Is State Farm Pre-positioning Itself for the End of Auto Insurance (and Maybe the End of Homeowners Insurance Too)?

Is State Farm Pre-positioning Itself for the End of Auto Insurance (and Maybe the End of Homeowners Insurance Too)?

Once in a while an insurance company asks me for advice—and occasionally even follows the advice which I provide.

I can say, however, that State Farm has never asked me for any advice about what they should do if the need for auto insurance disappears or substantially declines. Nor has State Farm ever asked me what they should do if the demand for homeowners insurance should take a similar dive.

Some readers may be wondering why would State Farm seek advice from your humble blogger about either topic?

Well, because I have been writing and talking about the end of auto insurance for four years. My just posted Celent Report, The End of Auto Insurance: A Scenario or a Prediction?  looks at how three technologies—telematics, onboard collision avoidance systems, and driverless cars—will depress auto insurance losses and premiums over the next 15 years.

I have also been writing and talking about the impact of the Internet of Things on the property/casualty industry for two years. Celent research subscribers can look at my reports: The Internet of Things and Property/Casualty Insurance: Can an Old Industry Learn New Tricks and Can a Fixed Cost Property/Casualty Industry Survive the Internet of Things?

So without even a word of advice from me, it looks like State Farm has pondered potential declines in auto and homeowners insurance; and decided to start some early positioning for itself and its agents if such things come to pass.

Proof Point: A new State Farm commercial called “Wrong/Right” shows a world without windstorms, traffic accidents, building fires, and emergencies. The commercial goes on to ask what about State Farm in such a world? The implied answer is that State Farm and its agents will be in the lending, wealth accumulation, and retirement income businesses. The tag line is “Here to help life go right.”

Which personal lines property/casualty insurer will jump in next?

One last look back at Google Compare

One last look back at Google Compare
It’s old news by now that Google is shutting down Compare, its financial services and insurance comparison site. It wasn’t open long – less than a year. When Compare was first announced, the industry reacted with warnings that this was a major disrupter in insurance distribution. With the massive audience that Google has, the industry expected that Google was going to swoop down and capture the online insurance market – which by the way is pretty big – typically 75% of prospects research online and 20-25% of all new auto policies are purchased on line according to those who track this type of metric.   So what happened? Well, the fundamental idea of capturing the online market is a sound idea. And Google was pretty smart at avoiding all the hard technical costs of building out the aggregator engine by partnering with those who had already done the hard work – like Compare.com, Coverhound and Bolt.   But the business model of an online aggregator is hard. There are three models – online agents – who earn full commissions. That wasn’t really Google’s deal. They weren’t interested in any of the after service or ongoing relationships. A traffic generator – sending a potential lead to another site and being paid for the eyeballs. Well, that’s not very lucrative either – and frankly, Google can make money through their own advertising and search capabilities. Spending the money to build an online quoting front end only adds cost to something they already do quite well, thank you.   So why would Google have invested the money in an online quoting front end? To take advantage of a lead model. With a lead model, the aggregator collects data, processes a request for quote and sends a highly qualified lead to be fulfilled. The price per lead is significantly higher than the price for traffic. But there’s a fundamental challenge with this model. For the lead to be valuable to a carrier, the lead has to actually purchase insurance. And because a lead is sold to multiple carriers, the acquisition costs rise for a carrier.   Let’s say a lead is sold for $5 to ten carriers. The aggregator makes $50 for that lead. But only one carrier actually writes the lead. If ten leads are sold, and each carrier writes one, the aggregator makes $500 but the carrier has spent $50 for that lead. Play out a competitive situation where the leads aren’t equally distributed, and you can see that the acquisition costs can rapidly rise. If I only get one lead out of twenty, I’ve spent $100 for that lead. If I only get one lead out of $30 I’ve now spent $150 for that lead – which now is pretty close to what I’d probably be paying an independent agent. And what if the customer NEVER buys – and simply goes in looking for prices so they have a comparison to an off line model? The numbers rise rapidly. Remember those numbers above – 75% shop on line and 25% purchase on line. That means that only one in three leads actually results in a sale. Assuming leads are distributed evenly, an aggregator will distribute 165 leads before I close one. That brings this $5 lead fee up to $82.50 –, which is pretty expensive. The way to make those economics work is to increase the conversion rate so that more of the leads a carrier purchases actually ends up buying a policy.   So while carriers are very interested in participating in the online marketplace, they really want to work with those aggregators who are successful at converting traffic to leads that will convert to policyholders. The online agent model is attractive as the carrier doesn’t pay until the policy is written. The traffic model is similar to online advertising, so that works as well. But the success of a lead model is a combination of the price of the lead and the likelihood of closing that lead – which is dependent on the number of carriers the lead is sold to and the propensity to buy.   So here’s where Google lost an opportunity with Compare. They thought they could convert relatively low paying traffic into high paying leads simply by putting a quoting front end on and didn’t think through what they could have done to improve the conversion rates. With their analytical power, Google could have created a truly disruptive experience by providing consumers with a powerful recommendation engine. Google is a master at finding out information about individuals from social media and other publicly available data. They could have created an algorithm that used the information about the lead to tailor and target recommendations.   Personal auto isn’t that hard. If we were talking about commercial, it’s a much harder set of algorithms. But honestly, it’s not that hard to create something that tells a customer that given their location, the value of their home, the type of vehicle and their driving record, 64% of people like you choose this limit/deductible/additional coverage etc. And getting a personalized recommendation drives conversion. When people trust that the advice is good, they’re willing to buy. We’ve seen many examples of how inserting advice and recommendations into the quoting process drives conversion.   When I personally go to get an online quote – it’s part of my job – I enter information that shows I own a home in California and I drive a luxury car. So why oh why do the aggregator sites today recommend minimum limits coverage to me? My car is worth more than that. Today, trusting the advice from an aggregator site is dicey. And that is why policyholders continue to rely on the advice of an agent. Does this mean the role of aggregators is dead? No.   But Google missed a major opportunity to truly disrupt by providing a powerful recommendation engine that could use their ability to easily find information about individuals and combine it with their powerful analytical abilities. They ended up creating just the same thing we had back in the 90’s. Kudos to them for killing it quickly – but they missed an opportunity to use their capabilities to make the model work.  

A pivotal day for the insurance industry

A pivotal day for the insurance industry
There were a few key assumptions underlying Celent’s End of Auto insurance report:
  1. Cars would crash less, requiring lower claims expenditure and lower premiums
  2. Cars would drive themselves, liability would shift to manufacturers and ‘driver insurance’ would be a thing of the past
Today with Volvo’s announcement (also linked here) that they would accept all liability for the car in autonomous mode we see the first of three steps towards the end of auto insurance. This is a key moment in human history, a pivotal moment that will redefine how human beings travel albeit that may not be apparent today. Today, this looks like an inevitable check box on the route to autonomous cars. It is in fact both. Now the other manufacturers must follow suit or relegate themselves to manufacturing cars with no autonomous ability. Immediately, Blockbuster and Kodak come to mind. Initially they may deal with this through captive insurers but this will change over time. I mentioned this is the first of three steps. The next inevitable one will take place in the court of law, perhaps after the first death where the car was liable. Here the specifics will be tested and understood. This will be a different milestone in different jurisdictions. The third step will be a few years from now, when the autonomous systems have had enough time to partially fail due to poor maintenance. I am assuming we still own the cars at that point we’re not just renting them by the hour. At this point clarity will be given to who is responsible for making sure an autonomous system is still fit to drive on the road. Governments and lawmakers will have to define a minimum capability that is required before one can turn on the system. In some countries it may happen sooner than others but one imagines this will be a reactive exercise as manufacturers challenge their liability due to customers meddling with or failing to maintain the equipment. As interesting and drawn out as these second and third steps are, history will show they are insignificant compared to the point in time when the first manufacturer stood up and said they would accept full liability for their cars when in autonomous mode. Update: Other manufacturers are already following suit. and the Volvo CEO is already calling on the US government to establish testing guidelines as part of the speech.

What happens when auto manufacturers stop giving away valuable telematics data for free?

What happens when auto manufacturers stop giving away valuable telematics data for free?
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that you manufacture some things – let’s call them automobiles. And imagine that in those automobiles you’ve installed bunches of computer systems to control steering, braking, transmission, engine performance, and even record GPS-determined locations. Let’s call these computer systems electronic control units (ECUs). And imagine that these ECUs generate streams of data that are potentially highly valuable to organizations that are interested in how safely a given automobile is being operated. Let’s call these organizations insurance companies. And imagine that one day, a really smart person at an insurance company had the great idea that if they could capture and analyze these streams of data, they could understand automobile risks in a way that would let them price and underwrite auto insurance in a much more accurate and profitable way. Let’s call that person Flo. And let’s say that Flo realized that the automobile manufacturers had kindly provided a little port thingy that allows her to access all this valuable and data and transmit it to her insurance company without paying the automobile manufacturers a single penny! Let’s call these port thingys OBD-IIs. And let’s say that Flo and her counterparts at lot of other auto insurance companies go a little crazy giving their policyholders little whats-its that plug into the OBD-II thingys. Let’s call the whats-its dongles. But the really great thing is that the automobile manufacturers are still not charging Flo and her peers a single penny. And let’s say that the automobile manufacturers, one day decide that this internet mobility thing is here to stay, and that it could be a really great way to deliver more value, and deepen their relationships with the people who buy their cars. And to do all this stuff, the automobile manufacturers are going to make cars that connect to the internet! Let’s call these kinds of cars, connected cars. And lastly someone at an automobile manufacturer says, “Oh Dear Dearborn” or “Oh Cool Cupertino” “We could make a bundle of cash by taking a big slice out of the increased profit margin that Flo and her friends have created by charging them very large fees to get access to the ECU data. Or better yet, we could hire some actuaries and data scientists and enter (or re-enter) into the auto insurance business ourselves—and Flo can go make a big bet on smartphone-based telematics.” Ok, so here’s the thought experiment. If your were an investor, named Warren, looking for a growth stock, would you invest in an auto insurance company?

Listen up auto insurers. Driverless Cars? No Problem. Collision Avoidance Technology? Hold On!

Listen up auto insurers. Driverless Cars?  No Problem. Collision Avoidance Technology?  Hold On!
The just released report by the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) contains some important findings on collision avoidance systems’ potential to prevent or mitigate the severity of rear-end collisions. Some of the data points are eye-popping: a predictive analysis found that this technology could prevent or reduce deaths and injuries in 87% to 94% of all accidents. A private study by the trucking firm Con-way found that these technologies reduced rollovers by 41% and rear-end collisions by 71%. Still impressive, but less startling, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found a reduction in claims frequency in three luxury models of 7% to 14% (without estimating changes in severity). The good news for driver and passenger safety is that auto manufacturers are competing vigorously to offer these features in their new cars and trucks (The NTSB study has a 9 page Appendix listing these manufacturers and models). The NTSB study may also nudge the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to, someday, mandate these technologies in new vehicles. The long term implications for auto insurers though are similar to the implications of autonomous vehicles: fewer and less severe losses, resulting in competitive and regulatory pressure which will drive down premiums substantially. The auto insurance business is going to shrink. But the real question is how fast? Or to put the question more precisely, when will there be a critical mass of autonomous and collision avoidance-equipped vehicles on the road? The NTSB study is speeding up that timeline just a little bit.

CCC acquires a telematics platform: the story behind the story

CCC acquires a telematics platform: the story behind the story
Today CCC announced the acquisition of DriveFactor which provides a device independent platform for telematics data and analysis. Why is an auto physical damage estimation and analytics firm acquiring a telematics platform provider? Well, you could say that telematics is hot, and all personal and commercial insurers writing auto insurance are scrambling to build market share. That is true enough. You could also say that telematics data is going to be increasingly valuable in determining causation and relative responsibility for auto accidents: how fast was each car driving around a corner, who braked first, and how hard, etc.? That is also true. But that is not the whole story. The year is 2018. I am driving a new car, and I am in an accident. My car knows it is damaged. It also knows which systems and parts were damaged and need repair or replacement. And it knows the fastest, best, and least expensive way for that to happen. It might even know about the probability of personal injuries among my car’s occupants. This is all pretty valuable information. Who is my car going to give this information to?
  • Its manufacturer? My insurance company?  Emergency responders? Towing companies? Auto repair facilities? Or software companies that estimate the cost of repairs?
And what is the value of such data from tens or hundreds of thousands of accidents? A telematics platform that can order the flow of this information suddenly starts looking quite valuable.

The other auto insurance telematics shoe drops: who wants to be adverse selection lunch for Progressive?

The other auto insurance telematics shoe drops: who wants to be adverse selection lunch for Progressive?
Until now US insurers have intentionally restricted the impact of their telematics programs by holding riskier drivers harmless. In other words, insurers told policyholders in their telematics programs that their premium could only go down or remain the same. Higher risk drivers’ premium would not be increased even if the telematics device revealed driving behavior which actually deserved a higher premium. But now the world has changed. In its 2014 annual report US telematics leader Progressive dropped this bombshell: “. . . we are affording more customers discounts for their good driving behavior while for the first time, increasing rates for a small number of drivers whose driving behavior justifies such rates” (Celent emphasis). See Bloomberg for the full story. Progressive is saying that when its telematics data indicates a higher premium for a given policyholder, it will charge that higher premium. If that policyholder can find a lower premium at another insurer, Progressive is quite happy to have that other insurer issue that policy, leading (on average) to higher losses, for a lower premium. In insurance this is known as the other insurer experiencing adverse selection. At its most basic level, being a successful insurance company is simple. Understand the risks that are submitted to your underwriters, and charge the right premium for those risks. Progressive is not a stupid company. With this announcement Progressive is signaling that its Snapshot telematics program lets it charge a more accurate and higher premium to certain risky drivers—and it jolly well will do it. If other leading auto insurers’ telematics data leads to the same conclusion, they will have to follow Progressive’s lead. Eat or be eaten.

Creative Disruption in Action: Changing the insurance outlook for young drivers

Creative Disruption in Action:  Changing the insurance outlook for young drivers

With less than a month to go until our Creative Disruption Symposium in New York on 13th September 2012, the Celent team are working hard on pulling together some great content. The agenda and speakers have been confirmed, and hopefully we’ve got the technology lined up to add in a bit of audience participation for fun.

On Monday, I spent a great day with one of the new breed of telematics insurers in the UK that base their model on ‘Pay How You Drive’, called ingenie. We’ll be featuring them at our symposium in a video. What amazed me about this start-up was the passion and energy not just around delivering the insurance product through new technology but also the desire to change the driving behaviour of young 17-25 year old drivers. This passion extends to bringing new disciplines into the risk pricing equation, such as behavioural science to understand young drivers’ attitude to risk and also top-end driving science through a partnership that they have developed with the Formula 1 Williams team. Based upon their discoveries, they have added ~300 algorithms into the risk selection and pricing equation.

They also use the same information to feedback driving performance to young drivers in a way that they want to receive it, via a combination of a mobile app and push notifications. There’s no point in pushing the data out to a traditional browser based portal as that’s no longer how 17-25 year olds want to interact with technology. The goal of this model is to influence behaviour in order to reduce the total claims cost, build a long-term affinity with the young driver, and in doing so deliver a stable return.

For years, the traditional UK auto insurance industry has dismissed young drivers as virtually uninsurable, backed up a claims experience that’s hard to argue against. And it’s no surprise that this is the response when you consider that the traditional model has delivered an above 100% COR for entire UK auto insurance market over many years. In 2011 alone, which was considered to be an improvement on prior years, the industry made an operating loss of £600m ($960m).

Through changing the model to focus on adapting driving behaviours and in doing so reducing the frequency and cost of claims, telematics is enabling new entrants to target this underserved market using a viable alternative capable of outperforming the industry incumbents. As a result, it’s no surprise that many of the insurers that we speak to in the UK are seriously looking at how (or even if) they should respond.

To us, this is a great example of Creative Disruption in Action and one that we will be covering in more detail at the Symposium. There’s still time to register!

Finally, whether you are able to attend our Symposium or not, why not help us prepare by taking five minutes to complete our survey on Creative Disruption within Insurance. Click here to participate. Thank you.