‘Go Web, Young Man’? Some Agents Just Say No

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Buying insurance online offers no more convenience than meeting an agent in person, consumers say.

“You eventually get a packet in the mail, so its the same thing as doing it offline,” says Maria Dynia, assistant scientist, LIMRA, Hartford, Conn. This consumer attitude is promulgated in a soon-to-be-published, mail-panel LIMRA study of Internet users, “Our Connected Society: Finances and Insurance Online.”

After getting their feet wet on the Web, some agents echo consumers sentiment that the Internet does not make the business of insurance more convenient.

“We dont even try to sell over the Web; our reputation is built on the service we give to the client,” says Don Beery, vice president/partner, Eustis Insurance Inc. The Web site for the New Orleans-based business, www.eustis.com, is informational only.

“For the most part, I feel most insurance is still a people business,” Beery says. “We dont think the service our clients can get over the Internet is the service theyre looking for.”

Insurance products that can be purchased on the Web tend to be “grocery store, one-size-fits-all” types of products, Beery says. A consumer cant alter the product to fit her situation, and “there is no consultation to determine if that product is what” the client needs.

Despite the perceived drawbacks, however, Beery considers the Web “a great tool.

“I think its going to grow and be even more important in the years to come,” he asserts. “Theres a new generation coming up who are used to doing things on the Web, but whether [agents] can sell a sophisticated product that way, we dont know.”

Although the Eustis Web site has been up for more than a year, “were still getting used to it,” Beery says. But it isnt fear of a new way of doing things that keeps Eustis from selling online; instead its the belief that personal contact is essential in running ones business well.

“We feel its important to have contact and tailoring unique to the client rather than something off the shelf,” Beery explains. “One size fits allit just doesnt happen.”

Beery suspects the client for Web insurance products is the same client that once bought from an 800 number.

“Its going to be a niche for people who think they know exactly what they want,” he says. Its a “client base that doesnt feel they need the service were set up to provide. Theres an awful lot of life insurance sold [over the Internet], but not by agents.”

Michelle Hoesly, owner of Capital Resources, Virginia Beach, Va., points to compliance issues as a deterrent to selling online.

In order to ensure it isnt misleading, broker/dealers must have the content of their site reviewed and approved by the compliance department of the insurance company they are registered under, Hoesly says.

Because she believes its unlikely shed get many hits, Hoesly feels that the burden of getting approval every time she added content to or changed the Web site outweighs any potential benefit.

Hoesly doubts shed get a significant number of hits on a site because people are typically looking for an inexpensive product when shopping for insurance on the Web. She does not feel her target marketpeople with assets of at least $1.5 millionvalues a bargain price over a quality product, so she reasons that those in her market are not likely to do their insurance shopping on the Web.

“For service, [using the Web is] a way [for clients] to reach their agents, but as far as attracting new business, I havent seen any,” states Hoesly.

Barbara Fiscarel, an independent agent out of Brooklyn, N.Y., specializing in long-term care insurance, has similar doubts about being found online.

After taking a course on LTCI three years ago, she bought a link on the agent-finder map of the instructors Web site. So far, her link has generated three leadstwo were sales-oriented, neither of which led to a sale, and the third was from a broadcaster from Japan who interviewed her and a client for a TV program that never aired.

“So thats basically been my experience with leads that have come from the Web,” Fiscarel says. She does not sell online elsewhere.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 27, 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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