Apr 1, 2022 2 min read

A Window into Citizens Advice's Data Strategy

The Head of Data Science at Citizens Advice published an article on Medium this week about CA’s data science strategy. It’s worth reading, for the ‘Discriminatory Pricing’ report that Citizens Advice released last week is underpinned by their use of data and analytics.

Dan Barrett is an interesting character and the vein of storytelling that runs through his article on CA’s data strategy reflects this. Here are some quotes from early on in the article…

“…you need to think critically about the context and situation you find yourself in in order to work out how you can make a positive difference.”
“I don’t want to do data strategy work as an end in itself, I want to make sure we’re making a contribution that’s moving us in the right collective direction for the organisation and the people that we help.”
“...we have a current organisational priority which is ‘meeting more demand’. Demand for our services is high and rising due to circumstances in society. We need to ensure a focus on client outcomes as well — it’s not just about volume.”
“I know that for a charity we’ve got a generous complement of data specialists. But we can only achieve so much and mustn’t spread ourselves too thin. So this context informs how we prioritise the data strategy work, and also our collaborative approach where we work with others to deliver data improvement.”

What do these quotes and the overall article tell us then?

Firstly, CA have a data science team that is wedded to the organisation’s overall purpose. That counts when it comes to retention and commitment.

Secondly, consider this comment “We will prioritise based on greatest areas of need and opportunity.” Innocuous on one level; revealing on another. Clearly, CA see ‘data and ethnicity’ as one of those greatest areas of need, and insurance as one of those greatest areas of opportunity. This is reflected in their ‘ethnicity penalty’ report, which makes it clear that this will be a long running campaign, starting with insurance.

Thirdly, transparency. While the article is more about how CA thinks about data science, it is also willing to share that story. I can’t think of anything equivalent to this openness in the insurance sector.

Fourthly, consider this comment “…the data at Citizens Advice is rich and immediate”. It’s also open, being published on a public Tableau dashboard. Barrett makes an interesting point in relation to this openness, about wanting “…to build a community of users around our data, increasing its reach and value.”

Back in 2018 when CA published its loyalty penalty report, I made the point that their network of advisers was producing a unique treasure chest of micro financial and micro emotional data. And I urged both the regulator and the insurance sector to engage with them on this. The insight that can gained from all this micro-data is very powerful, much more so than the macro-data that, say, the regulator tends to works with. It would be interesting to hear what engagement has happened since then. I fear little.

In conclusion, what was apparent back in 2018 and even more so now is that CA is using data science to drive debate on ethical issues in insurance. Fairness around the loyalty penalty, discrimination around the ethnicity penalty. They are posing evidenced based questions that the sector has then to respond to.

So at the moment, control of the 'ethics and insurance' narrative seems to sit firmly outside of the sector, not inside it. This is not a good position for the sector to have got itself into, especially when both the ethical issues underlying the loyalty and ethnicity penalties had been obvious for a while.

I’ll end by quoting a question that Dan Barrett has built CA’s data strategy around. That key question is“…what questions do you want to answer with the data?” and he follows it up with“…and what will you do differently as a result?” That latter question is essentially what CA are now asking of the insurance sector. I believe it is one that the sector has to acknowledge and respond to.

Duncan Minty
Duncan Minty
Duncan has been researching and writing about ethics in insurance for over 20 years. As a Chartered Insurance Practitioner, he combines market knowledge with a strong and independent radar on ethics.
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