."

"It's more than just talking about Facebook. It's all the data that companies know about."

Already there are telematic devices in cars which can tell insurers how safe a driver is and charge them accordingly.

But Grafton doesn't think people should worry about how posting risk-taking photos on Facebook will affect their ability to get insurance in the future.

He says like car insurance there would likely be an age cut-off for charging a higher premium.

"Things don't hang over you for the rest of your life."

Grafton says there has been talk of Google or a telecommunications company entering the insurance market as both collect a lot of data about people and he admits that would present significant challenges to the existing industry.

But he is hopeful they would partner with insurers.

"So far it hasn't happened."

But he says if it does it will just be another evolution for insurance.

"The need for insurance won't go away...risks will always be there."


How to avoid voiding your insurance while on holiday using social media
• Keep it private
Use your privacy settings to make sure you're only sharing photos and posts with your friends and family. That'll stop strangers finding out your house is vacant.

• Showcase your holiday - not your home address
Check that there is no connection between your 'online' identity and your physical address. That way even if strangers do see your posts, they'll only get details of your holiday - not your vacant home.

• Keep your home secure
Take all the usual precautions - lock all doors and windows and switch on burglar alarms, stop your newspapers or ask a friend or neighbour to collect your mail, fit sensor lights or set an internal light on a timer and ask a friend to check on your property from time to time.

- NZ Herald

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