When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the U.S. economy in the spring, auto insurance companies raced to bring relief to policyholders. They issued refunds, discounted premiums and allowed people to miss payments without lapsing their policies. It’s worth considering if auto insurance companies are going to take similar actions now that fear of another coronavirus wave is again shaking the U.S. economy. Also, as some insurers face backlash for ‘inadequate’ coronavirus-related auto policy refunds, will they change their relief strategies?
Here is how the 10 biggest auto insurance companies, according to the Insurance Information Institute, brought premium relief to their policyholders this past spring:
- State Farm (April 9): Up to 25% discount on premiums March 20 to May 31, 2020.
- Geico (April 8): A 15% auto credit called the GEICO Giveback.
- Progressive (April 8): A 20% credit on April and May 2020 bills called the Apron Relief Program.
- Allstate (April 6): A 15% premium credit in April and May 2020 through the Shelter-In-Place program, which was then extended through June.
- USAA (April 6): The company is issuing multiple waves of premium credits, each totaling several hundred million dollars, the latest one coming in July.
- Liberty Mutual (April 7): A 15% refund through the Personal Auto Customer Relief Refund for April and May
- Farmers Insurance (April 8): Premium credit of 25% for April and 15% for May
- Nationwide (April 9): A $50 one-time premium refund in April 2020.
- American Family (April 6): A $50 one-time premium refund in April and 10% premium credit between July and December 2020.
Why would any company voluntarily give money back to customers? The first reason has to do with corporate governance. Mutual insurance companies are literally owned by their customers. This means that when a mutual company has an enormous surplus in profit, it has to return the money to its owners in the form of lower premiums, dividends or some other discount.
The second reason has to do with competitive pressure. All the companies implemented their premium relief programs within a few days of each other in early April. Allstate, USAA and American Family were the first movers on Monday, April 6. By the end of the week, each of the top 10 auto insurance companies in the country had followed suit. As soon as the first few companies started publishing their press releases, the others no doubt felt pressured to follow suit. The free market, therefore, worked in favor of bringing lower prices to customers at both mutual and stock companies.
Another interesting way to view this list is to consider how the companies positioned the refund. Insurance can be expensive, and this auto insurance cost guide can help explain some of the reasons why. So did companies discount premiums moving forward? Or did they refund policies currently on the books? Did they give back a percentage of premiums, or did they give the same amount back to every policy owner (Nationwide)? And did they issue an immediate and specific refund through a physical check to policyholders so that nobody would miss the free money (American Family)?
It remains to be seen how these companies will respond if the U.S. economy enters the second period of widespread lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders. However, the ways in which the companies responded to the first wave should help insurer manage customers’ expectations in what might be coming this fall.
Chris McFadin is a writer for HowMuch.net, a website specializing in topics such as insurance, business and the economy. Chris lives in Milwaukee, WI.