Insurers Slow To Tap Web Site Opportunities, Study Suggests

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The life insurance industry has been slow to grow its consumer-oriented Web sites because of its commitment to agent face-to-face selling, a new study from Conning & Company, Hartford, Conn., finds. Consequently, insurers may be missing an opportunity to increase sales significantly, says Conning, which provides asset management services to insurers.

“Life insurers need to use their sites as an educational tool that both helps the agent close sales and that validates the agent’s message for the consumer,” says Elvin Turner, vice president at Conning.

Conning analyzed life insurers’ Web sites for individual and group life and individual and group annuities. It based its assessments on the insurers’ overall ability to use their Web sites to meet specific challenges within their business.

The study, “Life Insurer Web Site Assessment: Opportunities Abound,” faulted insurers for neglecting to align their consumer Web sites with company strategic goals.

Insurers in general need to use their sites to make it easier for consumers to buy their products and services, so their brands can contend with increasingly aggressive competition, Conning concludes.

Life insurers need to do a better job of using their sites to support their direct sales efforts, the study says.

Web sites can enable consumers to submit applications or ask questions more rapidly than conventional channels. This can cut the costs of acquiring customers, perhaps to the point where agents might find the middle-market consumer more attractive, the analysis suggests.

Some individual life insurers have developed agent locators and online lead-generation tools. For the most part, however, the Web sites were not particularly helpful in getting the customer to an agent.

“Property/casualty insurers are more advanced in lead generation,” says Turner. “Life/health can take a page from their play book.”

Some individual annuity insurers have enhanced their Web sites with a number of online asset-management capabilities, the study found.

For instance, a few enable their customers to use the site to move assets between accounts, change allocations and perform other asset-management tasks online.

Other sites simply allow customers to request changes to their annuity accounts, a level of usefulness that falls short of what consumers want, Conning believes.

Turner says annuity sites in general need to do a better job of pushing sales through their distributors. They should also use their sites more effectively to market themselves to potential distributors, such as agencies and banks.

Carriers in the group life market do not appear to have any retail Internet strategy, Conning concludes. Their Web sites offer limited functions and content, and only a few allow group plan participants to enroll online for voluntary benefits that are available through their employers.

Group annuity insurers were the most effective of all the lines studied in using their sites to provide services to group plan participants and to cut administrative costs, Conning found.

Insurance will become a multiple-channel market where no single kind of distribution dominates, Conning says. Insurers will need to use their public Web sites as a way to be an effective partner with all distributors, the study concludes.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, July 13, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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