In Expanded Internet Naming Game, Who Will Own .insurance?

By | June 13, 2012

Trade groups representing global financial companies have applied to operate the new domain names .insurance and .bank. on behalf of the financial services industry.

The American Bankers Association (ABA) and The Financial Services Roundtable have applied to operate registries for these prized domain names as Internet organizers look to expand addresses beyond the familiar .com, .org and .net.

The two industry associations will be competing for rights to the new names with some Internet naming companies (dotfresh for one) and, in the case of .insurance, with auto insurer Progressive Casualty Insurance Co.

A naming company called Pioneer Willow affiliated with has applied for .insure.

The organization behind the naming expansion effort, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), today in London revealed who has applied for what it calls new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) names.

ICANN said its controversial campaign to expand Internet addresses attracted 1,930 applications, almost half of them from North America, with Web giants Amazon and Google applying for dozens of domains including .cloud, .buy and .book.

The applicants sought to protect names, brands and product fields ranging from .AAA and .AARP to .hotmail and .mutualfunds to .zip and .zulu.

In the insurance space, some of the firms applying include American International Group for .aig and .chartis; Travelers for .travelers, .travelersinsurance and .redumbrella and Allstate for .allstate and .carinsurance.

ICANN Senior Vice President Kurt Pritz said that the applications will now be subject to a 60-day public comment period and an independent evaluation process.

“A 60-day comment period begins today, allowing anyone in the world to submit comments on any application, and the evaluation panels will consider them,” said Pritz. “If anyone objects to an application and believes they have the grounds to do so, they can file a formal objection to the application. And they will have seven months to do that.”

ICANN says that the evaluations will be conducted by independent panels that will weigh the technical and financial capabilities of the operators applying along with the registry services they propose to offer to those wanting to use the address.

ICANN rules call for contested domains to go to auction where more than one party has a legitimate claim. The first new domains are expected to go live in the first half of 2013.

ICANN says that applying for a new gTLD is more than just buying a domain name. An applicant for a new gTLD is promising to create and operate a registry business supporting the Internet’s domain name system. This involves a number of responsibilities, as the operator of a new gTLD is running a piece of visible Internet infrastructure.

Applications can be filed by individual firms that want to protect their brands or own a particular domain name, or by groups in what are known as community applications, which is how the ABA and Roundtable are proceeding.

The ABA and Roundtable said their initiative is endorsed by the Australian Bankers’ Association, American Bankers Insurance Association, British Bankers’ Association, European Banking Federation, Independent Community Bankers of America, the International Banking Federation, and numerous financial services institutions.

Any companies wanting to use the generic gTLDs .insurance and .bank addresses operated by ABA and the Roundtable would have to be chartered by their home country financial regulators and follow other registration requirements.

The ABA and Roundtable said that by controlling the domains they hope to “safeguard consumers against imposter websites, thereby reducing malicious behavior and fraud.”

In a similar move, the American Council of Life Insurance filed for .lifeinsurance.

Among the other applications filed in the insurance space are:

  • Aetna for .aetna
  • Allstate Fire and Casualty for .allstate and .carinsurance
  • American Council of Life Insurance filed for .lifeinsurance
  • American International Group .aig and .chartis
  • Amica Insurance for .amica
  • BB&T Corp. for .bbt
  • Farmers Insurance Exchange for .farmers
  • Guardian Life for .guardian and .guardianlife
  • Hartford Fire Insurance Co. for .thehartford
  • MetLife for .metlife
  • Nationwide for .onyourside
  • Northwestern Mutual for .mutual and .northwesternmutual
  • Progressive Casualty for .insurance and for .progressive
  • Prudential for .pru and .prudential
  • State Farm Mutual for .statefarm
  • Travelers for .redumbrella and .travelersinsurance and .travelers
  • Wellpoint for .anthem

To view the entire list of applications, view here.

Craig Schwartz, head of operations for the ABA and Roundtable effort, said the goal of the two groups is to provide the “highest security for the millions of customers conducting banking and insurance activities online and to ensure the safety and soundness of the industry.”

The groups said if approved their new .bank and .insurance domains will adhere to heightened security standards.

“Consumers need to feel confident that when they go to a .bank or .insurance site, that a trusted third-party has vetted these domains names,” said Doug Johnson, ABA vice president of risk management. “New financial domains will be a detriment – rather than asset – if they cannot be trusted. That’s why our groups are leading this effort.”

While nobody yet knows of the new domain addresses will become popular, the ABA/Roundtable option might make some economic sense for firms.

Each application to ICANN costs $185,000, plus an operator would incur sizable start-up and annual running costs—costs that ABA/Roundtable will absorb. If the ABA/Roundtable application is approved, Schwartz said the organizations would then determine a fee to charge individual companies to use the domain.

“It would be a viable option for financial companies to operate in an exclusive, tightly regulated space that might not have the desire or resources to invest in or operate a branded domain,” he told Insurance Journal.

Schwartz said the ABA/Roundtable .bank and .insurance applications are community-based, meaning these domains will be run by the industry for the industry. He said the domains will be governed by representatives from financial institutions and associations.

Schwartz said his groups began the process as a defensive move “because the industry was committed to making sure any new financial-oriented domains would maintain the industry’s standards for security and would not damage consumer confidence.”

But he said that as gTLD expansion moves forward, they will “explore how to maximize the benefits of these domains” for customers.

ICANN reported that of the 1,930 applications received, 66 are geographic name applications while 116 applications are for Internationalized Domain Names, or IDNs, for strings in scripts such as Arabic, Chinese, and Cyrillic. Applications were received from 60 countries and territories: 911 from North America; 675 from Europe; 303 from Asia-Pacific; 24 from Latin America and the Caribbean and 17 from Africa.

The Financial Services Roundtable represents 100 of the largest integrated financial services companies providing banking, insurance, and investment products and services to the American consumer.

The American Bankers Association represents the nation’s $13 trillion banking industry and its two million employees.

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