Editorial - September 2011
Leaders in the insurance industry are always looking for ways to give back to the communities they serve. Usually this takes the form of philanthropic endeavours, such as charitable fundraising and creating awareness about certain social issues. At the end of the day, the vast majority of insurance industry giving comes down to time and money; raising funds and donating services and man hours for doing good works.
However, a new initiative by the City of Toronto raises the possibility that there is something equally valuable the industry can give to help enrich Canadian communities: knowledge and data. This past June, the City of Toronto launched the Wellbeing Toronto website (www.toronto.ca/wellbeing/). The interactive tool allows users to query and compare the city’s 140 neighbourhoods on a wide variety of quality-of-life determinants such as crime, education levels, employment rates, income, as well as positive indicators such as amount of greenery and diversity of businesses. The main purpose behind the tool is to help municipal planners make better decisions around where to invest resources in programs and services to support neighbourhood-level planning. Opening the tool up to the public allows businesses and other service providers to learn more about their customers and users as well.
Thus far, the tool relies largely on data collected by the City itself and other government sources. But Harvey Low, an analyst in the social policy and research section at Toronto City Hall, is hungry for data and would like to change that by moving beyond the public sector. “For example,” says Low in an interview, “we have income data but we are also looking for debt-load data” as a potential indicator of vulnerability, noting that obtaining this data would require an agreement with the Canadian Bankers Association.
As for what the insurance industry could provide to the tool, Low becomes animated at the suggestion that claims data could be of some use. Data on the frequency of sewer backup claims in certain neighbourhoods, for instance, could be used to target infrastructure investments while guiding developers at the same time.
Providing data for the tool would also be an excellent business opportunity for the industry. “As a by-product of Wellbeing Toronto, we’re trying to link people to the providers of the data and to those services they may offer,” says Low. But equally as valuable is the opportunity to participate directly in the making of good public policy that benefits vast numbers of people. It’s an opportunity that very few other industries have.
Copyright 2011 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the September 2011 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.