Social media could be used to harm the Canada's property and casualty industry as much as help it, according to Philip Cook, president and CEO of Omega Insurance Holdings.
Specifically, Cook referred to the power of social media to mobilize public protests against insurers when economic times are tough and the affordability of insurance takes centre stage in the political spotlight.
Cook was the featured speaker at the 2012 CIP Society's Industry Trends Breakfast.
He pointed to how social media were used to mobilize public protest movements such as Occupy Vancouver, Occupy Calgary and Occupy Toronto - all Canadian variants of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City.
At each of these events, protestors occupied public spaces for several days to draw attention to a broad array of social justice causes.
Cook pointed out that consumers are carrying higher debt loads and have access to less disposable income as a result of recent financial crises. Insurance pricing could therefore become a credible target of discontent for these groups.
Conceivably, they could take advantage of social media to mobilize against individual insurance companies or insurance regulators.
"Have you ever thought of an Occupy Intact?" he said. "Have you ever thought of an Occupy Aviva? Have you ever thought about an Occupy OSFI [Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, Canada's solvency regulator]? Have you thought about Occupy FSCO [Financial Services Commission of Ontario, the province's insurance regulator]?
"It's not out of the question. Believe me, it's not out of the question."
To the extent that social media could help focus an undercurrent of social discontent, the environment for insurers right now is a bit "scary," Cook said. The key, he added, is for the industry to make sure it is sustaining its education efforts around how premium pricing is determined. These days, he said, it is important that the insurance product not only be "affordable," but also "understandable."