Consumer Trends Report: The pandemic has fast-forwarded digitalisation, raising opportunities but also risks for consumers

The European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) published today its Consumer Trends Report, which identifies an acceleration in digitalisation as a clear trend emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. This brings opportunities but also some concerns for consumers, such as frauds and possible new forms of exclusion from access to the financial products.

Amidst the continued shocks caused by the global pandemic, insurers, intermediaries, and pension funds have nonetheless continued to serve consumers in an efficient manner, showing overall strong operational resilience. However, a number of new challenges emerged linked to an increase in natural catastrophe risks.

EIOPA identified a number of key issues in the consumer trends:

  • Existing concerns around unit-linked products persist due to product complexity resulting in a lack of clarity around costs and benefits. Reliably putting consumer outcomes at the heart of product design, distribution and monitoring processes is critical for tackling value for money issues and possible mis-selling and to overall improve consumer’s financial health.
  • More and more products being marketed as ‘sustainable’ have been observed, raising concerns over the potential for so-called ‘greenwashing’, but also showing a sector moving to meet consumers’ ESG preferences, contributing thereby to a more sustainable recovery.
  • While digital innovation has improved efficiency and user-friendliness of claims handling particularly for low value and high volume claims, issues persists in some markets.
  • Emerging risks have raised new concerns around exclusions and possible increases in protection gaps. A lack of clarity in terms and conditions and limited consumer understanding of exclusions can be detrimental for consumers. In addition, an observed growth in uninsurable risks widens protection gaps.
  • Greater use of price optimization practices, relying on improved artificial intelligence techniques and on more consumer data being available, can lead to unfair treatment and possible financial exclusion, and increase the risk of indirect discrimination.

On pension funds, the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution schemes continues.

More generally, a well-developed and balanced pension sector, which ensures adequate future retirement savings, is the result of a combination of state, occupational and personal pension products. While traditionally, state pension providers often play a more significant role to provide for adequate retirement income of European citizens, a trend linked to an increase of private pension providers over state pensions was observed in 2021. Detailed trends in personal pensions markets vary significantly, as products are heterogeneous across Member States.

Long-term pension savings can finance the real economy and enable pension savers to participate in sustainable, long-term economic growth. As consumers are increasingly interested in sustainable products and market players are adapting their internal investment policies and products, this could support the active participation of pension savers in sustainable economic growth; but this trend is also raising concerns around greenwashing and misleading marketing communications for consumers.

EIOPA will continue to monitor and promote the use of consistent supervisory practices to ensure that opportunities and risks highlighted in this report are appropriately addressed.

Download the report and the heat-map