Fitness data: opportunities and risks for customer and insurance

They measure steps, calculate calories burned and collect lots of individual data: Fitness wristbands (wearables) or fitness apps are in vogue. The use of the data flood could turn the insurance market upside down and have consequences for consumers. However, there are still a lot of question marks.

A good year ago, the Generali insurance group in Germany took the first step toward combining a healthy lifestyle with a reward system for occupational disability and term life insurance. First, the health status of the insured is determined. Then he collects points for the discount account by jogging or buying healthy foods. The data is transmitted to a Generali subsidiary via fitness wristband or point-of-sale computer, according to dpa.

The company advertises that the premium for occupational disability insurance or term life insurance can drop by 16 percent as a result, ideally. "There is definitely a lot of interest from customers," says a Generali spokesperson. The company wants to give exact figures at the end of the year.

According to industry experts and consumer advocates, however, the model has not yet been copied on a large scale in Germany. "You need a long-term and stable database that reliably maps the connection between behavior and the impact on certain risks," says Lars Gatschke, insurance expert at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv). "Someone who walks 10,000 steps a day must have a demonstrably lower risk of dying than someone who doesn't do that. But we are still a long way from such data."

"Whether this becomes a broad trend depends on the further development of data collection," also says Reiner Will, managing director of the rating agency Assekurata, which specializes in insurances. Generali presumably has a certain edge thanks to its cooperation with the South African company Discovery, which developed the health program.

However, Will sees a fundamental problem: "With fitness tariffs, I appeal to people who already live health-conscious lives. Whether you can transfer that to other people, we will see."In general, the industry must consider whether it wants to focus primarily on attractive target groups in the future. "If everyone vies for just a few fit customers, sales could drop."

The Bund der Versicherten criticizes fitness tariffs as "a mere lure to secure young, healthy, fit and health-conscious people as insureds". But what happens when the behavior of many who have received a bonus changes: "So instead of sports, couch and smoking, instead of vegetables, chips are suddenly announced.". Are then "extreme increases in premiums to fear "?

Skeptical tones are also coming from the industry itself: "Fitness is good, but wearables are more like toys in our view so far," says Walter Botermann, head of Alte Leipziger. "Dogs with multiple wristbands have reportedly already been seen running the required number of steps for their principals."

The situation is somewhat different in health insurance: The eleven state AOKs, which are overseen by the respective social ministries, have for some time offered bonus programs that reward health-conscious behavior. "In contrast, the Federal Insurance Office has banned the nationwide statutory health insurers from offering elective tariffs," explains Gatschke. "In private health insurance, on the other hand, the premium must be calculated based on average per capita claims, according to the calculation ordinance."

However, Gatschke expects the use of big data to become widespread among insurers in the long term, with corresponding consequences for premium pricing. In car insurance, rates in which driving style affects premiums are already more widespread. Speed, braking, acceleration and steering behavior are recorded, careful driving is rewarded.

The ie of data use should be discussed in an ethics committee now, if possible, Gatschke recommends. "The question is: Do I want an insurer to tell me how to live??"

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