After less than a year in the business, Google Compare is shutting down operations by the end of March. So what does that mean for the future?
The demise of Google’s online insurance comparison site Google Compare is being hailed by some in the industry as a victory for the traditional agency system.
But agents may want to hold off on breaking out the champagne. Leading online insurance shopping sites say they are not deterred by Google’s missteps in the online insurance shopping space. In fact, they are just ramping up and have big plans to expand their reach through partnerships with companies outside of the insurance industry.
“Insurance is not the reason Google Compare shut down,” said Keith Moore, CEO of online insurance compare, quote and buy site CoverHound.com, which was a partner of Google Compare that connected its users to CoverHound’s platform to purchase policies.
Moore said Google Compare’s issues had nothing to do with the industry or the CoverHound platform, which he says has been steadily growing since it first opened for business in 2010. CoverHound reported premium growth of 117 percent quarter to date year over year, and says it has already delivered 428,000 customer quotes through 30 carriers on its platform in 2016.
Moore also said that CoverHound’s Net Promoter Score – used to measure customers’ level of engagement, satisfaction and loyalty to a brand – was up overall by 32 percent to 78 (out of 100) and it had a rating of 81 for Google Compare shoppers who went through the CoverHound platform.
“We are seeing very positive trends in online insurance shopping…All comparison shopping sites are seeing positive growth right now,” he said. “[Google] will not directly impact the positive momentum in digital insurance shopping.”
Compare.com’s CEO Andrew Rose said his company’s comparison shopping model has also been successful and its former partner Google Compare’s exit is in “no way an indictment of the potential.”
“Comparison is the intersection of the internet and insurance, and you’ve got to know both sides to make them work,” he said.
Let the Best Online Insurance Site Win
Moore predicts the insurance comparison shopping experience will continue to be refined and enhanced to offer more efficient multi-channel connections, such as through texting and e-mail.
“It is going to catch up with what other shopping categories have done in the last five years. The timeline has been a little different for insurance,” Moore said.
Jeff Chesky, CEO of Insuritas, the agency behind Overstock.com’s online insurance sales, also expects online sales of insurance will continue to evolve because there is a need for insurance companies to find a new way to distribute their products. But he doesn’t think online comparison sites are the ones that can do it.
“Carriers are desperately seeking a new platform…but there has been no consumer call to action to support any lead generating model,” he said, referring to insurance comparison shopping sites.
Insuritas’ business model works by setting up online insurance “agencies” through local banks and credit unions nationwide and providing a complete “quote to buy experience.” In 2014, it expanded to online retail with its Overstock.com partnership, which consumers have been slow to embrace. The platform has helped build an extended relationship with the Overstock constituency, 100 percent of which buy insurance, Chesky said.
He said Insuritas has been very successful in setting up what he calls “meta” agencies inside an ongoing business that have access to all of the customer data that carriers want when underwriting a risk such as credit score, income level and claims history. That is an element that comparison shopping sites are lacking, he said, because they don’t have a complete insured profile and can’t complete the policy transaction.
“The key ingredient to a successful meta agency is that the company where we set up the agency, or the insurance aisle, has access to nonpublic information,” Chesky said.
So What’s Next?
Moore says CoverHound is set to announce partnerships with companies in the automotive, real estate and finance verticals. Moore would not divulge which companies the partnerships are with, but said they will allow customers to “seamlessly integrate an insurance-related offering as part of their transaction” through the CoverHound platform.
Through the 24 percent stake the new Chubb has in the company – announced last September when it was still ACE – CoverHound also plans to launch small business insurance offerings later this year.
Insuritas has plans to expand its online agency reach in the months ahead as well. Chesky said his firm will be setting up new meta agencies that have access to large pools of potential insureds with complete “data packets” on those customers.
And don’t count Google out.
Moore said that Google’s move was part of a larger plan that also included shutting down its other financial service sites for mortgages and credit cards. The search engine giant plans to retool and relaunch so it can offer a better, more user-friendly experience for financial products, Moore said.
“Google Compare as a brand will never exist again but they will have an insurance, mortgage and credit card offering again,” he said, adding that their partnership is still in place and CoverHound plans to work with Google again at some point in the future.
Chesky and Moore agree that agents have a place in the future distribution equation – whatever that turns out to be.
“I think considering the size of the overall industry, we can both exist efficiently. We are just addressing a new era and offering a service for that,” he said.
Chesky believes consumers still want a trusted advocate; however, he thinks technology has made the traditional insurance agent voice irrelevant. The emerging insurance distribution models require a new generation of agents who can access and control customer data, and who can connect a customer’s risk appetite to carriers digitally.
“The situation begs the question of what model will survive and bring digital engagement from the one product that every customer in America buys every single year,” he said.