ONLINE INSURER OPENS 'BREXIT PROOF' SWORDS HUB - The Northern Ireland insurance firm behind brands Its4women, 25Plus and BoxyMo has opened a Dublin office to avoid being locked out of the European market after Brexit. 

MCL InsureTech says it has already filled 24 of its planned 40 full-time positions in the Swords operation, to grow business on this side of the Border. The company has served customers island-wide from its Coleraine, Co Derry, headquarters for the past decade. But it is switching support for its 90,000 Republic of Ireland-based customers to Swords after receiving regulatory approval from the Central Bank, says the Irish Independent. MCL InsureTech's brands target specific sectors of the online insurance market. Its4women caters to female drivers and BoxyMo to younger drivers, while 25Plus offers a wider range of insurance products - including home, travel, health and property cover - to older customers. MCL InsureTech said it opened the north Dublin base so it could "easily manage its Irish customer base without the restriction of Brexit-induced regulations". Currently, no MCL InsureTech brand markets itself for business in Britain or continental Europe. But owner and managing director Gary McClarty said the Swords office will allow its brands to "have access to the 500 million people of the single market".

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DATA PROTECTION COMMISSION CRITICISED AS WHATSAPP DECISION NEARS - Data protection authorities in Europe issued fines worth a combined €410 million to organisations last year for violations but none originated in the Republic, despite it being home to many of the world's biggest technology companies. 

New figures compiled by the Italian data protection body Osservatarorio di Federprivacy - which includes data from official sources in 30 countries - show authorities in the European Economic Area imposed 190 fines in 2019. Italy was the most active data protection authority, with 30 actions last year, while the UK was the most punitive, with fines totalling €312 million, some 76% of all sanctions issued. Ireland and Luxembourg were among a small handful of countries yet to impose fines for data privacy violations, reports the Irish Times. Informed sources have said that the Data Protection Commission is in the final stages of its investigation into WhatsApp over possible breaches of EU data privacy rules, with a draft decision expected to be circulated to other authorities to consider within weeks. This is the first of the commission's many investigations to approach its end point with delays blamed on complications that arise from pursuing companies that operate cross-border. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), introduced in May 2018, gives data regulators powers to fine companies up to 4% of their global turnover of the previous year or €20 million, whichever is greater, for violating the law.

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UNAUTHORISED LENDER USING CLONED REGISTRATION NUMBER - The Central Bank is warning the public of an unauthorised moneylender operating in Ireland who has cloned the Irish Company Registration Office number and address of an authorised firm. 

Cash Loans Land Ireland is advertising loans to persons but it holds no authorisation from the Central Bank as a retail credit firm, says the Irish Examiner. The company's website advertises unsecured loans for a variety of purposes including bad credit, holidays or home improvements. It offers an example of borrowing €8,000 over a loan term of 48 months at a fixed rate of interest of 19.6%. "Cash Loans Land Ireland has also cloned the Irish Company Registration Office ('CRO’) number and address of a Central Bank authorised firm," the Central Bank warned. It is a criminal offence for an unauthorised firm or person to provide financial services in Ireland. The Central Bank is the responsible body for enforcing the legislation.  They are advising consumers to check the Central Bank registers online to find out if a firm or person they are dealing with is authorised.

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DEBT BURDEN 'THREATENING TO SWAMP POOREST HOUSEHOLDS' - The poorest households in the UK are carrying a debt burden that threatens to overwhelm them in a financial shock, a leading think tank has warned. 

The aggregate picture on household debt has improved over the past decade, but analysis by the Resolution Foundation has found that problems are building among the poorest fifth. Many UK low-income households have taken out high-interest loans on credit cards, overdrafts, hire purchase and car finance and more than half have reported difficulties with housing costs, reports The Times. Resolution described the group as potentially vulnerable and said that they had been left "far too exposed" to financial shocks. Official data last month revealed that wealth inequality had increased over the past decade as the debt burden fell hardest on the poor.