Tag Archives: SNL Financial

Ads Can’t Buy You Happy Customers

It seems like you can’t watch television for 10 minutes these days without hearing a sneaky gecko, a suit-clad man named Mayhem or Progressive’s Flo pushing insurance.

Insurance ads like GEICO’s bring some humor to your between-show times, and they’re definitely better than those psoriasis medication ads. But what’s not so funny is that policyholders are spending billions to broadcast those messages across the airwaves. Now, with auto insurance premiums rising faster than they have in nearly 13 years, more drivers are asking why they’re paying for insurers to outspend every other American industry on ads by nearly 8%.

In my opinion, it’s a fair question — especially considering that there are better ways to earn satisfied policyholders.

Ads Don’t Make Happy Customers

In 2014, S&P Global (formerly SNL Financial) analyzed auto insurance advertising spending and found that GEICO led the pack, spending almost $1.2 billion annually, closely followed by Allstate at more than $937 million. Those figures keep climbing, but do they translate to better service?

The Consumer Federation of America broke down the ratio of advertising to premiums and found that GEICO spent 6% of its budget on ads in 2013, while Allstate spent 5.7%. Interestingly, Allstate’s recent earnings report showed its net income fell by almost $1.2 billion from the first quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016. GEICO, not to be outdone, had one of its worst years on record in 2015.

When it comes to customer satisfaction, though, the big spenders aren’t winning. When Reviews.com weighed the nation’s largest auto insurance companies for dependability, financial standing, reliability and customer focus, it was Amica and State Farm that came out on top.

What do Amica and State Farm have in common? They’re both policyholder-owned. So while investor pressures have put stockholder-owned GEICO and Allstate on top for ad spending, they’re not pleasing customers like mutually owned Amica and State Farm.

See also: How to Redesign Customer Experience

There are plenty of differences between mutual companies and investor-owned insurance companies, of course, but a big one is how they spend profits. While policyholder-owned insurers also purchase ads to tempt new customers, they — unlike stockholder-owned insurers — return a chunk of their profits to members in the form of dividends or reduced premiums.

Cut Ads, Not Service

Mutual companies have shown that it’s possible to contain — even to reduce — costs while still satisfying customers. After all, when was the last time you saw an Amica ad on television?

The first — and perhaps most important — step to keeping rates low is to reduce customers’ exposure to risk. Our company recently tightened its underwriting guidelines to contain claims and allow policyholders to benefit from the cost savings. It’s a difficult decision that can hinder sales, but it’s the best way to keep costs low for everyone.

Next, find ways to get your name out there that benefit existing policyholders. In lieu of ads, we conduct programs called brand energizers that reward the affinity groups we serve. Nurse’s Night Out, for example, treats our life-saving policyholders to an evening of fun, while our Work Hard/Play Hard sweepstakes are a great way to build word of mouth while rewarding customers who are first responders.

Reward programs are just one way to build your brand without ads. We’ve developed a team of field marketing managers, our brand ambassadors, who make appearances at schools, educational events and other local groups to explain the benefits of our policies. This model costs much less than a national television ad campaign while building our reputation in the communities we serve.

Hiring captive agents, too, is a good way to structure teams in a way that boosts service, not costs. Our account consultants are rewarded for bringing in new accounts, as well as for their retention efforts, and they’re not tied to particular clients. This creates incentives to provide world-class service to every potential client they encounter.

See also: Spending on Agents Beats Spending on Ads

Don’t forget the value of a strong retention program, which captive agents can help with. Happy customers are loyal customers, and the cost of retaining a customer is much lower than earning a new one. According to Bain, a mere 5% increase in customer retention could garner your company as much as a 95% profit increase. A focus on retention also builds brand champions who are willing to tell others about their experience. Wouldn’t you rather hear a neighbor’s recommendation than a gecko’s sales pitch?

Lastly, build a strong surplus to protect yourself against unexpected losses. If a tornado strikes, you’re only as strong as your reserves. Invest in this surplus so you can weather disasters without raising policyholders’ rates in their time of need.

When I started working in the industry, I rarely saw an insurance ad on television. I’m now sick of them, and I know customers are, too. To keep policyholders happy without dropping billions on ads, try it the old-fashioned way: Cultivate strong relationships and even stronger reserves, focus on retaining customers and build a team of brand advocates.

Maybe you — and all of America — can then get back to watching your show in peace.

Meeting a Litmus Test for Disruption

The insurance industry has been talking a lot about disruption over the past couple of years. But, as with many things, insurance is a late arriver to the disruption party. Clayton Christensen helped kick off an earnest discussion of the topic back in 1997 with his first book, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. In his 2003 book, The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth, he proposed this question as part of a litmus test for the disruptive potential of ideas:

“Is there a large population of people who historically have not had the money, equipment or skill to do this thing for themselves, and as a result have gone without it altogether or have needed to pay someone with more expertise to do it for them?”

While Christensen has recently gotten some flak for being too dogmatic in his criteria for what constitutes a truly “disruptive innovation” (perhaps succumbing to his own definition of disruption?), the question actually describes very well how insurance has historically operated. It is a complex, mysterious product that has forced consumers to rely on the expertise of an agent or company rep to buy, understand and use it.

The increasing transparency and empowerment afforded by data, the Internet and digital technologies have helped level the playing field. Yet the majority of insurance buyers still rely on a live person, usually an agent, to make sure they’ve made the right decisions and to close the sale.

The ever-growing field of companies and investors eyeing the insurance industry sees this issue as one of the greatest opportunities for disrupting the industry’s incumbents. Some companies still take comfort in the fact that the insurance industry has difficult and unique barriers to entry, chiefly its complex regulatory environment and huge capital requirements to cover losses. But the size of the opportunity — $1.1 trillion in net written premiums in the U.S. in 2014, according to SNL Financial – is an incentive that is spurring a lot of creativity, innovation and investment that will help overcome these barriers.  It’s a question of when, not if.

But it’s also still a question of how. How will the insurance business model change to at least meet the litmus test described by Christensen? It’s clear that changes are unfolding because of ambitious outsiders as well as creative and forward-thinking industry insiders.

So what should insurers do? How should they respond? Majesco’s newly released research report (based on a survey conducted in late 2015 with its customers), 2016 Strategic Priorities: Impactful Pace of Change, reveals that many insurers are monitoring potentially disruptive technology and business trends, but, unfortunately, few are actively preparing for the changes coming. Four overall themes emerged from the survey responses:

  • First, there is a clear recognition of the shift to the customer being in control and the importance of being customer-driven.
  • Second, there are significant barriers and limitations on current business capabilities that must be overcome to survive — let alone to grow and compete — starting with transformation of legacy systems that were built around products rather than customers.
  • Third, there are potential blind spots around customer expectations, technology and competition that are lurking around the corner of the not-too-distant future, creating forceful disruption.
  • Fourth, the pace and impact of change have intensified the need for agility, innovation and speed.

While business transformation progress is being made, significant work is necessary to compete in a customer-driven age. At the same time, the world is changing rapidly, and new expectations, risks, technologies, competitors and innovations threaten to significantly disrupt the insurance business landscape. For those unprepared, the change could be devastating.

The insurance industry is recognizing more and more that it is a target for potential disruption, because consumers are demanding – and getting – more transparency and responsiveness from company after company. Changes are being driven from both inside and outside the insurance industry along several different dimensions like technology, products, new players and partnerships. There are formidable hurdles for new entrants, but the incentive is huge for those who can remove the complexity of insurance and increase the value proposition for customers.

Insurance companies need to move beyond monitoring these developments to actively determining how the future will look. To prepare and respond, insurance companies must adroitly do two things simultaneously: modernize and optimize the current business while reinventing it for the future. It’s like changing the tire on a car while you’re driving at full speed down the freeway. Those companies that can do this will transcend merely surviving in an increasingly competitive industry and become the new leaders of a re-imagined insurance business.

Read more about how companies view these and other strategic priorities in Majesco’s research report, 2016 Strategic Priorities: Impactful Pace of Change.