'It saves me hundreds of pounds a year': From energy bills to life insurance - five ways 'snooper tech' could help save you money
By Rob Griffin, Financial Mail On Sunday
Technology is constantly being used to spy on us. It monitors how we drive, tracks our energy usage and even counts how many times we visit the gym.
But this can be good news. The information collected by 'smart' devices has the potential to substantially reduce annual household bills.
So-called 'snooper-tech' not only ensures our homes are energy efficient, but can reward us for keeping fit, driving sensibly and controlling our spending.
Cash watch: Technology that spies on you can be used to save you money
According to Alex Gunz, manager of investment fund Future Trends Equity at asset manager Heptagon Capital, such gadgets are now commonplace in British homes.
'Most consumers now reluctantly accept that they'll have to give up a bit of personal information in exchange for potential cost savings,' he says.
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It's a trend he expects to continue with companies using this data to learn more about their customers and improve their products.
He adds: 'An increasing number of items in the home, whether it's the fridge or the lights, will in time be controlled remotely by a master device such as a mobile phone.'
Here are some key areas where snooper-tech can save you cash.
1. Car insurance
Agreeing to have a 'black box' installed in your car that reports back on your driving behaviour can help cut your motor insurance premiums.
These devices are fitted under the bonnet – or even stuck to the inside of the windscreen – and record everything you do behind the wheel.
This can include how far you're travelling, what time of day or night you're on the road, whether you stick to the speed limit, and if you are an erratic driver.
Crispin Moger, chief executive of insurance company Marmalade, says the devices are helping people understand how they can improve their driving skills. He says: 'With our black box insurance, customers can earn a safe driving discount on renewal of their policy of up to 25 per cent – on top of any standard no claims discount.'
2. Energy bills
Smart thermostats can give you better control over your heating – and energy bills, according to Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at wealth manager Hargreaves Lansdown.
'Some thermostats use geolocation technology to spot if you've left home and remind you to turn the heating off,' she says. 'Others track your heating use and then heat your home accordingly.'
Smart meters show how you're burning through energy – and what needs to change to reduce your usage.
'The reality is these meters have had teething problems and earlier versions just weren't smart enough,' adds Coles. 'Yet newer versions promise to live up to their smart billing.'
Octopus Energy says: 'By combining a smart energy tariff, a smart meter and smart home products, homeowners can save substantial amounts of money on their energy bills by setting appliances – such as an electric car home charger – to run at greener and cheaper times.'
3. Life insurance
Your smartwatch or fitness tracker can now do a lot more than simply count your steps or show your latest text messages.
Some insurance companies are incentivising customers with attractive offers for wearing one, according to Jo Thornhill, money expert at comparison website MoneySupermarket.
'The information from trackers gives providers an indication of how well the customer takes care of themselves,' she explains.
For example, Vitality Insurance rewards active customers through lower increases in annual premiums on private healthcare policies or life cover.
It also introduced an Apple Watch benefit in 2016. Customers can buy the watch for a low upfront price with monthly repayments spread over three years.
But the repayments are reduced if the customer records significant activity on the watch, demonstrating a resolve to stay fit.
Neil Kinson, 52, embraced 'snooper-tech' after buying an electric car – and is now saving himself hundreds of pounds every year.
The married father of two, who works in the software industry, began focusing on energy consumption after trading in his diesel Land Rover Discovery for a Jaguar I-Pace. His deal with Octopus Energy included getting an Ohme smart charger and access to a cheap overnight tariff.
'When I pull on to the drive, I plug the car in and the charger switches on during the cheapest energy period,' he says. 'I was spending £2,250 a year on diesel, but now the equivalent electricity costs are around £250.'
The move inspired him to explore other smart tech at home in Wokingham, Berkshire, where he lives with Helen, 48, and children, Emma, 16, and 13-year-old James.
He uses virtual assistant Alexa to switch the lights off in rooms that are not being used. He adds: 'The dishwasher has a timer so we set it after dinner to come on in the cheapest energy period. It's the same with the tumble dryer.'
4. In the kitchen
Some washing machines can be set to operate when energy tariffs are at their lowest, according to Craig Melson, head of digital devices, environment and sustainability, at trade association techUK.
He adds: 'Smart fridges can minimise food waste by alerting users to expiry dates and automatically order replenishments when items can be purchased at a competitive price.'
Sensors in these appliances can also detect and diagnose faults. Melson says: 'As well as the obvious safety benefits, householders will be able to tackle issues early before a fault results in an expensive repair or replacement.'
5. Leaking pipes
Technology can warn you of hidden dangers in the house. For example, a LeakBot sensor will constantly monitor for any pipe leaks – and then send an alert to the homeowner's smartphone if one is detected.
This device, which costs around £150, is clipped near your stopcock. Insurer Hiscox is among the first to offer a free LeakBot to those who take out its buildings insurance.
Finally, a smart power strip or smart plug can prevent household items left on standby – a television for example – quietly adding to energy bills.
Says Hargreaves' Coles: 'We know items left on standby and chargers that remain plugged in act like vampires, consuming energy while we sleep.'
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