In this exclusive interview, USAA’s Jon-Michael Kowall, AVP for P&C Innovation, discusses working with Google Compare to disrupt how insurance is bought online.

USAA, the 10th-largest P&C carrier in the U.S., now offers quotes and coverage information in California via the Google Compare aggregator. During Google's initial questioning, the service will determine whether the user is a current or former member of the U.S. military or a family member. If eligible, USAA will be included in the list of quotes they receive from Google Compare. Quotes are rated the same way they would be on usaa.com or the USAA Mobile App, the insurer said.

INN: Tell me about Google Compare and why it's appealing to USAA.

JMK: We just see this as incredible opportunity. This aggregator space is certainly a disruptor. It's disrupted other industries and we believe it levels the playing field and allows a consumer to easily shop, compare, and make the best decision. We see that disruption coming, and we want to be a part of it.

INN: How can something like Google Compare really disrupt the insurance industry?

JMK: The basic premise is that when you think about financial services and insurance, it's difficult sometimes to compare apples to apples. That's why we're going to be part of the pilot. We hope to make it easier for the every-day person to make the best decision for them. We want to be a part of that consideration set for a prospect or potential USAA member.

INN: Describe the pilot. In what way is it limited or tentative? What does it mean for it to be a pilot?

JMK: Google has really laid down the gauntlet, but they've only launched in California. It's a pilot in the geographical sense. But, number two, we have internally defined this as a pilot because we have a certain set of information and results that we want to see before we make a decision whether to continue with California or expand the pilot.

INN: Presumably Google will be expanding that as soon as the checks start rolling in.

JMK: Yeah, that's the assumption. They have been available overseas and they've worked on other versions.

INN: What's going on in the auto insurance industry that this is a good idea for USAA?

JMK: We have a direct model; we service our members directly. We just see this as yet another opportunity to reach out to potential members who don't otherwise know who USAA is. The basic premise is that it's a way to become front and center in their considerations as they're doing a search. It's unique in that it's not the traditional idiom of TV or print ads. It's just another way to reach potential in-market members for USAA.

INN: USAA is 100 percent direct-to-consumer, but other insurers who are a part of this have independent agents. What does this mean for independent agents?

JMK: There are many suppositions, but as we know, there's been disruption across the board in many different industries. Those companies are going to have to figure out what this means for their business models. We think this is an incredible way for us to reach out to those people and fulfill our mission, which is to facilitate their financial security and be the best that we can for them.

INN: USAA has an aggressive web presence and a number of mobile apps. How do you see distribution of insurance changing, and what's USAA doing to anticipate and respond to those changes?

JMK: Here's what's really neat about getting to work at USAA: I can tell you what our strategy is in one sentence: We plan to serve our members and service their policies in whatever channels that they choose. If they want to call us, mail things, e-mail, use a home computer or mobile device, our strategy is to be the best in all of those. There's no doubt there are new emerging channels; Google Compare is an emerging channel. The mobile space is fairly new and that's completely disrupting all industries. You have to make sure you've got a good experience for your customer. But, boiling it down into one quick sentence: we plan to be there in every channel possible for our members.

INN: What's the challenge for making that all happen on the back end? Marketers and technologists talk about “360-degree customer awareness;” how does USAA manage that?

JMK: We methodically do testing and piloting, which is what we're doing with Google Compare. Then we will step back and look at the results. We'll see: did perspective members and members find the experience valuable? Did it give us the things that we are hoping to achieve with a viable channel? If so, we'll invest resources; otherwise, we won't. So that comes back to being judicious, or making a smart decision. If it doesn't have the meaningful results we're looking for, then we would discontinue.

INN: Are you using packaged software for those customer interactions, or is it proprietary? How are you managing all of those customer interaction points?

JMK: That was a partnership with Google and us.

INN: What's the important thing for insurers to realize about Google Compare and what it means for the industry?

JMK: We've seen what's happened with the travel industry; Amazon.com has disrupted the retail space. We feel like this aligns to our mission, which is to protect the financial security of our membership. We take that so far as to say: We have to be the best. If not, we create partnerships with the best players in the industry.
There are some products that we don't offer directly through USAA, but we make sure that our members get access to them through partnerships, sometimes with competitors. We're really excited about an opportunity to use a brand new channel that levels the playing field. It allows the every-day person to get a more apples-to-apples, simplified comparison and to make the best decision for them. That is what this whole aggregator space is intended to do.

We want to be a part of these new emerging channels and technologies to make it easier to do things and make decisions. That's where we saw some commonality with Google.

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