For insurance companies that conduct business online, it's difficult to escape the plethora of opinions from organizations that have built a cottage industry around critiquing and evaluating carriers' Web initiatives.Written largely from an industry-wide perspective, these consultants serve up large doses of critical insights and future projections about what it will take to succeed in doing business within an electronic environment (see Cover Story, page 34).
Nothing stirs emotions greater than an industry ranking. Crunching its Web site rankings solely for the property/casualty market, New York-based kasina LLC logged more than 1,000 labor-hours in the evaluation of 284 Web sites.
The process-carried out within a five-point efficiency criteria that examined branding, content, online services, usability and Web technology-began last December and culminated with the recent release of kasina's report on the Top 20 P&C Web sites.
The study provides a stark analysis on the progress that carriers have made to improve the functionality of their Web sites.
Over the last two years, the property/casualty marketplace has undergone significant change, the kasina report concluded. Insurers have moved online and many prominent companies have relaunched existing Web sites to keep up to date.
Insurance executives, states kasina, are being challenged to better allocate Web resources and senior managers are responsible for the firms' Web initiatives.
The gap is growing
But this has been a challenge that hasn't been successfully confronted. One major finding in the report was that the competitive landscape in the industry is becoming "increasingly bipolar," kasina states.
"As the online leaders in the industry continue to innovate and add features, the gap between the online leaders and the rest of the industry continues to grow."
For example, only 22% of the sites reviewed by kasina provide online quotes. Among the top 20 carriers, that figure jumps to 95%. Also, just 18% of the carrier Web sites that kasina studied enable customers to report claims online; 60% of the carriers on kasina's top 20 list provide that functionality online.
Although the findings demonstrate that some companies have embraced the Internet, most organizations are still lacking a coherent e-business strategy, says Steven Miyao, kasina's CEO.
What consumers want
The success of carriers' online initiatives ultimately will be determined by what consumers want. A recent report by Lincoln, Mass.-based Gomez Inc., based on the results of an online survey of 10,225 consumers, provides a snapshot of what carriers should be considering.
The report, "The State of Online Insurance: Property and Casualty," concludes that 26.8 million consumers are seeking information on personal vehicle insurance, but just 7.7 million are surfing the Web for information on homeowners policies.
To date, only 5% of online consumers polled have purchased a policy online, the report found, but 40% of those polled say they are interested in purchasing insurance online.
The report also found that consumers are not satisfied with the performance of carriers' Web sites and that significant gaps exists between the task consumers would like to perform when they visit their insurer's Web site and the tasks that they are able to accomplish currently or perform online in the future.
For example, 53% of the consumers polled would like to view and update their personal records, 38% would like to submit premium payments online, and 55% would like to receive online quotes.
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