What Effect: The Internet
For those few readers who haven't yet been exposed to the Internet, I'll explain these terms in this article. However, the purpose of this article is to read, "the handwriting on the wall" with respect to the Internet's effect on the business of insurance agencies.
The Internet is an amorphous, ever-growing, interconnected mass of web-sites. It is amorphous because no one owns the Internet nor does anyone control it. It continues to grow at a rather phenomenal rate (estimates of between 1,000 and 2,000 new sites a day worldwide). It's a network because your computer dials in to a host computer (commercial, private, corporate, or public) and read the contents of a Website. A Website can be well likened to a large yellow page ad with relatively unlimited space. Companies have Websites to display and explain their products. Individuals have Websites as addresses into which anyone can post material and from which anyone can read the individual's entries about anything (and everything under the sun). Political groups have Websites (for obvious reasons) as do associations. More importantly, producers of products and services and retailers of products and services have realized the value of a site easily accessible by a computer through a telephone connection by anyone and from anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Getting even more specific, there are no fewer than 40 Websites located when I searched the Web for insurance - related sites.
Imagine for a moment a yellow page ad for your agency from which a prospect could "pull" information about any policy that you sell and any carrier that you represent. Imagine for a moment that your prospect could complete a form within that yellow page ad (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year) that would provide you with the necessary information to quote his risk. Imagine for a moment that you received a list every week of whoever read your yellow page ad (including their return address). Imagine for a moment...
Some of you out there are shaking your heads, thinking of reasons that something like this can't work. However, others of you have a far-away look in your eyes as you imagine, not what the problems are with respect to a vehicle like the Internet, but what the possibilities are instead.
Right now the Internet is a powerful, but complicated machine. Since it is amorphous, there are very few rules. Web-sites and addresses are very difficult to locate. However, evermore powerful search tools are being created for "browsing" the Web. This means that someday soon, I will be able to type the following words into a search tool - insurance, personal, automobile, Ohio - and receive a list of every web-site that uses those four key words.
Will the Internet and the World Wide Web take over the tasks now occupied by insurance agents? Certainly not during our careers. Even though the Web is increasing at an ever faster rate, the consumers are far from catching up to the technology. However, just as banking over computers and telephones has taken hold and is growing, so will shopping for insurance through Internet connections. It will grow slowly but it will grow. When this occurs it is fairly certain that the insurance companies will develop Web-sites for the quotation of their commodity products. Any policy form that requires relatively objective underwriting criteria (automobile, homeowners, and some capitol BOP policies) will be fair game for a Website with an Autobot (automatically generated forms processor) that will permit a consumer to complete his own application online with the company's computer system generating a quote and, if accepted, ordering the appropriate inspections or motor vehicle reports. Does that cut the agent out of the picture? Probably not. Servicing will still be a more personal issue and many companies will still require the services of a servicing agent to manage its growing book of business.
Imagine for a moment, however, what a Website could do for your agency if you are targeting or niche marketing products to a specific group. The benefit of your product can be described. Your history and reputation can be reiterated. Websites are now available with full motion picture and sound capabilities on which you can satisfied customers providing references. Certainly your prospect can e-mail you or fill out an appropriate form for contact. And your customer doesn't have to be local nor does he have to be working the same hours that you are available. If you would like to insure plastics manufacturers, for example, you can advertise your Website and have them seek you out as one part of your marketing effort.
I will close this article on how the Internet can work on behalf of consumers. I am a bibliophile (book collector). My specialty area is very narrow. Once I became a Net surfer and became connected to other collectors and dealers throughout the world, I found that my greatest frustration as a collector was no longer trying to find a rare item. Now, finding any item is no problem at all - paying for it is still a problem.
I urge those of you with access to computers and modems to get hooked into the Internet. But read one of the Internet books or take an Internet seminar to avoid the "learn as you burn" frustrations that I've had as I try to fumble my way through the process. The Internet can give you an edge in your efforts to pursue evermore competitive markets.
PS. We will be announcing our Website this year from which you can read these articles directly.