As Auto Insurance Sales Stagnate, Carriers Turn to Agents: J.D. Power

May 15, 2017

Amid a second straight year of stagnant auto insurance shopping activity and modest rate increases, auto insurance companies have grown increasingly reliant on great customer service, personalized advice and strong agents to win customers, according to the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Insurance Shopping Study.

With average premiums increasing by a modest 2 percent to 3 percent annually, new insurance shopping rates flat and new customer acquisition rates unchanged, auto insurers are faced with the challenge of resisting commoditization, the report says.

The study finds that as auto insurers struggle to compete on price, they are being forced to differentiate based on factors such as brand reputation, agent recommendations, product and service to drive new business.

Communication remains critical, as the key performance indicator (KPI) that has the greatest influence on customer satisfaction in this year’s study.

The auto insurance industry is at an inflection point where customer patterns and behaviors are on the verge of shifting

“To survive this period of price stagnation, insurers must develop strategies to be able to better differentiate not just to acquire new customers, but also to acquire customers with desirable risk profiles in order to maintain profitability,” said Greg Hoeg, vice president of U.S. insurance operations at J.D. Power.

Key findings of the 2017 study include:

• Auto insurance market shopping stagnates: This year sees a continuation of the slowdown in shopping activity that was first noted in 2016. Average premium rates have increased just 2 percent to 3 percent; customer acquisition rates are flat; new quote volume is flat; and the total number of insurance shoppers is largely unchanged from the previous year.

• Price is more influential in brand consideration and quoting: Despite stagnant pricing, price remains a driver in every stage of the acquisition process, meaning insurers must always consider price to be competitive in the auto insurance market. For example, the influence of price on a shopper’s decision to consider and quote a brand has increased 5 percentage points in each of the past two years. As a result, the importance of price has surpassed that of a good past service experience when a shopper considers or quotes a brand.

• Agents continue to play a key role: Agent recommendations have become an increasingly important driver of customer consideration and quote generation. This category saw a nine-percentage point increase. Shoppers are also increasingly reliant on agent recommendations when considering and quoting insurers, compared to 2015 (a 10-percentage point increase).

• Communication is a critical driver of satisfaction: The KPIs affecting the purchase experience index the most are ensuring the customer completely understands coverage; providing guidance or tools for selecting the right coverage; and ensuring customers understand premium calculations.

Study Rankings

In the JD Power customer satisfaction rankings, Erie Insurance came in highest among auto insurers in providing a satisfying purchase experience, with a score of 879.

This marks the fifth consecutive year Erie Insurance has ranked highest in the study. American Family ranks second (869); The Hartford third (861); Automobile Club Group fourth (852); and Amica Mutual fifth (850).

The study is based on responses from more than 16,400 shoppers who requested an auto insurance price quote from at least one competitive insurer in the past nine months and includes more than 50,000 unique customer evaluations of insurers. The study was fielded in April, July and October 2016, and January 2017.

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