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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Home, Life, Auto, Click: Insurers Vie for Web Customers

Isolated bare-bones sites have put insurers behind their competitors on the Web. To catch up and attract customers, insurers need to add features, secure screen space on high-traffic sites, and connect to offline channels.

Insurance companies haven't kept up with Internet innovations or the online needs of their customers. Although some have succeeded in building site traffic with such basic tools as account-tracking, most insurers remain far behind banks and brokerages — many of which now market insurance on their Web sites.

The fourth-annual Booz-Allen & Hamilton eInsurance study surveyed top insurance carriers and financial institutions and intermediaries, reviewed 206 financial-services Web sites, and analyzed Internet usage data from Nielsen//NetRatings Inc. The survey found:

  • The top 10 insurance sites attracted only 5 million unique monthly visitors — far fewer than the top 10 brokerage sites, which attracted 10 million unique monthly visitors, and the top 10 banking sites, which attracted 18 million unique monthly visitors.

  • Visitors spent an average of only 13 minutes on insurance sites (those selling auto, homeowners, renters, and term life policies). This compares with an average of 22 minutes on bank sites and 36 minutes on brokerage sites.

  • Insurers like Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and Prudential Insurance Company, whose Web sites offer a range of financial services, attracted about 3.2 monthly visits per person. But insurers whose Web sites focused exclusively on insurance attracted about 1.2 monthly visits per person.

In mid-2000, the top
10 insurance Web sites surveyed by Booz-Allen
& Hamilton attracted
5 million unique visitors monthly compared with
10 million for brokerage sites and 18 million for bank sites.
The Web is a natural channel for information-intensive businesses like financial services. Transactions are convenient, fast, and relatively secure, so it makes sense for insurers to enhance their online presence. However, because insurers hear from their policyholders only when major life events happen — births, new car purchases, illnesses, retirements — their challenge is to build the Web site traffic necessary to attract and retain customers. Otherwise they risk losing business to banks and brokerages, which interact with their customers far more regularly (weekly, daily, or even hourly) and can therefore get their marketing message in front of customers far more often.

As insurers attract more traffic to their sites, they will learn more about their customers' identities and needs. Insurers that integrate their sites with other channels (e.g., agents, call centers, branch offices) can effectively use that knowledge. By pooling information, the channels can create and share detailed profiles of customers — their policies, personal details, future needs, previous contacts with the company — that can be a valuable resource for sales and service agents anywhere. When a major life event hits, customers' needs can be met through the Web or other channels, building confidence in the insurer's products and service.

If high-transaction banks and brokerages can market insurance, why shouldn't insurance companies market other financial services?
Tips to Get More Clicks
Insurance sites have improved slowly since the first Booz-Allen eInsurance survey in 1997, when most sites were no more than online brochures listing agents and describing products. By 1999, 14 percent of the sites surveyed had some advanced features such as account-viewing and claims-tracking; that number rose to 43 percent in 2001. Interactive customer-specific features draw visitors, and alliances with other sites give insurance companies more visibility on the Web. The latest eInsurance survey found three strategies can help insurers thrive on the Web:

  • Give customers more reasons to visit your site. Fewer than 50 percent of insurance sites let consumers view their accounts online — a basic feature of banks and brokerage sites. Insurers should add account access as well as tools that let customers resolve problems, get quotes, and report and track claims. Room for improvement is ample, since huge gaps separate what customers expect from insurers and what they get. Whereas 86 percent of survey respondents said that customers want online transaction processing, fewer than 30 percent of insurance sites offer this service. Customer support is also lagging. In a test of 50 insurance sites, an embarrassing 54 percent did not respond to an e-mailed question within one day; an astonishing 28 percent did not respond at all.

  • Expand beyond your core products. If high-transaction banks and brokerages can market insurance, why shouldn't insurance companies market other financial services? Almost 20 percent of survey respondents have formed partnerships with other companies so they can add non-insurance products to their online offerings. For instance, Nationwide Mutual's site offers in-house mutual funds and group pensions, and Prudential's site markets investment and even real-estate services.

  • Ally with high-traffic financial sites. Cross-marketing can work both ways, and some insurers use alliances to grab virtual shelf space beyond their own sites. For example, American International Group auto insurance has a presence on the Wells Fargo & Company banking site. Companies like Wells Fargo want to increase their range of offerings by marketing insurance, but they don't want to own and operate an insurance company. Hence, an alliance to distribute another company's products appeals to them. Insurers who find the right partners can find spots on sites run by banks, brokerages, account aggregators, and comparison-shopping marketplaces such as Insweb. The eInsurance survey revealed that 59 percent of the surveyed executives have formed partnerships to expand distribution. However, insurers with little alliance experience could find this approach challenging; only 30 percent of respondents said they have the skills needed to manage partnerships.
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