As a combined average, 42.3 percent of Europeans switching auto or household insurers, or buying for the first time, did so online last year, according to “Aggregation Metrics: Consumer Approaches to Insurance Comparison Sites in Europe,” a research paper from Finaccord. This up from 35.4 percent in 2008, making online aggregators and online comparison sites the fastest-growing distribution channel.

A survey of consumers in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom found online acquisition channels increased in five of the six countries. The UK leads in online purchases, with 69.0 percent of new and switched motor and household policies; France had the lowest proportion of online purchases with 25.2 percent.

“All the countries we examined showed clear and robust growth in the use of online methods to purchase insurance,” said Edward Wilford, Finaccord consultant. “In both countries in which consumers had previously shown a strong preference for online channels and in countries in which consumers had previously been less inclined to go online for insurance products, there is an increasing trend for buying cover via the Internet.”

Fewer than a quarter (23.2 percent) said they never research insurance online, and 19.3 percent said they always do; 45.3 percent said they never buy insurance online, and 12.3 percent said they always do. Percentages in the UK were markedly higher, with 32.4 percent claiming to always research insurance online and 24.2 percent always buying insurance online. France had the lowest proportion always buying online, with 2.8 percent and 66.8 percent never buying insurance online.

Online insurance aggregators and comparison sites are likely driving the increase, Finaccord said. On average, those European consumers used an aggregator 20.3 percent of the time last year, compared to 5.9 percent purchased in all previous years combined. The 2012 average for the UK was 30.3 percent, again the highest average use, and France had the lowest use with 11.2 percent; notably, this was more than three times the number of recorded for purchases in all previous years (3.1 percent) combined in France, underscoring that the number of online purchases and the use of aggregators is increasing.

Average churn rates generally held steady from 2008 to 2012, however, Finaccord said there is a meaningful correlation between the use of online channels, aggregators and market volatility.

“The UK had the most consumers buying online, the most using aggregators and experienced the highest churn rates, with 39.3 percent of consumers switching their motor cover in 2012, while 35.1 percent changed their provider of household insurance in the same year,” explained Wilford. “By contrast, France had the fewest consumers buying online, the lowest percentage of aggregator use, and experienced the least market volatility, with only 14.2 percent switching insurers for motor insurance and 16.8 percent for household insurance during 2012.”

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