Is Google Buying CoverHound?



January 27, 2015

What Is the Future of Google Compare?


It is already licensed to do business in more than half the states but may be planning to acquire CoverHound to accelerate the rollout.

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Steinmetz

It’s one of the worst-kept — and surely most disruptive — secrets in the U.S. insurance market. Soon, Google could be piloting its Google Compare auto insurance comparison shopping site in the U.S., following the lead of its 2012 Google Compare UK rollout.

But the launch of Google Compare in the U.S. apparently hasn’t been easy. Even though insurers have been telling me for more than two years now about Google overtures to participate on the comparison site, the Google Compare U.S. site launch keeps getting pushed back.

One thing is for sure: Google Compare is going to have big implications for U.S. insurers.

While doing the research for a report on what Google Compare is going to mean for insurer strategies in 2015, I took a look at a bunch of state insurance commission filings to see just what was up with the entity now officially doing business as Google Compare Auto Insurance Services Inc. What did I learn?

  • They’re licensed to do business in more than half the states. Along with California, the entity is licensed to do business in at least Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, New Jersey, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. There may be more in process.
  • They’re working with a handful of identified insurers. Among the insurers that Google is authorized to transact business on behalf of are Dairyland, MetLife, Mercury, Permanent General Assurance, Viking Insurance of Wisconsin and Workmen’s, meaning that many others are likely taking a wait-and-see approach before jumping on.
  • The corporate officers haven’t worked in insurance. Stephanie Cuthbertson, who is acting as president, is listed on LinkedIn as a project manager at Google. Kenneth Yi, acting as secretary, is listed as being in securities and corporate governance. Meredith Stechbart, acting as treasurer, is a regulatory operations program manager. The lack of insurance chops means that they may think differently about insurance or at least are good at dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s that state insurance departments demand.
  • The corporate treasurer added CoverHound to her California producer license. On Dec. 9, Stechbart added CoverHound as one of the companies she’s authorized to transact business on behalf of, on her California individual producer license.

What could this mean? As much as I’d like to imagine someone could become so enthralled with the insurance industry that they’d leave a job at Google to become an insurance agent, there’s a more logical explanation. Acquiring CoverHound would get the Google insurance entity to market faster in the U.S. than it’s been able to get on its own; it would get Google a national, full-service independent agency with more insurers than have already signed on. CoverHound’s San Francisco headquarters is conveniently close to Google’s Mountain View campus, and CoverHound would give Google the kind of insurance chops that the company will really need should it decide it really likes the insurance business. And an acquisition might explain this most recent delay.

I reached out to Stechbart through LinkedIn to see if she’d answer a couple of questions I had about her California producer license. My request did prompt a look from her at my LinkedIn profile but not a response.

Time will tell.

This article originally appeared on the Forrester Research site.


About the Author

Ellen Carney is a principal analyst at Forrester Research serving insurance e-business and channel strategy professionals. Carney works with insurance clients to understand how market forces are changing how consumers, groups and distributors engage with insurance carriers and the role that technology plays in maximizing new opportunities.

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