The last decade has brought tumultuous changes to the insurance industry and especially to the way insurance is sold. We now find ourselves in a world where insurers have become some of the top spending advertisers in the country with Progressive coming at #22 and Uncle Warren’s Geico at #5. Each of those insurers individually spent more on advertising than perennial television spender, Budweiser, who finishes the list at #25. All of this ad spending is working and last year Geico passed Allstate to become the second biggest auto insurer in the country.

This deluge of advertising has been largely focused on price, and it is no secret that it has convinced the average consumer that personal lines insurance is a commodity where the only thing that matters is finding the lowest price. Many analysts such as McKinsey and Nomura Equity Research have declared that insurance is now a commodity. Those of us who work in the industry understand that this is simply not true. Personal lines insurance is not by any means a commodity that ought to be bought on price alone. Personally, we love Chubb’s tagline “Who insures you doesn’t matter. Until it does.”

It’s not just who insures you, but also what your insurance contract says, how high your limits are, how well it is protecting you, and especially whether that contract properly matches your own personal circumstances and need for protection Safeco Agent login . Several great articles, like this one from Bill Wilson at Insurance Thought Leadership, have appeared in the industry press by coverage experts much more experienced than us, explaining in length and with illustrative examples of how cheap insurance might just as well be no insurance when a large loss happens. As Bill points out “consumers are being duped into believing that personal lines insurance is a commodity, with the only significant difference being price. Nothing could be further from the truth.” We’re not aiming to replicate those explanations here rather we want to offer a crazy idea that just might help us save personal lines from becoming further commoditized.

The articles mentioned above have the right information, but they are targeting the wrong audience. What is sorely needed is a concentrated industry marketing campaign to explain to the general public how insurance is not at all a commodity. We completely agree with Bill and other experts who have shown why insurance isn’t a commodity, but we believe that we have to go further than just getting insurance agents (many of whom are already trying to get their customers interested in looking beyond price) to explain it to their customers. We need a concentrated public facing marketing campaign.

Uncle Warren has made it very clear in his shareholder letters that he will spend whatever is necessary in marketing for Geico to continue growing – giving the Gecko an essentially unlimited wallet. The adorable Australian reptile spends the great majority of his time talking about cheaper rates, every once in a while about customer service, but pretty much never about having proper coverage that meets your need.

Price-focused insurers Geico and Progressive together spend around $1.6 Billion a year on advertising. Quite simply, none of the more traditional service and coverage focused insurers can compete with that much spending on their own.

As you can see above, the vast spending is working. In just over a decade, Geico has moved up to the 2nd highest market share from being only the 6th in 2001. If this continues, it would be no surprise to see Geico surpass the top share within the next decade. Similarly, Progressive, another price focused carrier, has almost doubled its market share, while the traditional customer service focused companies that we mentioned, with the exception of Liberty Mutual, who acquired Safeco during this time, have all seen their market shares shrink. In 2001 Geico and Progressive together accounted for 9.5% market share. By 2013 they have managed to just about double it to 18.7%.

Here’s where our crazy idea comes in: We propose that a group of traditional, customer service and coverage focused insurance carriers start an alliance and dedicate a significant part of their marketing budget into explaining to the people that insurance is really about much more than price alone, showing explicit stories from real people and statistics about the real cost of low-price insurance.

Imagine the three biggest mutual insurance carriers SF, Liberty Mutual and Nationwide, coming together and starting a marketing alliance to educate the public. Let’s tentatively call it the National Mutual Insurers Alliance. Together, the three biggest mutuals spend around $1.55 Billion a year on marketing, very close to Geico and Progressive’s total spend. Obviously the three companies can’t dedicate their entire marketing budget to this project, but if they dedicated some 20% of their budget, a total of around $310 Million per year, they could make a real difference in explaining this important issue to the consumer. Then, they could involve other smaller regional mutuals to participate as minority partners in the effort.

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