October 28, 2009

Insurance Companies Changing Terms of Auto Insurance Policies to Encourage Customers to Go Green

There is a new trend in the auto insurance industry that involves insurance companies offering their clients better rates as an incentive to reduce their carbon footprints. In the car insurance market, the state of California recently approved an initiative permitting insurers to offer their customers auto insurance policies with adjusted rates, using a system known as pay-as-you-drive. This minimizes the driver’s emissions. Many insurance companies are also offering discounts to those who chose to purchase hybrid vehicles, also minimizing a driver’s effect on the environment when driving.

Why are the insurance companies offering these deals? They seem to be part of a new approach that takes into account the long-term and the big picture. Global warming means more problems for insurers. An increase in catastrophic weather events could be crippling for the companies faced with paying claims for damages property and injured individuals. Severe weather also increases the likelihood of car accidents, along with resulting injuries and property damage. Although incentives to encourage environmentally friendly behavior may be costly for a company in the short-term, if these measures actually do have some impact on consumer behavior and the level of greenhouse gases, it is likely that these auto insurance discounts and reimbursements will be a worthwhile investment in years to come.

It is also possible that auto insurers are offering incentives as a way to appeal to customers concerned with the environment. These auto insurance policyholders might be willing to choose one company over another simply because they perceive them as “greener.” Although it may seem cynical for a company to behave in this manner simply as a marketing ploy, the consequences of these policies still have a potential to benefit every one of us.

It is also possible that the benefits of these auto insurance incentives to insurance companies may have little to do with their environmental component. If consumers actually drive less because this behavior lowers their insurance rates, then auto insurers will certainly benefit from this change. Fewer miles driven means a lower incidence of accidents, which in turn means that the insurance companies have to pay less in costly settlements.

Starting in 2010, a new rule implemented by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners will require insurance companies to detail the risks and consequences of climate change as they affect their business. This information will be available to regulators and investors, helping them to make informed decisions about the future of the industry. It is most likely that the information they report will support the conclusions that they have already reached: climate change will be expensive, and any measures that can lessen its impact will be well worth pursuing.