With data breaches being regular media fodder these days, the existing responsibility of insurance brokers to safeguard client information coupled with new legislative requirements make this a good time for brokers to review data protection efforts to ensure they are fully up to date, Beth Pearson, chairman of Registered Insurance Brokers of Ontario (RIBO), suggested Friday.
“Brokers are required to collect a significant amount of personal information from our clients and employees,” Pearson, 2014-2015 president and now chairman, said during the 34th annual meeting of RIBO – which serves as the Ontario brokerage industry’s self-regulator and whose council consists of both elected brokers and lay appointees from the provincial government – in Toronto. “We are also required to safeguard that information and only use it in accordance with the purposes for which we collect it,” she explained to those assembled.
Pointing to numerous media reports this year about data breaches where personal information was compromised in some way, Pearson said that “while this can occur through sophisticated hacking, more frequently the breach occurs through the loss or theft of a smartphone of laptop computer.”
That being the case, insurance brokers need to take steps to ensure client information remains protected, whenever and wherever that is being accessed. “Remember that data may be particularly vulnerable when it is mobile, or accessed outside the protected office environment, such as home offices and coffee shops,” Pearson told meeting attendees.
“The obligation to safeguard information existed in our code of conduct long before Canada introduced privacy legislation, but the impact of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and similar statutes heighten our obligations and encourage a more formal process for the collection/use/sharing and destruction of personal information,” she noted.
Those new obligations also signal the time is ripe for brokers to “ensure that the policies and procedures reflect what is happening in our shops, with a keen eye on protecting the personal information in our possession,” Pearson advised.
Beyond protection efforts, though, is the need to raise staff awareness through training sessions on office policies and procedures, she added.
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Being aware and properly informing clients is also at the heart of the increasing talk around overland water protection, Pearson suggested.
“In property insurance, as with auto, Ontario consumers are increasingly presented with a range of options that enable them to select product features they want,” Pearson said. Because consumers rely on brokers to explain optional coverage, “this undoubtedly places a significant burden on us as we aim to stay abreast of new products and determine which clients might benefit from them.”
Of course, the ultimate choice is that of the client, she emphasized.
“Our status as a self-regulating profession necessitates that we carry out our activities with a steady eye on maintaining and enhancing public trust in our profession.”
Pearson also provided RIBO’s thanks to association CEO Jeff Bear (pictured left), who will be retiring at the end of 2015. Calling him a key architect of RIBO – which serves as the Ontario brokerage industry’s self-regulator and whose council consists of both elected brokers and lay appointees from the provincial government – Bear has served the membership for almost 32 of the association’s 34 years, taking on the CEO post in 1995. “We are grateful to have benefited from his leadership for so long,” Pearson said.
Patrick Ballantyne, RIBO’s general council since 2005, has been appointed to succeed Bear as RIBO general manager and CEO.