Small Businesses Reluctant To Buy OnlineSmall-business owners harbor doubts about buying business-owner policies online due to two major stumbling blocks: a lack of trust for those marketing online policies and a lack of customer service. These complications can be remedied through greater input from an agent to guide a small-business owner through online transactions-which in essence extends the traditional agent/customer relationship to the Web, according to a study conducted by Greenwich, Conn.-based IVANS Inc. Even with these shortcomings, 51% of small-business owners polled said they would research policies online, but only 4% would buy a policy on the Internet.

Nationwide Puts Car Safety Online

Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Insurance Co., in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has launched an online service that provides consumers with comprehensive and independent car safety ratings and an instant premium quote. The service, called "Safety Street," is being offered in Indiana, Illinois and Texas to enable customers to receive a no-obligation auto quote over the Internet in less than three minutes. Consumers who click on www.nationwide.com will be linked to government auto safety ratings by an auto manufacturer's make and model specifications. If they are satisfied with the quote, consumers can buy the policy through a local Nationwide agent, via a toll-free telephone number or over the Internet.

Prudential Launches Tech Subsidiary

Prudential Insurance Co. of America has launched a new subsidiary in Ireland designed to develop leading-edge software technology concepts for the Newark, N.J.-based property/casualty insurance carrier. The new subsidiary, Prumerica Systems Ireland Ltd., based in Donegal, Ireland, plans to collaborate with the Industrial Development Agency of Ireland (IDA) to recruit skilled information technology graduates from Letterkenny Institute in Donegal to join the Prumerica team. The company has launched an ongoing internship program where one position will be filled each year by a degree-year student at Letterkenny Institute.

Survey Reveals Flaws In Web Sites

The Web sites of financial services providers are not well organized "to meet customer goals, nor do they weave in customer service," declares a report sponsored by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. The Forrester Web & Commerce Site Review indicates that, although financial services Internet sites are easy to navigate via "clear and consistent" Web links and online content is sufficient enough to enable users to execute transactions, these sites are lacking in customer service and interactivity.

IIAA, NCCI Reach Accord On Surcharge

With agents arguing that the proposal would erode their bottom line, the Independent Insurance Agents of America, based in Alexandria, Va., and Boca Raton, Fla.-based National Council of Compensation Insurers (NCCI), have reached an agreement to delay for at least one year the implementation of a nonelectronic filing fee for workers' compensation residual market applications. The NCCI wanted agents to pay a $45 fee for all assigned-risk applications submitted via mail or telephone after September 18. The surcharge had been proposed to encourage agents to use the NCCI's new online Residual Market Application Processing Service (RMAPS) system. Under the agreement, the two associations will work to inform and educate agents about using the RMAPS system.

Consumers Want to Manage Plans Online

More than one-third of consumers who often seek health and medical data from the Internet indicate they would be willing to pay a monthly fee to manage their benefits online, while one-quarter would switch health care plans to manage plans online. The findings-based on a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adult Internet users-were released in September by New York-based Deloitte Consulting. The study revealed that managing benefits online would have to involve more than receiving just basic information. Consumers said they would pay for such data if it were relevant to managing their health plans, but not if it were packaged as physician or hospital "report cards" from health care organizations' Web sites.

IVANS, Applied Systems Hatch Initiative

An outgrowth of several alliances forged between the two groups, IVANS Inc., based in Greenwich, Conn., and Applied Systems Inc., a provider of agency management technology in University Park, Ill., have launched a joint venture to deliver a new industry communication infrastructure, the companies say. The basis of the alliance is a new data exchange that combines the knowledge and technologies of IVANS, an e-business integrator for the insurance industry, and Applied Systems, to provide products and services for efficient and cost effective end-to-end communication, collaboration and aggregation for agency, company and third-party transactions.

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