Insurance - Car

In this guide we investigate rate and rank the environmental and social record of 30 car insurance providers.

We also ask is your insurance company indirectly financing the sale of arms? And give our Best Buy recommendations.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying car insurance:

  • Does the company have an ethical investment policy? A growing number of companies have some form of ethical policy on investments. But often these only exclude the most extreme players in a sector, for example those making cluster munitions or over 50% of profits from coal mining. Look for a more stringent policy on investments.

  • Is the company transparent about its investments? Transparency around investments is rare in this sector. Very few companies publish shareholdings, let alone information about how they use them to steer the companies that they invest in. Look out for those that do.

  • Is it a member of ClimateWise? ClimateWise is a voluntary insurance industry initiative, focused on responding to the risks and opportunities of climate change. The companies involved commit to take action in many ways: through leading risk analysis, informing public policy, supporting climate awareness, and incorporating climate change into investment strategy.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying car insurance:

  • Is the company likely to be using tax avoidance strategies? Tax avoidance is known to be pervasive in the financial sector, and the insurance industry appears to be no exception.

  • Is it investing in arms & military supply? Many of the biggest insurance companies invest in a whole host of unsavoury industries like the military. Avoid companies that lose marks in the Arms & Military category on our table.

  • Is it a friend of coal? The most recent 'Unfriend Coal' report listed a number of major insurance firms that are investors in this carbon intensive industry. We cannot afford to build a single new coal plant if we are to meet the two degree goal set at COP21 in Paris 2015 and coal already accounts for 44% of CO2 emissions worldwide, so avoid these companies.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20)

Our Analysis

Car insurance is a legal requirement in the UK, so it’s not surprising that the insurance industry is huge, and not just in terms of sales each year. Insurers often hold vast investments in other companies, as we have explained in our home insurance guide.

In the UK alone, insurance companies manage investments equivalent to around 25% of the country’s net worth.

This means that they are indirectly financing everything from tar sands to the sales of arms. In this guide, we have tried to find the car insurance companies with the most ethical approach to investment.

There are two types of insurance company: brokers and underwriters.

Brokers sell policies on behalf of one or more underwriters, and include well known brands such as Sainsbury and the AA. They make money by receiving a commission from the underwriter, once a policy is sold.

Underwriters are the companies that take most of the money from an insurance premium, but which also pay out when something goes wrong. They may not be as visible as the broker’s insurance brand. But it is an underwriter that will hold investments. They therefore wield a significant amount of power in the global economy. That is why we have focused on them for this report.

Just to make things more confusing, some underwriters do sell directly to the public, or belong to the same company group as the broker itself. Others may re-insure a specific risk via a different underwriter (basically insurance for the insurer).

What to look for?

In the UK alone, there are hundreds of brokers – too many to include in our reports, so our ranking tables only include underwriting companies.

Unfortunately, most of us will buy our policy through a broker, so you may have to do some extra digging. You can find the underwriter by looking at the ‘Key Facts’ document that the broker must provide when you are deciding to take out a policy. Comparison websites like Money Saving Expert sometimes also either provide these documents or tell you who the underwriter is.

How we rate companies

Several campaign groups have published reports about specific investments held by insurance companies (or the banks by which they are owned). We have marked down the companies named in these, and have included some more detail about the reports throughout the finance guides. Insurance companies appeared in Don’t bank on the Bomb, Unfriend Coal (see our home insurance guide); and Israel Report (see our current accounts guide).

We also looked for investments in specific companies, beginning with some of the largest in the UK and US such as WalMart, General Electric and Coca-Cola. Where the insurance company holds shares in, for example, a company criticised for pollution, it will also receive half a mark in the Pollution and Toxics column on the table.

Most companies lost multiple marks in this way. Where no ethical investment policy or shareholdings could be found for a company, it was assumed to have investments in companies criticised in all Ethical Consumer categories – as, sadly, is the norm in this industry. We also wrote to these companies to check there wasn’t a policy somewhere we hadn’t found.

Companies with an ethical policy on investments

A growing number of companies have some form of ethical policy on investments. But often these only exclude the most extreme players in a sector, for example those making cluster munitions or over 50% of profits from coal mining. We were looking for something a bit more robust, which crosses lots of sectors. Only one company in our car insurance guide had this: The Co-operative. We have outlined their ethical investment policy in the home insurance guide.

Table Highlights

Exemptions for those reporting well

Transparency around investments is rare in this sector. Very few companies publish shareholdings, let alone information about how they use them to steer those companies that they invest in. There were only two notable exceptions in our insurance tables: Aviva and AXA. They scored ‘Top of the Pile’ for transparency, and were not therefore marked down for their investments.

ClimateWise Membership

ClimateWise is a voluntary insurance industry initiative, focused on responding to the risks and opportunities of climate change. The companies involved commit to take action in many ways: through leading risk analysis, informing public policy, supporting climate awareness, and incorporating climate change into investment strategy. Almost all the companies in our table were signed up

Ethical Consumer considers membership to be an important step for insurers towards addressing climate change: those who were not signed up therefore lost half a mark in the Climate Change category. Those companies were: Esure Group, Markerstudy Group, Ageas, J.C. Flowers & Co., Admiral, Legal & General, NFU Mutual, Liverpool Victoria, Covea, The Co-operative Group, American International, AXA, Marsh & McLennan, and Red Sands.

Tax avoidance

Tax avoidance is known to be pervasive in the financial sector, and the insurance industry appears to be no exception. Almost all those companies that had business abroad also appeared to have lots of high-risk subsidiaries registered in tax havens. Companies that got a worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies lost a whole mark under Anti-Social Finance, and those that got a middle lost half a mark. The Co-op Group stands out as a FairTaxMark accredited company.

Best: American International, Ageas, Admiral, Direct Line, Esure, Liverpool Victoria, The Co-op

Middle: Covea, Lloyd’s of London

Worst: Allianz, Aviva, AXA, Markerstudy, Hiscox, J. C. Flowers & Co., Legal & General, Marsh & McLennan, Munich Re, NFU Mutual, Red Sands, RSA, Tesco

Red Sands even gave a history of Gibraltar’s (lax) tax laws on its website!

Eco Car Insurance

Since the Green Insurance Company stopped trading, Co-operative Insurance was the only underwriter or broker we found that was offering a green car insurance policy.

At Ethical Consumer, we are not completely convinced by the carbon offset approach, our feature discusses the issues with it. We were impressed, however, by the Co-operative Group’s policy on screening all investments, which the company sent to us.

Company Product Model Eco Features
Cooperative Insurance 
(underwriter)
Ecoinsurance Offset

Offset 20% of your car's CO2 emissions
by investing in projects like rainforest reforestation, 
energy efficiency and renewable energy resources 

      Work with approved repairers to use recycled parts to 
keep vehicles repairable where possible
 
      Ethical screening of all of your insurance premiums
 

An ‘ethnic penalty’ for insurance?

The insurance industry appears to be racially profiling customers when giving quotes, a study in 2016 found. Those living in a majority ethnic-minority area were paying up to £450 more for their car insurance premiums, the report stated.

The research was based on data from the AA on all 124 postcode areas in the UK. It found that 60% of the price variation – which was present across both high and low income areas – could be accounted for by the difference in the ethnic composition of the area, up to 90% in some cases. The way insurers calculated their premiums “has definitely produced an inequality of outcome to the detriment of BME [black and minority ethnic] groups”.

Company Profile

J. C. Flowers is a private equity company which specialises in the financial sector. Amongst its investments are commercial banks operating in Russia, The Netherlands and Germany. These banks do not appear to have ethical policies governing their lending and therefore the group attracts marks for investments in areas including fossil fuels and factory farming.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table.

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