Techniques that foster thinking outside the box will go a long way toward attracting small-business owners to the Web to research insurance needs, many industry observers believe.For example, Chicago-based InsuranceNoodle.com has begun to augment its small-business insurance product line with personal insurance products. "We are exploring the personal lines side of the equation," says Donald Urbanciz, CEO of InsuranceNoodle.com, an e-broker that provides coverage from multiple carriers. "It's a business-to-consumer play because the companies we sell to have indicated they want a chance to buy coverage for their home or auto. We want to give business owners a chance to buy a workers' compensation policy one day, an annuity another and an auto policy a third day."

In October, One Core Financial Network Inc., Bedford, Mass., launched an insurance program at its Web site, www.onecore.com, that enables small businesses to obtain products in both the life/health and property/casualty insurance markets. The company is licensed in 20 states with a goal of going nationwide early this year.

But One Core did not cut its teeth in selling insurance to small businesses. Formed three years ago, the company's expertise is targeting the small-business owner to provide such services as cash management, payroll, merchant services, leasing and 401(k) fund administration.

After surveying its customers, the company found that many of them would value a provider that could bundle all of their needs into one consolidated package. "Customers told us that since you're already processing my payroll and providing other services, it makes sense that you provide insurance coverage for my business," says Chris Hill, vice president of product management for One Core.

"The businesses we spoke with told us they were eager to integrate these services, to have one point of contact. Many of them don't have human resource directors or even a CFO, so they need a provider to pull all their insurance needs together."

One Core's race to diversify its services is occurring despite the fact that it doesn't have much expertise in selling property and casualty insurance. One Core is a registered broker in 50 states and is staffed by licensed professionals, primarily in life and health coverages. Partnering with insurance companies such as Aetna to write health, dental and life insurance, the privately held company targets small businesses ranging from two to 100 employees.

As it works to obtain the higher accreditation for property and casualty insurance, One Core has formed a co-branding partnership with Charlotte, N.C.-based Access CoverageCorp Inc., which has expertise in property and casualty insurance.

When One Core receives a property/casualty solicitation, it routes the inquiry through CoverageCorp's Web site at www.coveragecorp.com.

Small-business owners who log onto www.onecore.com can peruse through a menu of coverage options. If it's property/casualty coverage the owner is seeking, One Core can route the request through a direct link with CoverageCorp, which has the ability to provide real-time quotes.

For small-business owners seeking life and health products, One Core can provide quotes within 24 hours as part of a batch link through Aetna.

Like most e-brokers, One Core derives its revenues from commissions. While not revealing specific rates, Hill says the company tends to be below the market. "We've been able to streamline the process by taking it online. The economies of scale through our diversity of financial and insurance services enables us to keep costs low," he says.

Hill would also not comment on the company's first-year revenue projections, but believes that right from the get-go between 10% and 20% of its financial services clientele are willing to go through One Core for their insurance needs.

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