The continued growth of Internet-based banking and brokerage services has been a wakeup call to the insurance industry. Not to be outdone, carriers and so-called online insurance marketplaces are actively adding new products and features to their Web sites. Beginning with this issue, Insurance Networking will periodically take a look at the Web offerings from carriers and insurance marketplaces.Pivot.com

www.pivot.com

Pivot is an online insurance agency acquired by banking giant First Union Corp. in August 2000 when it purchased Columbus, Ohio-based Professional Direct Agency Inc. Although Pivot focuses on providing private-label insurance services to financial institutions that are looking to add online insurance, the company also sells auto, term life, prescription drug, long-term care, pet and homeowners insurance directly to consumers.

Pivot's Web site design reflects the company's motto of "insurance made simple." The site features buttons that directly link users to one of five features: online quotes, a learning center, the planning center, support center and online account access.

The site's learning center is particularly robust, offering an explanation of each product, a list of frequently asked questions, and other resources for each product line. The planning center provides online information for life insurance and annuities, selecting beneficiaries and an explanation of how an individual's insurance needs change over the course of a lifetime.

As with most online insurance marketplaces, consumers who apply for an auto policy are directed to enter personal data and information about the vehicle they would like to insure. The response time is very rapid from screen to screen, and information that is incorrect or incomplete is highlighted to help expedite the process of applying for coverage.

Progressive Insurance Co.

www.progressive.com

Voted the top carrier Web site this spring by Gomez Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based research and consulting firm, Progressive's home page has an impressive display of features for consumers interested in obtaining insurance, as well as support for existing policyholders.

The home page offers a drop-down menu that enables users to obtain online quotes for a wide range of products, including auto, motorcycle, watercraft, recreational vehicles and homes. Policyholders who register online for personal.progressive.com, can make a payment, view payment history, quote and make changes to their policy and check the status of a claim.

Progressive's home page design is not cluttered with unnecessary gimmicks. The top of the page features tabs for getting quotes, servicing existing policies and general information about the Mayfield Village, Ohio-based carrier. The home page also has links for locating agents, claims and policy servicing and the company's privacy policy.

The company is one of only a handful of insurers that offer consumers comparison quote estimates alongside its own quotes, although some industry experts believe that Progressive isn't supplying accurate quotes from its competitors. However, in most states where the company is licensed, qualified consumers can get a Progressive quote and purchase the policy online.

American Family Insurance

www.amfam.com

American Family Insurance is the ninth-largest property/casualty carrier, offering auto, home, business, health and life insurance products and consumer loans in 15 states through 4,172 independent contractor agents. But you would never guess that after viewing how sparse the company's Web site is. The home page is dominated by a paragraph of text that describes the Madison, Wisc.-based insurer's product line. Most carriers hide such information under the "About Us" link, which American Family also features on its home page. The site offers 10 buttons linking to various features including an agent locator, customer self service, claims and vehicle quotes. There's also a "quick links" box that features links to auto quoting, an insurance calculator and a text-heavy page that explains how consumers can save up to 20% on their auto insurance if they insure their home and car with American Family.

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