Tag Archives: progressive

Usage-Based Pricing: Reality or Fantasy?

In the world of usage-based insurance (UBI), Progressive is an exception: Its massive amount of driving data – 110 terabytes covering some two million vehicles, 1.5 billion separate trips and more than 10 billion miles driven – allows it to quickly test new rating factors and to do so with a great degree of accuracy.

“We continue to test new ideas all the time,” says David Pratt, Progressive’s general manager of usage-based insurance. “Our research team will come up with a theory for what would predict safe driving. With our big data set, we can test those quickly.”

Few other UBI providers are as fortunate. Octo Telematics, which launched its first UBI product in 2002, also has tons of data: 194 billion kilometers of driving performance from two million drivers globally. But most other companies are making educated guesses based on more limited data combined with more traditional ratings factors.

As Nino Tarantino, CEO of Octo Telematics North America, says, “Today, there is no data standard and no clear understanding of which data and how much is required.”

For example, Octo works with seven insurers in the U.S. and Canada, and each one asks for a different data set to be collected – everything from hard braking and acceleration to how many trips a driver takes and how long the trips are, as well as when and where they occur.

Actuarial guidelines often cite 100,000 earned car years as the threshold for credibility for a model, says Dwight Hakim, vice president of telematics, Verisk Insurance Solutions, a provider of underwriting data and tools for UBI. An earned car year is equivalent to one car insured for one year.

In traditional motor vehicle insurance, the number of earned car years is used to show state regulators that an insurer’s pricing decision is based on plenty of evidence. This helps reassure regulators, and helps agents selling the insurance.

“Credibility is particularly important when insurers are constructing a rate plan that might increase premiums,” Hakim says. “Regulators need to see a model with high credibility if that model might result in rate increases. Assuming the insurer has a good financial position overall, modest rate decreases are easier to justify.”

While using earned car years – or the equivalent in telematics driving data – may be critical when an insurer asks regulators to approve a price increase, it may not be strictly necessary to see how different UBI rating characteristics perform, Hakim says.

Trial first, price later

That is what many insurers in need of beginning to test or launch UBI programs are betting on, to avoid the need for a large data set.

For starters, insurers can assume that good drivers self-select for UBI programs. “Chances are [that] the people who try it are more likely to be safe drivers,” says Thomas Hallauer, research and marketing director for telematics consultancy Ptolemus Consulting Group. “So you know you can offer some kind of discount anyway. You also know they will probably stick longer to your contract.”

Another strategy, Hallauer says, is for UBI insurers to collect an initial data set through trials, and to then revise their ratings as more data comes in. Coming up on one full year of offering UBI in the U.S., American Family Insurance used just this approach.

“We feel like we got enough to launch, but as we see the data we know we need to refine it,” says Pete Frey, personal lines UBI program and product manager, American Family Insurance.

Combining telematics data with traditional rating factors, such as age and location of residence, is yet another strategy. The Hartford is one of many U.S. insurance companies to do just that, saying it makes for finer segmentation for its consumers.

“Almost all programs in the U.S. augment telematics data with other carrier-specific rating factors,” Hakim says. “Assessing the degree of overlap among rating factors to avoid double-counting takes a significant amount of work, but carriers are implementing telematics because they know doing so will help them stay competitive and win market share.”

But the benefit of adding more data must equal the cost, Progressive’s Pratt warns. While he agrees that UBI rating will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, “if it costs a lot to get the information, it’s maybe not worth it,” he says.

Consumer acceptance is another sticking point. “Everything we use has to be something the customer thinks is fine,” Pratt says. “We have to be able to explain to people why it makes sense, why it’s actually fair that we do it that way.”

Pooled data

Finally, insurers can get larger data sets from third-party telematics data providers, such as Verisk Insurance Solutions, Towers Watson and Octo Telematics.

Verisk offers what it calls “Driving Behavior Database for Modelers,” which makes available to statistical modeling applications: data from telematics devices; exposure, premium and loss information on insured drivers; and third-party data, including weather conditions, road type and traffic flow.

Towers Watson has a pooled data offering that collects telematics data and claims, policy, vehicle and driver information. And it uses this pooled data to score drivers and to provide those scores to insurers. Also available from Towers Watson are models that take into consideration third-party information like maps and weather, road type, population density, weather and angle of the sun.

Octo’s Insight Centre collects global, real-time data from its installed base of Clearbox telematics devices, which customers can then interrogate to inform their UBI offerings.

However, there are caveats when it comes to using pooled data.

Hakim, for example, warns that while amassing large quantities of data is critical, not all data is equally valuable. Its utility depends on its accuracy and completeness; how frequently it’s sampled; and the source – whether OBD2 outputs, GPS or accelerometers in cell phones.

“Knowing how each device works and the manner in which the different technologies interact is key,” he says. “The complexities of reading the car’s diagnostic information, appending accelerometer data and then transmitting [it] wirelessly require a deep bench of experience.”

American Family Insurance’s Frey makes a similar point. The availability of aggregated, third-party data is not the issue, he says. While there are plenty of companies offering data to insurers, “carriers are just trying to figure out how to use it,” he says. “The data is almost overwhelming.”

The profit question

One of the big, unanswered questions about usage-based insurance is whether insurance carriers will ultimately be more profitable than – or even as profitable as – providers of traditional motor vehicle insurance.

“It’s an accepted thing that putting in a UBI program for starters is a cost,” according to Frey, of American Family Insurance. “It is about a longer-term strategy. Ideally, companies hope to achieve more growth.”

Among those costs that must be taken into account are the cost of telematics hardware – if an insurer is going the route of using its own devices – and the cost of the back-end infrastructure. Adding UBI on top of an already-existing infrastructure, as major insurers must do, is extremely costly, according to Hallauer, at Ptolemus. In this respect, UBI upstarts that rely on scalable cloud solutions have an advantage, Hallauer adds.

Still, the hope is UBI will ultimately pay off.

Enabling more sophisticated pricing is one benefit. “You want to make sure you have the right rates for the right drivers,” Frey says. “One of the biggest goals is trying to create fair rates eventually.”

And insurance discounts are only part of the equation, Hallauer adds. “The pricing decision is not a discount decision; it’s how do you change the offering to make it enticing?” he says.

According to Hallauer, discount-based UBI incentives will eventually evolve into a more service-oriented approach that may range from life-saving services, such as calling an ambulance after a crash, to more prosaic ones, such as allowing drivers to get a driving score.

Ultimately, he says, UBI can make the customer feel comfortable in having a stronger link with the insurer.

Value beyond discounts

Frey says American Family Insurance is looking in this direction. While it hasn’t pinpointed what services it might offer, it’s considering safety services, making drivers aware of their driving habits and stolen vehicle recovery.

Octo’s Nino Tarantino notes that the value-added services approach is more common in Europe, where some insurance companies offer personal safety and security services, instead of discounts.

The environment is different in North America, he says, because of Progressive. The early mover’s decision to base its UBI offering on a good-driver discount established the tone for consumer expectations and shaped the market.

According to Pratt, at Progressive, the company tries to set its prices so the profit margin is the same for people who sign up for Snapshot, its UBI product, as it is for people who opt for traditional insurance.

Progressive’s theory is that UBI customers will stay with the company longer – and so far that’s been the case. Therefore, the lifetime revenue per customer should be higher, even though the margin is the same as for traditional insurance customers.

Progressive may also save some money through helping people drive better. The company noticed that the driving of UBI customers improved when, a couple of years ago, it added the option of turning on audio feedback in the device so that, for example, it beeps when someone brakes hard.

“We see this training effect within the first few weeks people have the device plugged in,” Pratt says. “They learn to avoid hard braking, and we have evidence it helps people avoid accidents. That could be a big change in the industry, trying to actually reduce your risk.”

But the big win is likely in the life of the customer relationship. Pratt adds. “We are not trying to make ourselves more profitable with this. We are trying to attract and keep good customers for a long time.”

In fact, Tarantino thinks that most usage-based insurance programs cannot succeed if they’re based only on discounts because of all the additional costs associated with them. He says Octo’s experience with 2.4 million insured drivers in Europe shows that “when the benefits of pricing and determining risk are combined with the benefits of the understanding the moment of loss for the insurance company – when there is a crash, that is – it will be successful.”

There is never enough data

So is there any such thing as enough data?

Pratt doesn’t think so. Progressive’s Snapshot considers mileage, time of day and hard braking. The company recently began a pilot using GPS-enabled devices to examine whether highway versus city street driving can contribute to predicting future losses.

Progressive has found that the measurement of how someone drives is indeed a better predictor of risk than driving record, age, gender or any of the traditional rating factors. Still, “the models can still get a lot better,” Pratt says.

Say Progressive wants to find out if people who are low-mileage drivers are safer drivers. The company can segment out those drivers from its customer base and see which ultimately did have accidents and which didn’t. It could go further and segment the low-mileage drivers by age to determine whether low mileage is a good predictor for all age groups.

Even with 10 billion miles driven, there may not always be enough drivers in the database to provide a meaningful segment to test a theory, Pratt says.

 

This article has been produced in the lead-up to the Insurance Telematics USA conference and exhibition, which will take place in Chicago on Sept. 3-4. This conference will tackle the steps needed to take UBI programs to the mass market. Find out more here.

Can Amazon Dominate in Insurance, Too?

In January 2013, LIMRA reported that 90% of industry executives it had surveyed believe that insurance companies will continue to form strategic alliances with “non-traditional organizations” to expand distribution. The example cited was MetLife’s trial alliance with 200 Wal-Mart stores. Then Accenture’s “Customer-Driven Innovation Survey” found that more than two-thirds of customers would consider purchasing home, auto and life insurance from businesses other than insurers—23% were open to purchasing from online service providers like Amazon or Google (which acquired auto insurance aggregator BeatThatQuote.com way back in 2011 in the UK).Amazon has proven leadership as an e-commerce distributor, while Google is seen primarily as an information organization, so I would like to elaborate exclusively on the compelling reasons for insurers and Amazon to create a distribution model to match ever-evolving customer demands.

Customer demands

Every information source and every analyst report on insurance in the recent past points to changes in customer’s preferences. Generation X, Generation Y and Millennials prefer doing business with companies that provide:

  • Convenience of on-demand buying and self-service, predominantly through digital channels such as web and mobile.
  • Personalization of product and service delivery, including helping the customer choose the right product.
  • Building trust through transparency in pricing, simplified products and clear articulation of benefits.

So, insurers must innovate in personalizing products, providing transparency in the value of products and services and demonstrating excellence in on-demand distribution. Innovation must also touch “moments of truth” such as claims and policy changes. It is also critical that the distribution lifecycle should be an iterative process to consistently review the value of benefits and help customers fine tune the products and services they purchase.

Insurers are lagging

Insurers have been consistently lagging in product innovation and trying to catch up through distribution. In P&C, all the personal product lines are commoditized. In life insurance, term-based products are commoditized. It is true some product personalization has been in the market for some time, such as pay-as-you-driving with telematics in auto insurance (led by Progressive, which saw a boost in profitability). Yet personalization has not reached its potential because of multiple inhibiting factors both internal (lack of aggregated information on risk, etc.) and external (privacy concern, etc.). The lack of product innovation shifts the responsibility of differentiation to distribution.

Manufacturing and retail have been pioneers in showing how boring commodity products can be differentiated through aspects of distribution such as packaging and channel selection.  A recent example is Coca Cola, which has been managing differentiation based on targeted customer segment and channel (Wal-Mart vs. Walgreens vs. Costco, etc.) and has moved one step closer to the customer by signing a 10-year agreement with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to bring vending machines into kitchens.

In the past, insurance has learned from retail about channels. GEICO, which was known for selling online, has set up brick-and-mortar agency centers by responding to the fact that customers want to shop online but buy from agents. Allstate, where agents lead distribution, not only built online sales support but went one step further, acquiring Esurance to become a multi-channel insurer.

Now, with retail defining and moving toward omni-channel selling, through what is known as “device-independent e-commerce,” it is time for insurers to piggyback on Amazon, which is on the leading-edge of the emerging distribution model.

Amazon ready to sell insurance

Currently, Amazon merely sells books on insurance, has a limited selection of extended warranties for electronics and provides sponsored links for insurers. But to start selling insurance much more seriously would be easy for Amazon. It could expand its extended warranties and offer valuable personal property (VPP) insurance, as it sells the products that are insurable under VPP. It would also be logical for Amazon to extend and be an aggregator for auto, renters, homeowners and life insurance.

The critical question is: “Will customers want to buy from Amazon when there are other aggregators available?” For customers, having reusable information reduces effort, so VPP insurance would be a natural for Amazon. It gets more complex (and interesting) when analyzing the success factors involved in selling complex products such as auto, renters, homeowners and life insurance.

Few insurers can share data and process across products. Still fewer can share across channels. Aggregators are set up as silos. But Amazon’s shopping cart can provide ease of buying, plus reusability of data across channels (web and mobile) and products. The shopping cart actually can resolve the commodity dilemma of insurers through bundling. It can take the customers’ experience to the next level.

Amazon’s analytics-driven capabilities, such as detailed product features and comparisons (price to value of benefits), product reviews, questions and answers, “customers who bought this also bought,” “customers who viewed this also viewed” and offers for the week can be customized for insurance to offer suitable product advice to customers. Insurers do not have such an integrated view because of internal challenges in the effective use of data.

Amazon’s comparisons on features and pricing could improve transparency for customers. The reviews, Q&A and “similar customers” features would provide advice. “Weekly offers” would help customers continually review and tweak their insurance coverage. Hence, Amazon could become the channel of choice for all consumer insurance needs.

Sacred relationship, and not the competition, is the way to go

While Amazon could become consumers’ “trusted advisor,” Amazon also provides a jump start to insurance companies that want to build on the ready availability of its technology infrastructure, reducing their investment and time to market. Amazon might cooperate with innovative insurers to be an aggregator because that would provide immediate and direct profits from its platform.

Amazon would also generate synergies among its various product lines—for instance, when someone starts buying baby products, Amazon might offer life insurance. For existing homeowners policyholders, it could offer products, such as power generators, to help them get prepared and avoid loss during natural disasters such as hurricanes and ice storms. The customer’s engagement with Amazon would increase, leading to greater share of wallet through cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.

So, an insurer that provides coverage through Amazon would be creating a win-win-win—for Amazon, for customers and, of course, for itself.

Data, Analytics and the Next Generation of Underwriting

There appears to be violent agreement that 2014 is the year of advanced technology, data and analytics in insurance. Of course, these kinds of prognostications don’t sneak up on anyone. A convergence of growing organizational eagerness and sophisticated tools is allowing momentum to build for the next generation of underwriting to emerge.

Market dynamics are always an important factor in what ultimately makes the cut from strategic planning to implementation. The investment environment, increasing regulatory pressure and rising costs are influencing a more analytical approach to underwriting to increase profitability. With its historically volatile performance, homeowners insurance will be a particular focus in personal lines this year, as carriers adopt new approaches to drive profitability through underwriting.

2014 will provide a focus on shoring up the foundation needed to enable insurers of all shapes and sizes to become more analytically driven. And while carriers make progress, securing the necessary talent needed to succeed is a growing and industry-wide concern.

HOMEOWNERS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Shifting Focus Toward Homeowners, Following Trends in Auto Market

Analysis of the auto insurance market proliferated at the end of 2013, with some declaring pure direct writer Geico the inevitable winner in the “battle of the titans” against Progressive and other major players because Geico is unencumbered by an agency force. Time will tell if that’s the case, but one thing is clear: Scaling profitable market share in auto can only be done by technology focused and analytically driven carriers, with substantial marketing resources.

The trends in the auto market foreshadow what other lines of property and casualty insurance will face in 2014 and beyond, most urgently in homeowners. Consumer demand for online shopping increases pricing competition and customer-acquisition costs and at the same time lowers retention rates – the combination of which can squeeze margin for carriers that do not have advanced pricing tools. This dynamic forces insurers to sharpen their pencils and produce strategies to differentiate their brands and gain a competitive advantage. For carriers not as advanced as the larger auto carriers, the dynamic can represent fundamental shifts in their business and operating models.

Partially because of continuing market share consolidation and pricing stagnation in auto, there is increasing focus on homeowners insurance. A recent report by Aon Benfield shows 15% growth in direct written premium for homeowners between 2009 and 2012, compared with just 6.5% for direct personal auto premium. With the historical volatility and poor performance of the homeowners line of business, a number of new underwriting approaches are entering the market. At the same time, the industry is adapting to a changing consumer and regulatory landscape.

Consumer Demographics Changing the Game

“Show me the money (i.e., discounts), give me all the info I need wherever I am and in real time, and make sure your customer service is stellar or I’ll write up what a horrible experience I just had in 140 characters and share it instantly with all my friends.”

Exhausted yet?

The Millennial generation, at 77 million strong, demonstrates very different buying behaviors and demographic patterns than previous generations. These young consumers are having a notable impact on personal lines insurers. They primarily choose urban living, with very little difference between those who are parents vs. non-parents, according to a study from the American Public Transportation Association. They are less likely to drive cars and prefer multiple modes of transportation. In fact, a study from USA Today shows that Millennials are less concerned about owning either a home or a car.

This budget-conscious generation is reacting to the dismal economy and job market they encountered upon entering the workforce, as well as the significant levels of student loan debt many of them carry. They are much more sensitive to taking on long-term debt and minimizing monthly expenses. Because they have a job-scarcity mentality, Millennials value being unburdened in case they need to relocate for their career.

These trends also affect home building. While the news about housing starts is promising (up 22.7% in November 2013), real estate developers are responding to the Millennial generation’s desire for high-density urban living and hesitancy to commit to a mortgage – at least for now. While no one can predict how the home-ownership trend will play out for the long term, the insurance industry needs a product mix and customer-service approach that meets the needs of this demographic population.

KNOWING WHO AND WHAT YOU INSURE

Advancements in Advanced Data & Analytics

Traditional property inspection methods being used today only deliver an actionable result 25% of the time, which means 75% of inspections are a waste, according to a Claims Journal study. This ineffective use of resources isn’t sufficient to address the profitability issues that have plagued this line of business for years. In fact, since 1990, the homeowners industry has only experienced four years with combined ratios below 100. To combat the high combined ratios, carriers divide losses into two categories – catastrophe and non-catastrophe – and continually perform analyses to determine what characteristics about a home, the insured and the weather have the greatest impact on controlling losses.

Again, the auto insurance industry shines as being out in front of the P/C market with usage-based insurance and data collection on individual behavioral attributes. While it’s still an uphill battle for consumer adoption, the technology momentum is here to stay. Insurers are leveraging new data sources and analytical insights to improve their strategic approach to marketing, underwriting and claims.

For the full white paper by Valen on this topic, see their website.

Insurers Win Big With Social Media

Insurance agents have long understood the need to be social as a part of their sales process: the best agents have always been those who build strong relationships with and educate customers, keep in touch and ask for referrals. But new ways of communicating have resulted in new expectations buyers have, such as being able to Google an agent and check out his or her LinkedIn profile before deciding to proceed. This means that insurers need to rethink the sales process and the tools that they provide to their agents, so agents can take full advantage of the power of social media.

The profile information and status updates that more than one billion people share each day on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn offer agents incredible insights into what is happening in the lives of current and potential policyholders. These insights signal to agents what types of insurance are needed by the customer and generally allow the agent to build trust through personal connection and personalized service. As a result, agents can now be smarter about when they contact customers and prospects and more directed in their communications, saving agents time and improving business results. Researching prospects on social media and understanding what's happening in their lives ensures that every call will be warm. In the era of social media, the cold call is dead.

The insurance industry has been an early adopter of social technology. While regulated industries, including financial services and insurance, tend to be cautious because of compliance concerns, a study by International Data Corp. found that the insurance industry has actually blazed the trail with social media. Farmers, Nationwide, Thrivent Financial, Northwestern Mutual and other Fortune 500 insurance organizations have instituted forward-thinking initiatives on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter that have demonstrated social success that other industries are attempting to replicate.

But it's time for all insurers to move to the second wave with social. In the first wave, many companies rushed to get as many “likes” as possible on their Facebook pages. But research shows that these “likes” have failed to convert into lasting value and tangible return on investment. In the second wave of social, insurers are realizing that they need to focus on results achieved through true engagement and authentic relationships. Just as it has always been, since long before the digital age, developing long-standing relationships is key to building a successful business in the social era.

For insurers, moving on to the second wave means two main things:

First, insurers need to provide unique and relevant content that agents can use on their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds. For an agent, sharing relevant content via social channels builds credibility and helps establish them as a trusted expert that their connections will turn to when they need insurance. Marketing departments already know the type of content that resonates with customers and are typically producing professional content used in other online and offline channels. For example, success stories about the value of insurance or financial planning tools are valuable pieces of content for agents to share socially.

Second, insurers must empower the field. As an example, Thrivent Financial, a Hearsay Social client, has hundreds of agents actively managing their own local Facebook pages. As financial experts, Thrivent Financial representatives share value with their close-knit communities by consistently posting relevant content, like IRA calculators and market analyses. In addition, Thrivent reps share personal updates and plan community events, building an authentic social presence while still appropriately representing brand.

Organizations that empower agents to create their own local social-media presences are many times more effective than when the same messages are shared from a corporate page. While having five million fans wins bragging rights for any brand marketer, from the consumer's perspective, it can be much more powerful to hear the story from a local representative that you know and trust.

A local insurance agent's Facebook page

Savvy chief marketing officers at insurers have done a great job of making a relatively abstract product tangible by creating some of the most interesting and memorable personas in the history of marketing — Mayhem the Allstate villain, Flo the Progressive Girl, Snoopy representing MetLife and the GEICO gecko. For an industry that sells a product you can't hear, see, smell, taste or touch, this is impressive. And the characters can drive social-media strategies, allowing a company to create a social-media asset for a character (e.g., the Facebook page for Mayhem). Getting consumers to “like” the page can provide yet another entry point into the News Feed, increasing engagement for the brand and driving sales. When your local MetLife agent posts a picture of a sleeping Snoopy with the text “TGIF,” how can you not click “like”?

While insurers are off to a great start with social marketing, there is so much more that they can do to leverage the power of social media into sales. By coordinating enterprise-wide social selling programs, insurance companies can empower agents to attract more prospects and build stronger relationships, leading the way by selling socially.

Flo Won't Handle Your File: Claims in the Social Media Age

Viral phenomena on the Internet more frequently concern “Cats that Look like Hitler” or racy photos of Prince Harry cavorting in Las Vegas.

Insurance claims rarely go viral on social media, but that changed recently with a controversial underinsured motorist claim involving Progressive Insurance Company. You can find background on the case here.

The sad facts here are straightforward. Progressive Insurance Company policyholder Katie Fisher died in a 2010 automobile crash in Maryland. Allegedly, the other driver ran a red light, though there was a dispute as to who had the green light and the right-of-way. The driver that struck Katie’s vehicle was under-insured. The good news: Katie had bought underinsured motorist coverage (UIM).

The bad news: to collect, Katie’s family had to sue the other driver for negligence to force Progressive to pay. However, when the family sued the other driver, Progressive’s attorneys associated with the other driver’s attorneys to defend the liability claim. As a result, the deceased’s brother went viral in social media rounds, complaining that Progressive used premium dollars to defend his sister’s killer in court. That makes for an arresting headline.

This claim illustrates the importance of an insurance company being attuned to social media and having a social media policy. Of course, here Progressive did not stick its head in the sand. It did not ignore the social media buzz surrounding its handling of the case. Apparently, it responded but responded in a way perceived as tone-deaf.

Progressive In A Lose-Lose Situation?
Maybe Progressive Insurance Company was in a no-win situation. If it ignored the social media banter about its stance, consumers would accuse it of insensitivity. It entered the dialogue to justify its actions. In so doing, people accused it of being tone-deaf to consumer sensitivities. I don’t know what response Progressive could have launched on social media that would have satisfied its critics.

This vignette underscores how little people understand what they buy when purchasing underinsured motorist coverage. Buying underinsured motorist coverage essentially risks putting you at odds with your own insurance company. In such a claim, your own insurance company is incentivized to show that you in fact were at fault for the accident and/or that your injuries were not the result of the negligence of an underinsured driver. People assume that the insurance company to whom they paid their premiums will always be on their side. Typically, this is the case. Typically, this is the alignment of interests.

In underinsured motorist coverage and claims, however, “typical” doesn’t necessarily apply. Here, interests are aligned differently. Just because you pay your insurance company for the coverage doesn’t mean that — in a claim involving an underinsured adverse driver — your insurance company is going to act all soft and fuzzy.

Of course, insurance companies would not effectively market and sell underinsured motorist coverage if they made this reality explicit and spotlighted it in the sales process. People don’t think it through. Nobody really believes deep down they will be hurt due to the fault of an underinsured driver. If they pay for the coverage, perhaps they pay for it begrudgingly at best.

Policyholder Ignorance About Underinsured Motorist Coverage
So, those who say “Shame on Progressive” for its stance adverse to its own policyholder could add, “Shame on the policyholder” for not realizing the dynamics in underinsured motorist claims. Of course, it sounds callous to be lecturing a family on the dynamics of claims-handling when they have lost their daughter in a fatal car accident.

Further, there was a reasonable question of fact as to who had the right-of-way. Should Progressive and its adjusters have ignored evidence that the deceased may have been at fault in order to pay the claim? It’s difficult to fault Progressive’s adjusters here, as tempting as it may be to do so. There was a legitimate dispute as to who had the right-of-way and who ran the red light. Was Progressive wrong for exercising its legal right to seek a judicial determination of liability?

Personally, I don’t think so.

Nevertheless, insurance companies now face not just bad faith risks over how their claim department handles or mishandles an automobile loss. They also face reputational risks if disgruntled consumers take to Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Tumblr, etc. to air their gripes.

Internet Megaphones
The Internet and social media provides a bully pulpit and cyberspace megaphone for anyone who has a beef, whether that complaint is justified or specious. On the other hand, since everyone now has an electronic megaphone via the Internet, World Wide Web and social media, the cacophony of complaints can create a “white noise” effect that makes any one complaint difficult to stand out. This complaint did stand out, though, and got widespread media play.

While it is tempting to say “No comment” or “We won’t try our case in the media,” insurance companies — like other businesses — cannot take an ostrich approach and stick their heads in the proverbial sand.

The takeaways and lessons from this go beyond Progressive Insurance Company. Katie Fisher’s case illustrates that in the 21st century:

  • insurance companies must have social media policies,
  • they must monitor social media, and
  • they must be able to articulate a concise yet compelling message to an often skeptical audience.

It’s not enough to handle the claim conscientiously.

It’s not enough to handle it in accord with the policy conditions.

It’s not enough to comply with state insurance department regulations.

It’s not enough to believe that you acted in good faith.

If you have an under-insured motorist claim, you must realize that your adjuster will not be perky Flo from the TV commercials.

Insurers Need Social Media Strategy
This case study also spotlights the need for insurance companies to have a refined social media strategy. That goes beyond grappling with questions like, “Should we be on Facebook or Twitter?” or, “Should we have a blog?”

Sorry — those questions are so 2010. That no longer cuts it as a coherent social media strategy.

It’s no longer enough to have a digital footprint in the social media world. The content of what companies put out on social media is vital, scrutinized, and should promote their brand. Content is king.

Moreover, insurance companies must have institutionalized disciplines to monitor what is being said about them on social media so they can respond quickly and persuasively. The consumer conversation about your service and policies is going on — with you or without you. It is best that it goes on with you. It’s best that you have an opportunity to be aware of customer service firestorms brewing so that you have the opportunity to squelch them, address them and nip them in the bud.

You may have to justify your steps in the court of public opinion through social media or suffer the consequences of a public relations black eye if you hunker down and go incommunicado.

As this case study shows, adjusters are sometimes damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Pay the claim in the face of conflicting evidence, and be second-guessed for poor decision-making by higher-ups. Contest the claim and align yourself with the other driver’s insurance company, and you get criticized in the court of public opinion for callousness.

No one promised adjusters a rose garden and they certainly don’t get to operate in one in the age of viral posts and social media!