More than nine months after it was created, Wilmington, Del.-based Fusura Inc., a Web-based personal lines insurance agency formed by global insurance giants AIG, Kemper and Prudential, is finally preparing to go live.As it prepares to launch-expected to be no later than March 31-the consortium capitalizing the venture can't be accused of rolling out the program too hastily. Since its celebrated formation was revealed, Fusura has witnessed its share of tweaks and modifications-from putting a permanent executive team in place to choosing its technology platform.

Located at www.fusura.com, Fusura will market personal auto insurance on a state-by-state basis before eventually offering life and homeowners coverage. Fusura plans to drive product distribution through marketing agreements signed with banks, online portals and large retailers. The program will be supported by an internal call center operation.

The program's protracted delay-done in order to retool the initial strategic direction-may actually be fortuitous to Fusura. "Now's a perfect time to enter the market," says Mark Parsells, president and CEO, who joined Fusura in June from Citibank where he oversaw Citibank Online. "The competition is going away very quickly. There are only a few players left that are focused on developing the next insurance marketplace."

Target markets

The support of major insurance players such as AIG, Kemper and Prudential will no doubt provide a boost that Fusura hopes to maximize.

However, this might be superseded by one key development: After outsourcing its technology platform earlier in the year on an interim basis, Fusura in November inked a licensing agreement with Westminster, Colo.-based ChannelPoint Inc., which develops electronic marketplaces linking insurance carriers with distribution channels. These channels range from traditional brokers, banks, financial brokerage firms and Internet portals-marketing targets that Fusura hopes to recruit.

Several key executives who were instrumental in developing ChannelPoint's platform are now full-time executives of Fusura, Parsells says. Moreover, in bringing the software program in house, Fusura executives hope to assume a greater degree of control to provide customers with an optimal Web experience.

"We brought over their chief technology officer and an individual-Don Allen-who will serve as our chief 'experience' officer. His main task will be to make sure visitors to Fusura.com have a meaningful online experience," Parsells notes.

One point of difference separating Fusura from other insurance marketplace sites is the ability to "buy an auto insurance policy not only directly online but nationwide," says Todd Eyler, senior analyst for Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass.

"However, the success of a program like this often hinges on an ability to create new, Internet-based insurance products," he adds.

This may not be in the offing. Parsells stresses that "we're not looking to build a brand because it's too expensive. The solution we provide is to be a bank's online insurance center. The emphasis is on the array of top brand choices customers have access to."

Parsells believes Fusura could eventually be expanded to include 10 to 15 partners in the consortium.

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