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What GoogleCompare Shows on LeadGen

Steve Jobs was famous for saying; “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” He was most often referring to focus groups and “industry experts” as the last places he’d look for ideas on innovation and disruption.

I’ve often wondered what Jobs would have said if asked to reimagine insurance distribution in America. I think he might have obsessed about a customer-centric mindset, a fierce focus on trust and a single place for managing risk. Not what you typically see from those trying to disrupt LeadGen in insurance today.

Others Will Follow GoogleCompare Out

TheZebra.com, Insurify.com, QuoteWizard.com, GoogleCompare … the list appears to be endless these days – represent a group of “innovators” who didn’t think what the consumer might want from an insurance experience, and in turn are delivering a toxic insurance shopping experience clouded by opaque offers like providing an Expert Virtual Insurance Agent. What’s worse, many in the FinTech vertical – investors and media alike — are talking about these “innovations” without ever taking them for a test drive. Imagine the editor of Car & Driver simply publishing the latest hype for a new Ford Truck model as gospel without taking the vehicle for a spin.

So, why not take a spin. Ask for a quote from theZebra.com or QuoteWizard.com, AND give the company your actual email address and cell phone number. Then buckle up. Calls… emails… ad nauseam. And most of the outreach is not even from the LeadGen company you connected to. In fact, most of these LeadGen companies don’t actually sell insurance. They simply sell the customer and everything the customer has shared about themselves to others. How can that be?

Their Words – Not Ours

TheZebra.com home page promises the consumer “insurance in black and white.” Reminds me of Apple when it launched its iconic iPod with the simple phrase: “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Pretty snappy. But unlike Apple, which simply delivered on its promise, here’s what theZebra.com says it will actually do to the consumer and the personal information she provides. (As it happens, the privacy disclosure about buying insurance “in black and white” is in grey on the Zebra.com website. As my Dad would say, there are some things you just can’t make up. These are actual excepts from the company web site. The boldface is ours.

SHARING OF PERSONAL INFORMATION

The Zebra may rent, sell or share Personal Information or Location Based Information it collects about you to or with third parties. Personal Information and Location Based Information collected from you is commonly used to provide you with products and services and to comply with any requirements of law.

By submitting your e-mail address and/or phone number (as the case may be) via The Zebra or our properties, you authorize us to use that e-mail address and phone number to contact you periodically, via e-mail, SMS text message, and manually-dialed and/or auto-dialed telephone calls, concerning (i) your insurance-related or quote requests, (ii) any administrative issue regarding our services and/or (iii) information or offers that we feel may be of interest to you. We may also send e-mails to you periodically regarding updated quotes or offerings. You may opt out of receiving e-mails from us at any time by unsubscribing as set forth in the applicable e-mail. Additionally, by filling out information on The Zebra as part of your request for information about insurance policies and quotations, you authorize us to provide that information to various insurance companies, insurance agents and other related third parties that participate in our network. Some insurance companies or third parties may then provide your personal information to their insurance carriers, suppliers and other related vendors in order to generate price quotations and information relevant to insurance policies that you have requested. These third parties may use the contact information (including telephone number(s)) you have provided to contact you directly with quotations by means of telephone (manually or auto-dialed), fax, email and postal mail, even if you have registered your phone number(s) on local and/or national no-call lists. You further acknowledge and agree that each third-party that receives your quote request from this website or from our affiliates may confirm your information through the use of a consumer report, which may include among other things, your driving record and/or credit score. For purposes of faxing, it is understood that insurance companies or third parties have an established business relationship with each user of this website, if required to comply with the then current law.

We may also share certain personal information or location-based information with institutions providing possible product offerings to you based on the information you submit through the Website (e.g. financial institutions and/or insurance companies), and/or certain The Zebra vendors in order to allow them to use that information to obtain and provide us with additional information about you, and/or product offerings that might be of interest to you.

Decades of Trust Put at Risk in a Digital Instant

Iconic insurance brands, like AllState, Amica, Esurance and MetLife – are just a few of the insurance carriers featured inside these LeadGen sites. This isn’t complicated. As consumers, all of us are very wary of providing our personal information to anyone – always looking for assurances that the receiver of our personal information is someone we can trust. As insurance professionals, we will always require personal, non-public information to underwrite risk. It is critical as an industry that we preserve the public’s trust that we will respect their confidence and protect their data.

In my company, we do a lot of work with financial institutions, and even though they might complain about regulatory overreach, most bank CEOs are proud to state in BLACK AND WHITE: We will not share/sell your personal information with third parties. Look at the fight Apple and Google are prepared to wage to protect the personal data on someone’s cell phone – so focused about protecting the assumption of trusted privacy implicit in their brands.

When insurance carriers specifically, and our industry in general, support or, worse, encourage these LeadGen models, they put our brands, our hard-fought reputation of trust, and an emerging generation of customer-centric, omni-channel-licensed insurance advisers at risk. Insurance isn’t a commodity as long as underwriting is required, and regulators require massive balance sheets to stand at the ready to settle claims. Personal information, whether provided person to person or online, or via virtual driving analytics aggregation tools – it’s the customers’ data. And we as customers want to know who they are giving it to and how it’s being used.

If carriers don’t question this toxic experience called LeadGen, you can bet consumers and their advocacy groups will shortly assemble a collective voice to express their dissatisfaction to regulators – and the regulators will be quick to respond. I can hear Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) decrying the misrepresentations and mistreatment suffered by the consumer when they provide their personal information under the guise of a black-and-white shopping experience — only to learn their information has in fact been down-streamed to others again and again. Our entire industry will be painted with a very unflattering brush. Just as the outlandish behavior of certain mortgage origination companies drew harsh scrutiny for all lenders in the last decade, think of insurance commissioners and Congress taking aim at the “grey print” of these LeadGen models: the CFPB alleging potential unfair, deceptive or abusive acts and practices (UDAP) violations because of the problematic impact on the consumer.

Going Forward

For the carriers, the dilemma is real. Traditional brick and mortar local agencies as distribution platforms are going away. They have no large, scalable, addressable markets that can be engaged digitally. GEICO is relentlessly accumulating market share by going direct to consumers. It’s almost understandable that, given those constraints, some of America’s most powerful insurance brands are putting their brand equity at risk on these LeadGen platforms in an effort to remain visible, reaching for any option to remain viable.

An alternative solution is emerging. Insurance cCarriers and our industry must focus on imagining a new type of licensed agent with the tools that will let them provide a transformative insurance shopping experience for insureds – a lifetime of simple, comfortable, obsessively trustworthy insurance purchases and service. And we, as agents, from the Big I on down, have to imagine a new generation of insurance advisers and insurance agencies. Think of them as meta agents operating in meta agencies.

Can we imagine a new generation of agent that can instantly access all of the public and non-public information about a customer’s character and collateral, deliver it to a stable of insurance carriers that are prepared to underwrite that risk, in exactly the format they need it in, get instant quotes from the carriers that reflect the customer’s risk tolerance and assets to be insured, be available to provide any of the advisory insights the customer might want – all exactly at the moment the customer has an insurance need? A new generation of agents, operating in a new generation meta-agency — fulfilled in their work as risk managers and customer advocates, operating in a seamless, frictionless ecosystem in lifelong service to the customer. And all with an obsessive commitment to trust.

Can you hear Steve Jobs in his iconic black turtleneck on stage wondering the same out loud?

A New-Generation Agent and Agency

A new generation of agent and agency is emerging – empowered and excited to deliver insurance solutions to consumers, operating inside companies that have long and deep trusted brand equity with the consumer, an obsessive commitment to trust. And, having earned that trust, these agents have access to everything a carrier needs to know about the consumer’s character and collateral, eliminating the dreaded “insurance interview and application” or, worse, “the LeadGen hustle.”

This new agent never prospects, sells or steers a customer – the agent simply focuses on delivering a frictionless shopping, comparing, buying and post-purchase service experience tailored to each unique customer exactly at the instant the customer needs it — again, with an obsession for trust. We believe the role of an agent, with a completely reimagined operating environment, is more important and more valuable than ever before.

A new generation of agents and agency is emerging – reimagined to reflect what the customer actually wants, even though, in the iconic words of Steve Jobs, “They didn’t know it.”

‘Age of the Customer’ Demands Change

The music industry is in chaos. It’s a dinosaur stuck in the tar of old vinyl. Musicians are no longer knocking on record labels’ doors, asking to get their album out there. Consumers are no longer buying their music from record stores. And, with Taylor Swift withdrawing her entire catalog from Spotify, things get even crazier.

The Age of the Customer continues. And if you don’t acknowledge this — whether in music or in just about every other industry, including insurance — you could end up loved as much as a set of tangled headphones.

You Really Got a Hold on Me
In a time not so long ago, musicians had no choice but to go through record labels to even think about reaching their audience. The industry had a three-step process:

  1. Song creation
  2. Marketing
  3. Distribution

This meant artists created their album with the record label’s supervision; the record label then marketed it via in-house or through a third party; the radio stations then played it; and then, finally, customers could buy it at their local record stores. Thus was created a multi-layered model that greatly benefited the record labels.

So what happened to this model?

They Say You Want a Revolution
The Internet happened. By the late ‘90s, when the Internet started to catch fire, people began realizing its potential power, such as the ability to digitalize entire music catalogs. This ultimately led to the birth of music piracy, which drastically cut into record labels’ pockets, creating a rippling effect felt throughout music – within the industry and among music lovers.

But when the iPod was introduced in 2001 it shattered the traditional model of the music industry. Musicians could now bypass all the old steps and start putting out their own music through digital sites like iTunes, opposing music piracy and giving royalties back to artists. Then, fans starting getting into the act.

As record labels worked to stay relevant, they had to offer artists new partnerships, such as 360° deals. A 360° deal assured artists a share from their music, concerts, merchandising, publishing and licensing income – ultimately creating a five-step model:

  1. Recorded music
  2. Merchandising
  3. Fan sites and ticketing
  4. Broadcast and digital rights management
  5. Sponsorship and management

Any Way You Want It
Enter the Age of the Customer. To combat piracy, stream-based cloud services began to emerge (see news on Spotify and Beats Music). Consumers now have the option to listen to any of their favorite songs, on multiple platforms, any time they want – for free even, if you’re willing to put up with commercials.

So now consumers can choose to pay to download a song, buy CDs or records, stream their favorite radio stations or stream their favorite music without breaking the law. This, once again, is shattering the music industry’s business model.

And, boy, the times they are a-changin’. Consumers now connect globally to their favorite bands through the Internet and bypass exclusive record label channels. The majority of consumers don’t buy albums, they download songs.

There’s been a greater attendance at concerts (Live Nation’s ticket sales are up 17%) . Fans seem to be more loyal. Consumers have it made right now, and things seem to be getting even better.

Spotify, the online streaming service, started contacting record labels for a possible negotiation. The labels offered a share in their company for a band’s catalog. The big boys started jumping on board, giving listeners gold record bands, such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd – for free.

And the record labels are happy, because it’s the first time someone has offered them equity for their band’s music. Which means that, if Spotify goes public, well, it’s more money for them. Everybody wins.

However, not everyone is happy with the online streaming service, especially Taylor Swift. After “trying” her music out on Spotify, she decided it wasn’t the best medium for her music, so she pulled her catalog from the streaming service. She also believed her music wasn’t valued as much, because Spotify has no regulations on who gets what – and lack of earned royalties.

It’s an interesting situation right now. With artists pulling music from Spotify (even Jason Aldean recently joined the Swift bandwagon), the music industry must ask itself – is online music streaming the future of music mediums?

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
In today’s market, technology has placed the ball back in the consumer’s court. The music industry is reeling and desperately trying to get back in the game, but the game keeps changing. Technology is transforming everything, we all know, but how is your company preparing for the inevitable? Are you creating a customer-centric culture that embraces the new? Or are you waiting to see how your competitors fare?

The Apple/Uber Effect, Coming to Work Comp

Industry disruptors change the entire industry — often forever — and they are coming to workers’ comp.

Think of Steve Jobs’ invention and Apple’s implementation of the iPod. It turned the music industry on its side. The “smart” iPhone profoundly changed the way we use phones. Land lines have become almost obsolescent and old “Ma Bell” would not recognize the industry. Jobs also disrupted the personal computer industry with the iPad. Sales are down for laptops and portable computers because people rely on the simpler iPad for personal use, for e-reading, for movies and for specific business adaptations. As an example, doctors’ offices now use iPads for data input into EMRs (electronic medical records). iPads and phones even capture credit cards and signatures.

A more recent disruptor is Uber. The car-booking company has seriously disrupted the stodgy taxi industry as people find Uber simpler, quicker and more satisfactory. The company doesn’t even own cars, yet it was recently valued at $40 billion, in the same ballpark as General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, whose market capitalization is $53 billion.

Disruptors in Workers’ Compensation

Everyone agrees workers’ compensation needs updating and improving. Unfortunately, the industry is notoriously resistant to change. What would an industry disruptor create for this industry?

Some say the big change needed is to legislate letting the employer opt-out from state regulated systems. Texas and Oklahoma are the change leaders in that effort. A group of employers is working in other states to bring about similar legislation. If well-executed, these efforts could significantly affect the industry.

To bring about superior, sustainable change, new applications of technology will be required to monitor consistency, quality and compliance across jurisdictions. The technology is available. Now a unique application is needed, one that everyone loves to use!

Loving technology is not a sentiment normally found in workers’ compensation. That is because most still think of technology as tedious data input and mistrust the output. Nevertheless, creative technology could enhance nearly every activity in workers’ compensation.

The ultimate goal in any workers’ compensation endeavor is (should be) to optimize the medical care of injured workers at the lowest possible cost. A successful industry disruptor will apply technology in new ways, thereby improving cost and outcome pathways for injured workers and their employers.

Any industry disruptor technology will encounter resistance in workers’ compensation. However, everyone can contribute to positive industry disruption by simply being open to change. Creative new use of technology will change the way the workers’ compensation world is managed. Industry disruptors will make sure that happen.

What the Apple Watch Says About Innovation

Now that the dust has settled on the long-anticipated unveiling of the Apple Watch, a major obstacle to its success is coming into view: the iPhone.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of breathless anticipation for years because, as Tim Cook said at its introduction, it represents “the next chapter in Apple’s story.” Conceived three years ago, shortly after Steve Jobs’ passing, the Watch is the embodiment of multiple dramatic arcs and aspirations.

It is the first major product developed under Tim Cook and Jony Ive outside of Jobs’ shadow—and thus has huge personal and legacy implications for both men.

The Watch is also Apple’s attempt to catalyze and dominate the wearables category. Given the intense competition in the smartphone market and the widespread view that new killer products, platforms and ecosystems will emerge somewhere at the intersection of the Internet of Things and wearable computing, the Watch is central to Apple’s post-iPhone strategy.

It might seem that the iPhone should be the Apple Watch’s greatest asset. Apple is positioning the Watch as a jaw-dropping, must-have peripheral to the iPhone. Millions of iPhone-toting Apple fans are sure to queue up upon the Watch’s 2015 launch to buy it. But do not mistake early adopters for market validation. For billions of other potential customers, the Watch’s close linkage and tethering to the iPhone could be a fundamental weakness.

In the short term, Apple must convince existing customers that they need a Watch in addition to their iPhone. Apple, however, has yet to offer a convincing case for this.

Long-rumored groundbreaking health apps built on Watch-mounted sensors have not materialized—disappointing many healthcare watchers (including me). That leaves Apple competing against more narrowly focused wearable devices like the Fitbit and Pebble—but at multiple times the price and fractions of the battery life.

Apple is also touting Apple Pay as a killer app that will attract consumers to the Watch. But, while Apple Pay is an intriguing service-oriented strategy for Apple, there is no need for consumers to buy an Apple Watch to use it. Apple Pay will work fine with just the iPhone.

For now, it seems that Apple has higher hopes for the Watch as a fashion accessory than as a category-defining killer app. But even that highbrow aspiration has ample skeptics who question the Watch’s fashion chops and business potential.

In the long term, when and if compelling apps emerge for the Watch, Apple will have to convince Watch enthusiasts that they need an iPhone in addition to the Watch.

This might not seem like a limiting factor given that there are more than 300 million active iPhone users. But imagine if the iPhone were just a peripheral to the Mac, thereby limiting its addressable market to Mac owners. Or imagine if the iPhone had to be tethered to the iPod. Do not such scenarios, in retrospect, sound implausibly shortsighted?

Both the Mac and the iPod were great products with loyal followings at the iPhone’s introduction. Apple, however, did not limit the iPhone to its predecessors’ market niches. As shown in Figure 1, the result was a blockbuster that lifted Apple far beyond those earlier products. The iPhone has grown to represent more than half of Apple’s revenues and perhaps even more of its profits.

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Figure 1 — Apple Device Sales

Now the iPhone has a loyal following but a small share of the smartphone market. Will Tim Cook limit the Apple Watch’s success to iPhone owners, or will Cook free it to dominate the potentially larger wearable devices space?

Freeing the Watch is a strategic imperative.

History tells us that market-leading technology products like the iPhone inevitably fade. The companies that depend on them must innovate into the succeeding categories or fade as well. Kodak, Polaroid, IBM, DEC, Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry, Intel, Sony, Dell and Microsoft are among those fading or faded companies.

All of those other companies underutilized disruptive advances in information technology for (at best) incremental enhancements to their dominant products. By doing so, they missed out on new killer products, business models and industries that coalesced around the new platforms enabled by those technology advances.

Thus, Kodak wasted decades trying to deploy digital photography (which it invented) as an enhancer to its dominant film-driven businesses. Microsoft was slow to the web and the cloud and killed its early e-reader and tablet devices because of internecine struggles over how those new categories related to its Windows and Office businesses. The list goes on: IBM did not lead in minicomputers. DEC and every other leading minicomputer maker missed out on personal computers. Motorola and Nokia were killed by smartphones, and Blackberry is near death.

Limiting the Watch to a peripheral role in the iPhone-centric ecosystem would repeat the same mistake made by those earlier market-leading technology companies.

That’s not to say there is not a lot of money to be made in the defend-the-cash-cow approach. Just look at the more than $650 billion in revenue and nearly $250 billion in earnings that Steve Ballmer delivered in his tenure as Microsoft CEO. Ballmer achieved those impressive numbers by defending and milking Microsoft’s dominant Office and Windows products. Ballmer, Microsoft and its investors missed out, however, on the market value created by Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and others that capitalized on search, big data, cloud computing, mobile devices and social media. Ballmer’s inability to grow beyond the core products that he inherited stagnated Microsoft’s market value for a decade.

Likewise, Tim Cook could nurse Apple’s iPhone-driven revenue stream for a long time. I doubt, however, that Tim Cook would be satisfied with a value-creation legacy comparable to Steve Ballmer’s.

It is too early to dismiss the Apple Watch’s potential to transcend the iPhone. We’ll get a measure of Apple’s foresight when it releases the software development kit (SDK) for the Watch. That will show how fundamentally tethered the Watch is to the iPhone and whether Apple has laid the groundwork for the Watch to be standalone at some point.

The real gut check for Tim Cook is further out in time, when technology and creativity enables wearable devices like the Watch to not only stand alone from the iPhone but also to replace it.

Will Tim Cook allow the Watch to cannibalize iPhone sales—as Apple previously allowed the iPhone to eat away at the iPod and risked the iPad’s doing the same to the Mac? Or will Apple stagnate as competitors and new entrants out-innovate it? Will Apple fade away as the riches from new killer apps, devices, ecosystems and business models that coalesce around emerging wearables-centric platforms flow to others?