Online research continues to surge—even for insurance consumers. A recent survey from LIMRA found that 61 percent of consumers who researched individual insurance or annuity products looked online, a significant increase over the 38 percent of consumers who looked online in 2006.

Age breakdowns also show that the Internet’s influence in the research process is growing, yet, brokers and advisors remain the top resource overall.

"With two-thirds of Americans conducting searches online, it is not surprising that the number of people seeking information about life insurance and annuity products online has increased more than 60 percent over the past six years," said Mary Art, research director, LIMRA technology research. "However, despite the popularity of online sources, more consumers (69 percent) sought information from agents, brokers and advisors, who are often viewed as the most valuable and influential information sources."

As expected, more Gen Y consumers (73 percent) seek information online than Gen X (61 percent) and Baby Boomers (56 percent). The Internet is the most frequently used information source for Gen Y consumers and they are more likely to rate online sources as their single most valuable information source, to seek online recommendations for companies, and use agent locators relative to older consumers. LIMRA found Gen Y consumers use more information sources than older consumers, more often connect with companies online, and are likely to continue to do so as they (and their product needs) mature.

Across all age groups and income levels, the top three reasons consumers sought information online was to research companies and product offerings, seek general product information and compare prices.

In 2006, only 18 percent of recent researchers considered Internet sources to be their most valuable sources, significantly less than the 25 percent found in 2012. In contrast, 37 percent of consumers rate insurance professionals as most valuable in 2012, eight percentage points lower than those who did in 2006. It is also important to note that one in six (16 percent) consumers cite workplace sources as most valuable.

"Companies need to understand that one size does not fit all when it comes to educating consumers about products and services," Art said. "Using a multi-channel approach will reach a broader audience in the ways they want to collect information and will most likely lead to more sales."

According to the survey, consumers are most often triggered to seek information about product needs by offline sources, such as insurance professionals, people they know, life events and employers. Online sources prompted only five percent of consumers to seek additional information. In contrast, 25 percent of consumers who recently considered individual products were first led to consider the product by insurance professionals. LIMRA found that employers (23 percent vs. 18 percent) and life events (21 percent vs. 17 percent) triggered more consumer research in 2012 than in 2006.

"Companies should understand that the Internet's influence is likely to grow stronger over time yet the need for personal interaction with an insurance professional will always be important," Art said. "It is critical that companies take steps to create a robust, easy-to-use site that offers the information consumers most want online and then make sure consumers can talk with an agent, advisor or someone at your company to answer questions."

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