By asking the right questions, and offering the time to understand and explain coverages to consumers, independent agents are creating value to consumers, says Bill Wilson, CPCU and associate VP of education and research for Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. In the second part of this exclusive interview, Wilson discusses Google Compare, the differences in policies, and how insurers can differentiate themselves in a crowded field. Click here for part 1.
INN: In terms of these aggregation sites specifically, what do insurers need to think about or remember or consider if they're thinking about putting their products for sale on them?
BW: I don't know. Our constituency is independent agents. I wouldn't tell a company what to do, but I would think an insurer is going to get a better prospect by going through an agency force. I'm sure they'll do their due diligence. That's one of the things about getting quotes on these websites: you get a quote, but that may not be the final price because they find out the person has got a poor driving record or other problems later on. I don't know what to tell the companies other than if I were a company president, easy for me to say, I would avoid these websites and work closer with my agency force on trying to make them operate as efficiently as possible.
INN: Don't these aggregation sites use the same comparative rating programs as an agent would?
BW: Yeah, most independent agents will have comparative rating programs where, if they represent eight to 12 automobile insurers, they can compare the rates from one to another; same on homeowners and so forth. But the difference is, with a good agent, they know more about the customer than someone just filling out a form online. They can ask questions that you don't find on these online forms because they're designed for somebody to get a quote in 10 to 15 minutes. Whereas an agent, if they need to take 30 minutes to find out the real exposures of an insured, they're willing to take that time. The online places aren't. So they can get comparative rates, but they should be based on better information than what's being provided on one of these websites.
INN: There's a company called CoverHound that partners with Google Compare. They offer a comparative rater online and it brings back four price quotes. You can bind it online or you can call a phone number and get an agent on the phone. That sounds like it's kind of splitting the difference between these aggregation sites and what you're talking about: working with a truly independent agent who knows multiple products from multiple carriers and can price and fit those more appropriately.
BW: Again, any time you're talking to a human, you're probably more likely to have a conversation that may reveal exposures you have. I can't say for sure if that always happens, but it's probably more likely than just filling out a form that has no other options on it directly online.
INN: I was surprised how many questions the Google Compare site asked me when I walked through it. There were 40 or 50 questions that I had to answer. It was very much like filling out a regular insurance application. Have you filled out one on Google Compare?
BW: Yeah, I did Google Compare. They do ask a lot of questions; they just don't ask the right questions.
The single big issue is the typical consumer does not understand that auto policies are different. They think that if they have liability, uninsured motorist, medical payments, physical damage, that it's all the same stuff. But the ISO personal auto policy is, I believe, 13 pages long. I looked at an auto policy from a company based in Florida and it was 78 pages long. That tells me that there's probably a difference between those two policies. That's just the case.
I can find differences sometimes that are as little as punctuation marks or tenses of verbs, and they can make a difference in coverage. In this case, we're looking at significant differences.
We had a case that involved in a street racing incident. The driver and his buddy came up to a red light with a car next to them and they were racing their engines and they took off. They had a wreck and the friend was seriously injured. The auto policy that he had excluded racing. The ISO standard auto policy only excludes racing that takes place inside a racing facility. That may not sound like a big difference, they both have a racing exclusion; but the nature of the exclusion is totally different and you're talking about here potentially a multi-million dollar claim that's not covered that would have been covered under a different policy. I can give you example after example of that stuff. These policies are not the same.
Many of the ones being sold from these websites are the inferior version, where nobody is looking at what they do or don't cover. All they're looking at is a name and a premium.
INN: What do insurers need to know about deciding between independent agents or pursuing this aggregation strategy?
BW: When insurance companies, particularly the mainstream independent agency companies, like Traveler's, Hartford and Safeco, sell through aggregators they're basically saying: "We're selling the same thing that all these other companies are." That's the impression presented by the aggregator and to the consumer who's getting the quote. But eight of the 10 may be from non-standard companies; two are from mainstream companies. The premise is that the products they're selling are all the same, so I think they're denigrating their own product by associating with these other carriers.
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