20 May 2015

AGCM accepts measures to increase transparency in the car insurance comparison website sector

The Italian Competition Authority (the AGCM) has recently accepted, and made binding, the remedy package offered by "Facile.it" and "6sicuro" (the Comparators) with regard to car insurance policies published on their respective comparison websites. This decision closed the two parallel investigations launched by the AGCM in October 2014 into the Comparators’ websites, in order to assess a possible infringement of the rules on unfair commercial practices. The investigations particularly focused on: (i) the Comparator’s lack of transparency on their websites; and (ii) the inclusion of features that were ancillary and went beyond the basic car insurance civil liability coverage requested by consumers.

With regard to the lack of transparency on the websites, the AGCM initially opened proceedings on the basis of allegations that there was a substantial lack of information on both Comparators’ websites, specifically with regard to the number and identity of the companies subject to the comparison, as well as a lack of transparency in the sales process and the sources of incomes of the websites. According to the AGCM, the lack of transparency could have created ambiguity with regard to: (i) the actual comparison outcome; and (ii) the presence of any financial interest for the Comparators in guiding consumers to specific policies.  In this regard, the remedy package suggested involved the inclusion, on both websites, of: (i) clear and immediate references to the website’s working mechanism; (ii) any commissions paid to the Comparators by the insurance policy companies in order to be ranked; and (iii) the market share of the companies being compared.

The second issue considered by the AGCM was the inclusion in search results of insurance policies that were ancillary to the basic and compulsory car insurance civil liability policies, irrespective of whether or not they had been requested by the consumers. This was considered to make it more difficult for consumers to compare offers within the market.  With regard to this point, the commitments proposed by the parties marked the transition to the introduction of a process where the websites would only display policies in line with features chosen by the consumer, giving them an ability to “opt-in” to whichever policies they were interested in.

This decision is another step towards the common goal of IVASS (Istituto per la Vigilanza delle Assicurazioni), the AGCM and a number of other consumer associations to increase transparency and fairness within the market by the beginning of July 2015. A number of prominent companies, such as Linear S.p.A - belonging to the Unipol Group - and Zuritel S.p.A., amongst others, have already carried out a self-assessment exercise in relation to the decision and have published new policies compliant with the AGCM’s requests.  Insurance companies, but also companies providing comparative search functionalities, should likewise consider the implications of this decision and, if needed, adapt their conduct to ensure full compliance with Italian consumer protection rules.

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