Safeco Redesigns Its Customer CenterThe next-generation customer call center in the insurance industry will have several new wrinkles that will set it apart from traditional carrier call centers. One difference is in the name itself, which in some cases is changing to customer "contact center." One U.S. carrier that has adopted this moniker is Seattle-based Safeco Corp., which showcased its call center concept in October at Thomson Financial's Financial Services Call Center Symposium in Las Vegas. Safeco's contact center relies heavily on employee motivation and skill development techniques, Suzanne Rapier, assistant director of contact center operations for Safeco, told the group of industry executives.

Few Consumers Buy Insurance Online

Although the insurance industry has dramatically increased the opportunity for consumers to price and purchase insurance on the Internet, the number of policyholders that purchased their insurance online remains extremely low. Just 5% of 2,645 auto insurance policyholders surveyed recently by Harris Interactive, Rochester, N.Y., purchased their policies online. However, 32% of the respondents searched the Web for information on auto insurance and 32% used the Web to get quotes. Among the 2,715 life insurance holders surveyed, 15% used the Web to get information on policies, 12% shopped for rates, but only 2% actually applied for a policy online. And, only 1% of the 2,667 property insurance policyholders that were surveyed bought their policies online.

Manage Knowledge, Not The Customer

"There is no sustainable competitive advantage anymore. There is a continual need for innovation." This was the warning issued by Hugh W. Ryan, partner, Andersen Consulting, Northbrook, Ill., to attendees in his keynote address at the recent ISOTech technology conference in Las Vegas. In general, companies are moving from a customer-centric business model to a buyer-driven model in which the customer has control, Ryan suggested. To be successful in this business environment, insurance companies must consider alliances and partnerships, he said. Two examples he cited are online communities, which provide content to a specific market segment, and companies that provide services associated with a specific life event, such as marriage or the birth of a child. Goes Wireless, a Dallas-based online exchange for small-business employee group benefits, is implementing a process that enables its network of brokers to access coverage data from its multiple-carrier partners using wireless Internet technology. In the first quarter of 2001, BenefitMall plans to offer Palm VII handheld computer devices capable of using BenefitMall's quote engine. It will also enable brokers to access quote editing and be able to check case status of applications.

Insurance Revolution Receives Funding

Insurance Revolution Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, Princeton, N.J., received $10 million in round A funding from J. P. Morgan Corsair II Capital Partners LP, a $1 billion private-equity fund. is an Internet insurance brokerage licensed in 48 states and specializing in providing risk management and insurance placement services to high-tech industries. The company will use the first-round funding to expand its portal. The company also plans to begin international expansion and complete integration projects with six global insurance companies to create the XML standard for the commercial property/casualty insurance industry.

OTS Proposes Oversight To Protect Thrifts

Predicated on the view that the financial stability and health of a savings and loan holding company can have a direct impact on the financial condition of its subsidiary thrift, the Office of Thrift Supervision published a proposed rule in the October 27 issue of the Federal Register that would strengthen the agency's oversight of thrift holding companies and curb activities that could materially harm thrift subsidiaries. The proposal requires some savings and loan holding companies to notify the Office of Thrift Supervision 30 days before undertaking certain significant new business activities so the agency can assess the potential impact on the risk profile of the consolidated entity and subsidiary thrifts.

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