Insurance Networking periodically takes a look at the Web offerings from carriers and insurance marketplaces.Coverna

What's the difference between getting insurance online directly from a carrier or purchasing coverage online? For starters, insurance companies that enable consumers to purchase insurance online typically provide other policy-management features on their Web sites, such as the ability to file first notice of loss for claims, whereas Internet sites that enable consumers to get quotes and purchase policies don't always provide customer support.

Coverna Direct is the direct-to-consumer subsidiary of Peoples Benefit Life Insurance Co., a company that belongs to the AEGON/Transamerica Insurance Group. Coverna enables users to get instant online quotes for a wide variety of life and health insurance products. Prospective clients also can save their quotes or applications online. Policyholders also can download PDF files to initiate policy changes or to file a claim.

However, the site does not enable policyholders to change their information online or to submit claims online. And that's a significant shortcoming compared with carriers that actually issue online policies.

Coverna does have a page where users can enter their information asking a customer service representative to call them. However, the call-back isn't supported at Internet speed; users are told to expect the call "within four hours."

Coverna Direct's site promises users that it "makes buying insurance easy." What it doesn't do is provide Web-based customer service, a significant drawback compared with other online insurance offerings.

GEICO Insurance

Geico, a Washington, D.C.-based subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, has made a name for itself with its slick TV advertising campaign featuring a lizard (a gecko, get it?).

The Web site is packed with loads of features, customer-support functions and a user-friendly design. Looking at the home page, your eyes are immediately drawn to a yellow-shaded box for policyholders to log in, a nice feature that provides policyholders a quick way to access Geico's online customer service center. Once they've logged in, customers can pay their bills, view their policies and make changes online, and initiate a claim.

Geico Direct built its reputation by providing quick online quotes for auto insurance. The company has expanded its online quoting capability to include homeowners, renters motorcycle, mobile home and flood policies. Geico also provides information about commercial and umbrella coverages, but consumers must call a customer-service representative to get a quote.

The other prominent feature of Geico Direct's home page is it's promise that consumers "could save 15% or more" on auto insurance, a slogan that's accompanied by a "free rate quote" button. Geico's home page also enables users to switch all of the screens to Spanish, a great feature for the Hispanic market.


InsWeb is one of the pioneering online insurance marketplaces, and despite some business setbacks, it remains one of the top online insurance destinations for consumers.

The company's home page is inviting. It features clearly marked tabs and buttons that enable users to quickly access the services they're seeking.

One nice feature of the site is a page featuring the insurance companies that have partnered with InsWeb. By clicking on the "trusted companies" link on the home page, users are sent to a page listing all the carriers. By clicking on a carrier's name, users can read a brief description of the company (it's a branded message complete with logos).

However, the look of InsWeb's site is deceiving. For example, the process of getting an auto quote is slow and cumbersome. Unlike some sites where users can get a quick auto quote by entering information about their car, their driving record and where they live, InsWeb's site asks users additional questions such as their educational level, their occupation, the user's age when they first received their driver's license, and questions about a driver's credit history.

InsWeb even has a canned answer on its Web site for the question, "Why are you asking all of these questions"? InsWeb's response? "We work with many insurance companies. Each has its own criteria, so our form must be extensive to accommodate them all."

If InsWeb truly wants to make purchasing insurance "faster, smarter, easier" for consumers, it will have to make significant changes in how it generates policy quotes. Otherwise, consumers will shop elsewhere.

State Farm

State Farm's Web site has evolved somewhat during the past year, offering users clearly marked sections for insurance, banking and mutual funds. From the home page, users also can search the site if they can't find what they're looking for.

But what State Farm's home page lacks is information conveying what the company's brand is: State Farm is there, like a good neighbor, when something goes wrong. State Farm's strength is its brand, and its agents' presence in communities across the nation. However, with the exception of an agent locator on the home page, a user who comes to the site does not get any sense of State Farm's long history that has enabled the company to become the nation's largest provider of private-vehicle insurance.

Instead, the image on the home page shows a man with a crocodile wrapped around his neck, proclaiming "Car insurance without State Farm? I'm not that brave."

State Farm's Web site is very deep. There are links on the home page to sections on the most dangerous intersections by state and across the nation, home-safety tips and maps/directions. Users also can get online quotes for auto, renters, life, health and long-term care policies, but not for homeowners' insurance. Policyholders also can submit information on auto or homeowners' claims via the Web site.

And, for State Farm's banking customers, customers can access their accounts, pay bills, transfer funds and view check images online.

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