NU Online News Service, Feb. 22, 3:39 p.m. EST

Insurance executives are being challenged to understand their evolving customer base—one with different needs and access.

According to a new study from Conning Research & Consulting, consumers are more comfortable shopping online; they tend to surrender private information with greater ease; they are increasingly focused on price; and have shown a preference for increasing connectivity.

“Armed with an increasing level of access to market information and decision-making tools, and tied into a growing network of potential advisers, the consumer is exercising more leverage in the marketplace than at any time in recent memory,” says Conning in its report.

“Adapting the business to address the challenging preferences and buying behaviors of the consumer remains a foundation of competitive advantage,” continues Conning.

Shopping patterns are different than they were 20 years ago, says Conning. The demographics of the population are changing—with minority groups accounting for 83 percent of national population growth from 2000 to 2009.

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.

Clearly, consumers are shopping online and this preference is driving personal auto market development via growth in direct business from the Internet.

Conning finds consumers are more willing to share private information, and they are becoming increasing comfortable with products such as usage-based auto insurance as consumers continue a focus on price—especially after the recession changed buying behavior, says Conning.

“On-board monitoring opens up the ultimate in insurance pricing information—moving from proxy data to actual driving risk data,” Conning says.