If technology has done one thing in the personal lines world ofinsurance it is to increase the competitive nature among carriers.Through advances in automated underwriting and easier connectivitythrough the Internet, insurers of all sizes are going after thesame customers.

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"Carriers are trying to understand what is in the hearts and minds of the consumers they aretrying to attract, how they can differentiate themselves in themarketplace, and how the consumers of the future want to be servedand interact with carriers," says Rebecca Amoroso, vice chairmanand U.S. insurance industry leader for Deloitte

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Deloitte recently published a report on the subject: "The Voiceof the Personal Lines Consumer: Buyers in the Driver's Seat."

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Amoroso believes that technology continues to change the wayconsumers conduct business, which has had an impact on howcarriers, in turn, sell insurance.

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"More consumers are requiring carriers to communicate 24/7 socarriers need to get their arms around how to have their serviceconsistent with whatever channel is being used by the consumer,"she says.

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The Deloitte study found most people are satisfied with theiragents, even though the agency channel has been shrinking.

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"You are seeing more direct carriers and more companies withmultiple channels," says Amoroso. "I think this trend will continueto some degree, but based on what we've learned in the survey,wedon't see the agency force going away."

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Amoroso maintains there always will be a need for agents and thereport indicates customers are satisfied with the level of servicethey have been receiving.

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"Forty percent of those surveyed have stayed with their[personal lines] agent for more than 10 years and that's asignificant number," she says.

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Deloitte examined what it would take for a direct buyer toconsider alternate channels and Amoroso explains there was a 40percent likelihood that someone purchasing a homeowners policywould consider buying from an agent the next time around. Only 30percent of those buying personal auto policies said they wouldconsider using an agent for their next insurance purchase.

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"That shows there are some opportunities," says Amoroso.

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Going in the other direction, approximately 20 percent ofpersonal lines shoppers who currently use an agency channel wouldprefer to buy direct the next time.

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Amoroso believes shoppers are more apt to go direct whenpurchasing personal auto policies.

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"When purchasing a homeowners policy, things are more complex,"she says. "A higher percentage of those people would look for anagent to help them."

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The Deloitte survey showed the public is fairly satisfied withthe price they are paying for insurance and for the service theyreceive from both the agency and carrier, which means there is nocompelling reason for customers to go looking at competitors—atleast until a claim is filed.

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"When customers do change, most times it is because they've hada bad claims experience," says Amoroso.

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But even then, Deloitte reports only one-thirdof those suffering through a bad claims experience move to anothercarrier for that reason.

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One area of movement involves the age factor. Amoroso explainsthe under-35 consumer is more apt to look at changing carriersevery year at renewal.

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"They are less loyal than some of their older counterparts," shesays.

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Deloitte looked at telematics in the study and respondentsreported they would use the new underwriting technology it if theygot a serious price break, but there were surprises in terms ofwhich age group was more likely to try telematics.

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"Anything that touches technology, the younger folks are moreinclined to use rather than the older folks," says Amoroso. "Butthere was a clear difference of preference for telematics. Olderfolks were more excited about bringing it on than younger folks. Alot of parents with young drivers are more inclined to want to usetelematics to monitor the driving habits of their child. That wasthe only technology-driven item that the younger consumers were notterribly excited about."

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One of the main themes of the Deloitte study is carriers need toattract customers while they're young and if you can keep thoseyoung customers happy they are likely to stay.

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"If you want to attract new consumers coming into the pictureyou need to be on top of the technology they will find useful,"says Amoroso.

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Mobile apps matter for the younger buyer, according to Amoroso,along with ease of navigation, a carrier's website, ease ofcommunication, and the methods or channels to communicate. 

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"These are going to be critical to attract and retain theyounger consumers and I think they will be a catalyst for oldergenerations," she says. "Companies need to be on top of investmentsin technology to attract customers and differentiate theirorganization to the younger buyer." 

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