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The evolution of Standards

Steve Waller, our Head of Standards, breaks down the Polaris Standards, discusses their importance in digital trading and explains why they are still as relevant today as they were over 25 years ago.

Standards, are simply an agreed way of doing something. They exist in many different industries and form part of our lives often without our noticing – they can be anything from the electricity we use, the food we eat, even the beaches we might visit.

Typically, standards are developed by individuals representing organisations operating in that sector. They do this alongside their day jobs, with a view to making their sector operate more effectively, provide better consumer protection or to make better use of scarce resources. They are developed by consensus, and their implementation can be backed up by regulation or done voluntarily.

In the UK general insurance industry, Polaris acts as the Standards body for digital trading. Polaris is insurance industry owned, and has recently celebrated its 25th birthday. However, the Standards pre-date even this, emerging as they did from a unit operating within the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

What are Standards?

Standards are used in the build and distribution of digital insurance products and allow quote data to be sent consistently to systems.

Subscribers to the Polaris Standards (personal lines, commercial lines, or both) come from all areas of the insurance industry – insurers, software houses, brokers, MGAs, insurtechs, price comparison sites and industry bodies such as BIBA, MIB and Thatcham.

Representatives from these organisations help us to shape the Standards and ensure they are kept up to date and reflect changes in trading practice and new regulations and legislation.

What do Polaris Standards consist of?

There are a number of components – first and foremost they include the messaging standards to allow insurers, software houses and others to send and receive quotation and transactional messages in a consistent way.

Messaging Standards

The messaging standards cover all elements of the customer’s insurance journey, so will also include renewals, cancellations and MTAs.

Codelists

Underpinning the messaging standards are the codelists. We manage in excess of 350 codelists, covering over 35,000 individual values. Codelists are data question sets and options covering all the factors that an insurer will need to determine if they wish to offer cover, and if so, what terms and premium should apply. Code lists can be as simple as the person’s title, to details of wall construction, to the modifications on a vehicle, to prior claims and convictions that may have happened. Standards codelists are essential for enabling a consistent presentation of risks from customers to brokers and insurers.

Process guides

To allow subscribers to understand how best to use the Standards, we produce helpful process guides, covering the entire process for both personal and commercial lines products.

How are the Standards agreed?

For both our personal and commercial lines subscribers we run regular and well-attended forums where representatives from all areas of the industry discuss anything that is relevant to the way that the products are traded. The Standards are then updated to reflect the consensus agreed upon. For example, in early 2020 we added occupations relating to internet trading, and also made changes to reflect the gig economy.

This is the real value of the Standards, and where the input from our subscriber base makes such a difference to the output. We have a thoughtful debate on the changes proposed, considering such points as;

  • Is it clear and unambiguous?
  • Could it breach any laws or regulations or treat customers unfairly?
  • Is it something a proposer could reasonably be expected to know?
  • Is it reasonable to ask, or could the insurer obtain the information from other sources (such as data enrichment)?

The combined knowledge and experience of our subscribers input into these discussions (which we estimated to be in excess of 1000 hours in 2019) helps to make the Standards relevant and current. Polaris does not have the remit to enforce adoption of changes to the Standards, and individual trading partners will agree when implementation should take place.

Are Standards still relevant?

I would strongly argue that they are. A lot of time and effort collaborating with the industry goes into continuously developing the Standards to make sure they are fit for purpose, in line with industry changes and provide longevity for digital trading in the UK General insurance industry.

It is possible individual organisations could develop their own way of transmitting data without reference to any form of standard. However, this would only be serviceable where the number of participants are a closed community that is not intended to expand.

The reason being, anytime a further organisation joins that community, they and the existing members would need to ensure their means of communicating data is fit for purpose. These further organisations end up having multiple bespoke arrangements to manage all of the communities in which they participate, creating significant management overhead, along with all the other aspects to consider when launching a new product and increased cost.

In addition, creating a set of data capture questions and options from scratch is time consuming and is likely to broadly mirror the market standards that already exist and can be “plugged in” immediately.

So why take the painful approach, with the inevitable impacts on project resourcing and time to market, when you could instead use a tried and tested standard? It allows you to build upon the combined experience of many others and reduces the likelihood of you experiencing pitfalls or regulatory issues.

What's next for Standards?

The Standards are not static. There are always changes taking place in society and insurance needs that accompany this. It remains to be seen what will be the lasting effects of Covid-19 and its impact on home working, for example.

Whilst Standards that support digital trading are never going to fit every conceivable risk, there is a significant demand from the market that we deal with to extend their digital trading footprint. Covid-19 has seen examples of businesses diversifying to survive, and the impact of major events such as Grenfell prompted insurers to review more thoroughly the information requested at underwriting stage leading to changes to standards. As a result, Standards that underpin question sets used to cater for customers’ insurances will need to change to support the changing landscape of industry.

Those same societal changes can also prompt the introduction of new products. Combine this with the constant technological changes that we see and it’s clear that consideration will need to be given to new and varied insurance needs. Bespoke products may be the answer in some instances, but the convenience of a packaged policy will also prompt the introduction of new cover sections in existing policies.

Enrichment will continue to play a part in the way data is obtained in future, but there will inevitably be gaps in the databases being interrogated which will still need to be asked of the proposer. It may result in a shorter question set for the consumer or broker to complete, and the attendant improved user experience, but is unlikely to remove that need completely.

Contact us

If you are interesting in finding out more about Standards or would like to purchase a Standards licence, please contact:
Steve Waller Head of Standards
[email protected].