Google Compare: the Latest Pipe Dream

Google Compare just adds to the illusion that consumers really can compare insurance products and reach purchasing decisions online.

In “A Day in the Life,” by the Beatles, John Lennon sang: I read the news today, oh boy, About a lucky man who made the grade. And though the news was rather sad, Well, I just had to laugh…. I have read the news about Google Compare but found nothing to laugh about. Another day, another auto insurance comparative rating web site. And another auto insurance comparison website that misleads consumers into believing that what they’re going to get is a true product comparison on which they can make a purchasing decision. Nothing could be further from the truth or closer to potential catastrophe for American consumers and families. The news of Google Compare’s launch sent me to its official blog, where I found the following [emphasis added]: Whether it’s buying the right car insurance or finding the best credit card, people want an easy way to understand and compare financial products online. In fact, when it comes to buying car insurance, 80% of drivers think they’d find a better policy if they could compare more than two providers.* That’s why today we’re introducing Google Compare for car insurance in California, with more states to follow. This represents the newest addition to a suite of Google Compare products designed to help people make confident, more informed financial decisions. Google Compare for car insurance provides a seamless, intuitive experience for connecting with your customers online. Whether you’re a national insurance provider or one local to California, people searching for car insurance on their phone or computer can find you along with an apples-to-apples comparison of other providers -- all in as little as five minutes. You can highlight what makes your business unique, whether that’s an “A” rating in customer service or better discounts for safe drivers. And when users adjust their deductible or add additional cars to their quote, you can show updated pricing that matches their needs. They can then buy their policy online or over the phone through one of your agents. What does this tell me? First and foremost, that whoever is behind this knows pretty much nothing about the insurance industry, its products or its practices. Let’s examine each of the highlighted comments above. Comment:  “people want an easy way to understand and compare financial products online.” Response:  Nothing on this website enables consumers to “understand” or compare the product they think they’re buying. The site tells you absolutely nothing of substance about any individual insurance policy or the claims or service practices of the insurer. All it tells you is the price of an unknown product. If you were brought to a seven-bay garage knowing that a car was behind each overhead door, but the only information you had were the signs on the doors of each bay with prices ranging from $5,689 to $14,069, which would you choose? Obviously, you don’t have enough information to make an informed decision, yet in the case of auto insurance you’re expected to buy based solely on price without seeing the product. Do consumers buy anything else like this? And, if you ask to see the policy before you buy, you’re wasting your time. My attempt to do this on other websites resulted in a 100% rejection rate. Do consumers enter into any other kind of legal contract where the drafter of the contract refuses to allow the purchaser to read the contract in advance? Comment:  “80% of drivers think they’d find a better policy if they could compare more than two providers.” Response:  How could a driver possibly think they’d get a “better policy” when the only real comparative information they’re given is a price? I did a quote on the website using a hypothetical 60-year-old single California man with a four-year-old Honda Civic. I was quoted premiums for $50/$100/$50 (what they offered, not what I asked for) liability and uninsured motorist (the latter without property damage), $5,000 medical payments and comprehensive and collision, each with a $500 deductible. The quotes ranged from $569 from “one of America’s Most Trustworthy Companies” to $1,407 from a carrier with “A Great, Low Rate With Flexible Payments To Fit Any Budget.” Now, how is that comparing providers by any measure other than price? Comment:  “a suite of Google Compare products designed to help people make confident, more informed financial decisions.” Response:  How can a product comparison differentiated solely by price be considered, and lead to, an “informed” decision? Comment:  “along with an apples-to-apples comparison of other providers.” Response:  We see this “apples-to-apples” qualification in many consumer articles about shopping for auto insurance. What they mean is make sure you’re comparing the same limits of liability, UM and medical payments and the same deductibles for comprehensive and collision. They invariably say absolutely nothing about the coverages, exclusions, conditions and other features of each coverage that these limits apply to. When you’re getting auto insurance quotes, especially if some of the carriers are predominantly known as “nonstandard” auto insurers, coverage differences can be substantial and potentially catastrophic. Comment:  “all in as little as five minutes.” Response:  OK, we know that buying insurance is not a pleasant task for most consumers, especially (if we believe what we’re told) for millennials. Going to the doctor is not pleasant, either. But, if my life is on the line, am I going to choose a physician based on how cheap he or she is and how quickly the doctor can get me in and out of the office? Given that your auto insurance protects your assets and income, both of which can be imperiled in the event of a major uncovered loss, why wouldn’t you hold the seller of that product/service to the same high standards you’d want in a physician? Auto insurance policies are complex legal contracts whose terms can vary significantly from one to another. Would a first-round NFL draft choice enter into a contract without having that document carefully analyzed by an attorney or other competent professional? Then why would the same person even think about entering into an insurance contract that protects his assets without the advice of a competent insurance professional? Apparently there is some sort of contest among some insurers or agents to see how fast they can quote a policy. According to my tally, this is where we stand right now: GEICO                      15 minutes Esurance               7.5 minutes Google                    5 minutes VA agent                5 minutes  (a Virginia agent who also includes a $20 Starbucks gift card) MetroMile           2 minutes  (an Integon auto policy being marketed to Uber drivers) I went ahead and broke the quote times down to the tenth of a second because I’m sure someone is going to be offering quotes measured in tenths of seconds, not minutes. Now, think…what kind of loss exposure analysis can be legitimately offered in five minutes? Comment:  “You can highlight what makes your business unique.” Response:  This section apparently is directed at carriers that Google would solicit to be a part of their comparative rating website. What makes an insurer unique is the products it sells and the services it provides, particularly claims services. To quote Metallica, “Nothing Else Matters.” Except price, that is, and apparently it’s all that matters on websites like this. So, I went to the actual Google Compare website and got the quote I mentioned earlier. That website says: “Compare coverages, prices, and features to make an informed decision.” Exactly what coverages and features are really disclosed? What if I sometimes rent cars on business: Which, if any, of these policies cover that? What if I sometimes use my own car on business: Some policies don’t cover business use of ANY autos. Some policies don’t cover rental cars at all. Some exclude any nonowned autos. Some policies cover pizza delivery; many don’t. And the list goes on. Aren’t these coverages (or lack thereof) material to any informed decision? Yet you will not find any information like this on any online insurance quoting website I’ve ever seen. And, if you ask for a copy of the policies of the carriers being quoted, good luck. So, I say, another day, another auto insurance comparative rating website. This is not news. What would be news (and good news, at that) would be a comparative quoting website that allows you to read the contract (insurance policy) that you’re about to enter into and that discloses the material pros and cons of each quote from the standpoint of product and service. The mission of every true insurance professional should be to carry the message to consumers that auto insurance is NOT a commodity, that there are differences in products and claims practices of insurers that do matter. In the movie, “The American President,” the Michael J. Fox character Lewis Rothschild says to President Shepherd (Michael Douglas), “[People] want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it, they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” The president responds, “People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.” Consumers do not understand the many, varied and significant differences between auto insurance policies and insurer practices. Between our own price-dominated industry advertising and misleading consumer articles almost universally focused on “how to save money on car insurance,” we have conditioned the consuming public that the only thing that really matters is price. As the song “A Day in the Life” continues: He blew his mind out in a car. He didn’t notice that the lights had changed. A crowd of people stood and stared; They’d seen his face before…. It’s the face of yet another consumer whose life had been ruined financially because he bought an inferior product from a faceless online comparative rating website. Let’s stop the carnage by being honest with the consuming public.

Bill Wilson

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Bill Wilson

William C. Wilson, Jr., CPCU, ARM, AIM, AAM is the founder of Insurance He retired in December 2016 from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, where he served as associate vice president of education and research.


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