THE HUMAN TOUCHI read, with interest, the article entitled "Consumers Still Prefer the Human Touch," in the March 2006 issue (page 29). In that article, Craig Weber from Celent LLC was quoted: "The Web has proven an inconsistent substitute for the product advice, the process awareness, and the persistent call to action provided by agents."

I believe it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the Internet in direct insurance sales.

ComparisonMarket Inc. owns and operates Insurance.com, the largest online national agency providing instant, accurate comparative rates that consumers can buy online or through our licensed agents. We sell thousands of auto insurance policies per month, the vast majority of which are for consumers whose initial contact with us is online.

ComparsionMarket/Insurance.com is unique in the insurance market in that we are able to provide one-stop shopping for over one dozen auto insurance companies, including top names such as Liberty Mutual, Travelers, The Hartford, Drive from Progressive, and Safeco, among others.

All of the insurers on Insurance.com allow the consumers to buy online immediately, with the exception of two, who will be developing that capability with us this year.

The human touch is undeniably important. We have been able to successfully integrate the Internet with a human touch. We staff a sales center of fully licensed insurance agents. At any time during the process, from the start of a quote through policy purchase, consumers may call our agents, chat with them online, or request an immediate callback. We have found that some consumers like a little human assistance during the process, to answer questions or increase their comfort level, while many others prefer to complete the entire process online on their own, just like they do with other items purchased on the Internet.

The article indicated that 'only' 15% of consumers surveyed by Celent purchased their current auto insurance policy via the Web.

This is actually quite a high figure for online insurance sales, given its relative newness in an established industry, and is set to climb even higher.

According to a recent comScore report, online auto insurance quotes increased by 24% in 2005 versus 2004, and online auto insurance purchases increased by 29%, consistent with Jupiter's predictions that the online auto insurance market would see about a 23 to 26% growth rate per year from 2003 through 2008.

There is a no doubt that consumers are more than ready to turn to the Internet to shop for and buy insurance, much like they are doing with cars, financial products and other high-cost items. The key is to provide excellent products and a great consumer experience.

We agree that the Internet is increasingly important as a research tool. Insurance.com hosts hundreds of research articles, all dedicated to providing consumers with information and advice on their insurance purchases.

Finally, we also agree that features and price are always going to be the primary factor in consumer purchasing decisions. We do feel, however, that having the ability to view multiple rates from top companies all at once, and then purchase online or over the phone, makes a distinct difference.

Consumers are empowered when they can instantly compare price and features in one easy step from a more neutral source, rather than calling many different companies and/or agents.

Dave Roush, CEO
Insurance.com
Solon, Ohio

Editor's Note: A copy of the article "Consumers Still Prefer the Human Touch" can be found at at www.insurancenetworking.com/protected/article.cfm?articleId=3896&pb=ros

Craig Weber responds:

We certainly do not underestimate the importance of the Web for insurers. The fact that "only" 15% of our respondents bought online can be viewed several ways. First, it highlights that the fear of the Web displacing agents altogether is unfounded. Despite significant investments in technology and marketing by major national brands like Progressive and Geico, the vast majority of consumers prefer to talk to someone before they buy.

It turns out that the age-old dynamics of getting someone to buy something still apply, even for relatively commodified products like auto insurance. That may be changing to a degree, but it is clearly more of an evolution than a revolution.

On the other hand, as Mr. Roush points out, 15% is a remarkable number when you think how recently most insurers got into the game. Even more striking is how heavily the Web is used in conjunction with traditional, agent-based research and purchase methods. Insurance carriers must recognize that channel conflict is not the only risk they face. As consumers get more comfortable using the Web for research and to purchase, carriers that do not make themselves readily available online for both activities are sure to lose business.

THINGS ARE SCARY NOW

I read with interest your commentary (March 2006, "Ordering a Pizza Gets Scary," page 4), except I think things are scary now-looking at the debit-card issue with hackers stealing pins, hackers stealing information at banks, and Internet problems with personal data.

To tell you the truth, even though I work for a technology consulting company, I can see a day where people drop off the grid in big numbers, stop dealing with banks and bury their money in their back yard in an old coffee can.

Patrick Mullen
BusinessEdge Solutions Inc.
East Brunswick, N.J.

Editor's Note: A copy of the article "Ordering a Pizza Gets Scary" can be found at www.insurancenetworking.com/protected/article.cfm?articleId=3886&pb=ros

Insurance Networking News welcomes letters from its readers. Send your comments to Therese Rutkowski, managing editor, at therese.rutkowski@sourcemedia.com. INN reserves the right to select which letters to publish and to edit letters for style and space considerations.

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