A study of European insurance policy holders by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. revealed an overarching reluctance to manage their accounts online. Given many of the major carriers’ desire to drive more customers to the Internet for routine sales and service interactions, the data points to an uphill battle.

According to analyst Tim van Tongeren's report, "Online Europeans Aren't Rushing To The Net To Manage Their Insurance," Forrester surveyed 6,216 frequent Web users who held at least one policy across seven countries: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. van Tongeren concluded that a minority of insurance customers were likely to go online for insurance queries.

“On average, about a third of European Net users who own at least one insurance policy say they are likely to use the Web for a sale or service query,” he stated in the report. Additionally, 47% of frequent users were likely or very likely to use the Web for a quote; 33% would be willing to check the status of a claim; but only 24% would fill out an online form to submit a claim.

Another finding was that interest in online insurance varies widely per country. The United Kingdom, whose Internet users purchase more insurance than any other European nation, was the most likely to utilize the Web for sales interactions while France also had a strong response. German, Dutch and Swedish users were not as enthusiastic.

The research also found that seasoned Web users were most likely to take advantage of online services. “Better educated Net users and those with a higher income are slightly more likely to use online insurance sales and service functionality,” said van Tongeren. “But Net users who have been online for a long time, particularly the veteran Net users who have been online for five years or more, are much more likely to use the Web.”

In order to lure more European Net users to manage their policies online, the author concluded that eBusiness managers should offer more incentives that will stimulate activity. First off, they need to decide which channels are best for each type of interaction—be it phone, face-to-face or Web—and then drive customers to the proper channel.
van Tongeren also recommends that insurers should use other channels to heighten awareness of the Internet’s advantages. “For example, short and compelling messages in insurers’ [interactive voice response] menus should mention that a particular task can be completed online as well. Similarly, call-center staff should encourage customers calling the firm to use the Web next time.”

Another method to promote use would be to integrate online registration into the policy application process, making it a step in the course of opening a new account. Also, insurers could send customers registration information on how to use the Web in the future with all recently purchased policies.

Finally, van Tongeren proposed that carriers conduct heuristic research on their Web sites to identify current flaws and brainstorm ideas on how to make the site easier for customers to use.

Source: Forrester Research Inc.

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