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Mobile mission

The spectre of the Law Commission and the prospect of non-repudiation conditions are casting an increasingly long shadow over the protection marketplace. Serious questions are being asked about the depth of information that may be needed to underwrite such business.

Depending on whose views you believe, this could be either very good for advisers – as it could make the initial underwriting process far more complex and make clients far more likely to seek assistance – or very bad for advisers as once a client has entered a non-contestability period, it might be very difficult to recommend alternative cover as this would start the clock again for any limited non-disclosure period.

Whatever the outcome, we need to be thinking smarter in terms of how medical information is stored and used. Perhaps we could embrace what is generally one of the least popular policies of the Blair administration, the national identity card, as at least part of the solution.

General practitioners have extensive medical data on their patients. The bonus payments they receive, which have been criticised widely, are triggered by doctors obtaining and updating this information on a regular basis. If insurers could get electronic access to this information, which is invariably held digitally, it could make it far easier to underwrite applications and reduce the burden on doctors and the delays that consumers experience.

The legislation to bring identity cards into effect was extended last year to allow for medical records. Imagine the situation if every citizen could carry a detailed record of their medical history on their ID card. There benefits for our industry would be dwarfed by the wider benefits. Imagine every ambulance being equipped with data-readers that would give paramedics full details of a patient’s medical details.

The NHS would need to computerise all its records. There would need to be suitable protection but I struggle to understand why the Government, which is so PR-focused, has not been able to position ID cards more positively. The solution to the Government’s ID dilemma must be to stop selling compulsion and start promoting something that could bring benefits to voters. I would expect the ID card to provide not just physical ID but also a mechanism that could be used to identify me for online transactions. It would be even better if, in time, this card could also carry data for my credit and debit card accounts.

If retailers and financial institutions share provision of the card, it would be only reasonable for them to cover the vast majority, if not all, the cost.

There is already one device that the vast majority of adults carry with them everywhere – a mobile phone. There are more mobile phones in the UK than there are people. According to the Mobile Data Association, at December 2005, there were 65 million active mobile phone accounts.

Mobiles are small computers capable of carrying encrypted electronic data.

There are some people who do not use a mobile and some alternative could be put in place for them but to me there is a great deal of logic in building on the back of a well established data network.

I am fascinated by the role of mobile phone providers. On the one hand, they have a vastly superior relationship with the emerging population compared with any financial institution and on the other hand, their core business is rapidly becoming obsolete.

It is hard to see how Wi-Max and other broadband and Voip technologies will not eat away at the mobile phone companies’ revenue streams in the same way as has happened to fixed lines in the past couple of years.

Firms such as Vodafone and O2 have the potential to be either dominant financial services providers or go out of business in just a few years.

If people are going to carry something around that holds so much data, the device will need to be very secure. We need to find technologies that can easily integrate with our new universal mobile device. One candidate would be voice-based security.

Already, there are European banks and US insurers achieving levels of security that are vastly superior to the technology being used by their UK equivalents via voice technology. Even for simple issues such as internal password replacement, voice security has the potential to deliver huge savings to organisations with just a few thousand users.

Some of the issues may seem a long way away from addressing the implications of the Law Commission’s deliberations on protection products but if we have to think about accepting such concepts as non-contestability, we need to start thinking in different ways.

Just before announcing the iPhone, Apple changed the strapline on its website to say “The first 30 years were just the beginning”, implying that we will see unparalleled changes in the way that people use technology, particularly mobile technology.

This is right and we need to start engaging the Government about delivering the environment that will be necessary to support a radically changed world.

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