Celent Says

Invading Social Networks

Mike Fitzgerald
Insurance Experts' Forum, February 6, 2012

Part of the hype involved with the Facebook IPO this week is the vision of its founder to establish it as a platform for people to use when interacting on the internet. To me, this means not simply linking to another site, but to actually complete commercial transactions on the social network itself. For insurance, this would have the benefit of avoiding tedious data entry of demographic information that the network already knows about you — age, sex, address, etc.

If you don’t think transacting insurance on a site other than that of the writing company will happen, you can stop reading now — you won’t be interested in the rest of this post. If, however, you are game to consider that a company will try this, read on and get ready to post a comment and make your point of view known.

What would be the characteristics of the first U.S. P&C insurance company to use a social site as a platform for its business? Here are some considerations:

Product – Will be one of the commoditized, less differentiated products such as personal automobile, motorcycle or dwelling; In these lines of business, price and service separate the offerings. Being able to ease the process of obtaining and maintaining insurance will be a driver.

Segment – Likely youthful: The companies first attracted to a social network platform will be those with prospects who are most comfortable in that environment, aggravated by traditional insurance distribution and less concerned about personal privacy.

Channel – Direct: As this new way of doing business will involve first-mover risks, it is likely that companies with intermediated distribution will pass on using the platform in the beginning. Upsetting their existing agents with a direct social network approach will be too much to bear.

Culture – Innovative: There will need to be some match between the value system of the insurer and that of the social network company. Stepping into this unknown territory will require that both parties are comfortable with their partner. Thus, insurers which have a reputation for being more innovative will be more likely to reach acceptable terms with the platform provider. Since this will probably be either Google or Facebook, the insurer with the vibe closest to “do no harm” or “hacking” will likely prevail.

Size — Not necessarily the largest: I do not think that the first insurer to conduct business via social networking will need to be a billion+ organization, but I am sure that the network provider will demand some fairly steep rent and this will restrict the number of insurers able to pay the freight.

Technology – Probably not a barrier: The investment of many insurers in core system renewal should position most of them to take advantage of the open standards that a S.N. is built on.

Regulator view – The wildcard: The most likely insurer, in my view, is one that has a good reputation with the regulators and a decent reputation at addressing their concerns in past market conduct reviews and inquiries. As the response of regulation to this new way of doing business is such an unknown, the company willing to take this step will be confident in its ability to respond to its overseers.

Given these parameters, does anyone come to your mind? In days past, I would have identified the company with the pink-haired lady mascot as a leading possibility, but its recent purchase takes them off the table. It also could be one of the specialty auto insurers targeting the youthful driver market as well.

This blog has been reprinted with permission from Celent.

Mike Fitzgerald is a senior analyst in Celent's insurance practice, and can be reached at mfitzgerald@celent.com.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Mike using the “Add Your Comments” box below.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

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