From the March 5, 2012 issue of National Underwriter Property & Casualty • Subscribe!

Gaining Insight Into the Evolving Insurance Consumer

Consumers today have new ways of buying and shopping for insurance, and insurers have new ways of delivering products to their customers—but do insurers truly understand what it takes to attract and retain customers in today’s market?

Two recent studies attempt to provide insight into what consumers are looking for—but their findings differ in some key areas regarding consumer habits.

A report from Conning Research & Consulting, “Consumer Trends in Personal Lines Insurance,” says consumers today are more comfortable shopping online, and this preference is driving Personal Auto market development via growth in direct business from the Internet.

Conning says, “Online shopping has the ability to completely change an industry, altering the economics of transactions and of information gathering in ways that change traditional business relationships.”

This evolution, the study says, is changing the way insurance is purchased, causing leaders to reconsider business models and “altering the way in which insurers communicate with the market.”

But an Ernst & Young study, “Voice of the Customer: Time for Insurers to Rethink Their Relationships,” based on a survey of 5,000 consumers in the Americas, notes that insurers have to think beyond the Web. “Our research indicates that while online is an important part of the future, it is just one component of an integrated channel-management capability that is critical to growth.”

In the Americas, E&Y says 23 percent of consumers are using a range of online channels to research purchases—well under the 32 percent of consumers in Europe and 39 percent in Asia-Pacific who are using online sources. 

But E&Y contends that personal contact is still essential now and will continue to be in the future: “Customers clearly voiced a desire for both improved online access and continual personal contact when it matters.” 

Another area of debate regarding the new consumer is the importance of price. The Conning study says consumers are increasingly focused on price—and that focus has intensified in the wake of the Great Recession. While some age groups may revert to pre-recession spending habits, Conning says the focus on price could be a lasting factor for younger generations.

The E&Y study agrees that price is still a key driver for purchasing behavior overall, particularly for new business, but adds that customers take other factors into consideration as well.

Fifty-eight percent of those consumers polled by E&Y say price is the key factor in purchasing insurance, but the consumers also considered such factors as whether the brand is well-known or trustworthy (42 percent); customer service (34 percent); whether they hold another product from the same insurer (31 percent); the company’s track record or reputation (29 percent); and the company’s financial strength and stability (25 percent). 

Interestingly, the E&Y survey reached a different conclusion than the Conning report regarding young shoppers. According to E&Y, a relatively high proportion (43 percent) of consumers in the 18-34 demographic say they are more willing to pay a premium for a financially stable brand. Only 33 percent of customers in the 35-54 age bracket say the same.  

E&Y recommends that insurers pay attention to price but also focus on product flexibility, brand positioning, customer segmentation, and ease and simplicity of the sales and renewal processes. Furthermore, the firm says insurers must manage their brand online to “ensure that blogged and tweeted comments reflect their brand values.”

Both studies pointed to additional factors that challenge traditional thinking regarding insurance consumers. For example, regarding claims service, E&Y says that while “received wisdom” is that a good claims experience will drive loyalty, its research shows that excellent claims service is expected and “will not, in itself, drive loyalty or customer retention.”  However, a poor claims service is likely to drive customers away.

Conning, meanwhile, focused on the changing demographics of the insurance-buying consumer. Minority groups accounted for 83 percent of national-population growth from 2000 to 2009, the study notes.

Additionally, broken down by age, the most growth is now seen in the young and in those 65 and older—traditionally the two worst age groups for claims activity in auto insurance, Conning reports.

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