Internet Insurance Model Gains Market Share, Frustrates Brokers

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Oct. 12, 2009 12:00 am  

Since the Internet seems to be more than a fleeting fad, Arkansas insurance brokers must continue to battle a monster that some experts say they themselves created.

In the last few years, the Internet insurance model - a virtual one-stop shop without storefronts or independent brokers - has gained momentum.

"I think the insurance industry has created that monster - that price is all that matters," said Russ Berryhill, president of the Berryhill Group of Little Rock, which sells home, life, health, auto, mortgage and business insurance.

And a little momentum in a multitrillion-dollar industry can inflict a big dent.

Madelyn Flannagan, vice president of education and research at Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America Inc., said independent brokers lose a quarter of a percentage point of market share per year to channels other than independent brokerage firms, chiefly the Internet insurance model and "direct writing" firms like State Farm.

In the automobile insurance market alone, Flannagan said, that added up to a departure of about $1.3 billion last year.

But the enemy of insurance brokers has become a friend to insurers.

In the last year, QualChoice of Arkansas Inc. started working with eHealthInsurance Services Inc., an online health insurance platform that aggregates policy information from many insurers.

Though online activity crept at first, QualChoice now boasts that 25 percent of business comes from the partnership with eHealthInsurance.

"It's a requirement almost in order to do business," said Michael Stock, CEO of QualChoice of Arkansas Inc. "You have to have as many different channels of distribution as possible to get your products out to the consumers. People are busy today. And so they're looking for the most efficient way to do things and get access to information."

The Young and the Small

Several experts in the industry say the Internet model mostly hurts small firms that sell personal and small business insurance.

"If you're an agency that's geared towards personal lines and small business, I would say that the Internet is taking market share from you," said Roberts Lee, principal at Meadors Adams & Lee Inc. of Little Rock.



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