What Makes Personal-Lines Buyers Tick?

Personal-lines insurers are locked in a never-ending battle for market share—which has only intensified over the past few years as auto and homeowners’ carriers struggled for organic growth during a down economy and depressed housing market.

However, while the prospects for exposure growth are looking brighter with unemployment declining, auto sales beginning to rebound and some signs of recovery in the housing sector, insurers face more fundamental challenges beyond the ups and downs of the macro-economy.

Indeed, most carriers are reassessing their marketing, sales and service systems to adapt to the fast-paced evolution in consumer behavior and preferences driven primarily by advances in web and mobile technologies. 

More people are living their lives in the virtual world—whether through their laptop, tablet or smartphone—and they expect their insurers to be there with them. These consumers are surfing the web over multiple devices to learn about products and services, price-shop and exchange customer experiences over social media—often going on to ultimately buy a policy and file their claims online.

Yet there is a sizable group of consumers who still prefer the human touch in personal lines, choosing to establish a trusted relationship with an insurance professional who can help them shop for a policy (often for more than one type of coverage) as well as show them how to navigate the claims process and be their advocate in case of a dispute over a loss.

As a result, fewer companies are dedicated to distributing through any one channel. Many are looking to reach prospects and more regularly communicate with policyholders over multiple platforms, both to take business away from competitors and to improve retention of their own customers.

The challenge is to determine what makes personal-lines insurance buyers tick in this new environment. What motivates them to choose and remain with a particular carrier and channel—whether they buy through an independent or exclusive agent, or skip an intermediary entirely to deal directly with an insurer? More importantly, what might prompt a personal-lines consumer to switch carriers, and perhaps channels as well?

These were some of the key questions explored by Deloitte Research in an online survey of 1,080 auto policyholders and an equal number of those with homeowners’ coverage. Among the critical takeaways from the surveys I’ll explore in a series of blogs over the next couple of months:

• While the vast majority of respondents appear to be satisfied with the price charged and service provided by their current carriers and agents (if they use one), there are demographic factors at work that make some prospects more viable than others in terms of taking them away from the competition.

• The same can be said when it comes to channels—while some respondents are committed to buying with an intermediary and others without, there is a significant percentage of “independents” who are more open to switching from agents to a direct purchase (or vice versa) given the right circumstances and enticements.

• Age was by far the most significant differentiator among the various demographic factors examined in these surveys, whether in terms of the openness of younger consumers to changing carriers and channels, their willingness to do business without an intermediary, or their interest in high-tech options for sales and service.

• Technology, particularly mobile options, is likely to play an increasingly important role in the marketing, sale, servicing and retention of insurance customers—especially those coming into the market as new drivers and homeowners.

• Trust is a big issue when doing business with insurers and their agents—and it’s an attribute in short supply in the view of many respondents. Establishing brand recognition, maintaining a positive reputation and strong ratings, and overcoming suspicions about the integrity of insurers and agents can make a big difference in drawing prospects away from rival carriers and channels.

• Price remains the biggest single element respondents consider when purchasing personal-lines insurance. However, the survey results also indicate that price is far from the sole decision point when a prospect is determining whether to become (or remain) a policyholder. The surveys identify a number of other factors insurers might leverage to convince a prospect to switch companies and/or channels.

In my blogs for April and May, I’ll go into detail about the survey results as well as some insights we’ve drawn from them.

Included will be an examination of the influential role age plays in a prospect’s approach to insurance, along with a discussion about potential channel changers, decision points (beyond price) in choosing a carrier, as well as the increasing prominence of web, mobile and telematic technology as game-changing differentiators for insurers. I’ll conclude with some potential growth strategies that carriers with various distribution systems might consider.

First up: My next blog, published here in early April, will focus on our findings about customer-satisfaction levels and their implications. We welcome your feedback and questions throughout this series of reports.

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