Lending Tree to Buy Online Insurance Service QuoteWizard for $370M

By | October 5, 2018

Online financial services marketplace LendingTree Inc. said it has agreed to acquire QuoteWizard.com, one of the largest online insurance comparison marketplaces.

Since its founding in 2006, QuoteWizard has helped nearly 40 million consumers shop for auto, home and health insurance from more than 30 carriers and 10,000 agencies. Its carrier partners include AIG, Travelers, Farmers, The Hartford, MetLife and Safeco. At any given time, about 4,000 to 5,000 agents may be participating in the system.

The equity purchase has a possible total consideration of $370.2 million, which consists of $300 million in cash at closing and contingent payments of up to $70.2 million, subject to achieving certain growth targets over a three-year period.

LendingTree intends to fund the acquisition through cash on hand and by drawing on its existing credit agreement.

The deal comes after the news earlier this week that another major online financial services marketplace, Credit Karma, is launching a service that will recommend auto insurers to customers. Credit Karma has 80 million users.

“By acquiring QuoteWizard, LendingTree will establish itself as a leading player in the online insurance advertising industry, while continuing our ongoing diversification within the financial services category,” said Doug Lebda, founder and CEO of LendingTree.

On a conference call, Lebda described insurance as a large market that is “under-penetrated online” and one that is “very important” to Lending Tree. He said he has been watching the insurance market for 15 years and decided it is a market where “buying made more sense than building.” He said due diligence calls to insurance carriers gave his firm “comfort” that carriers intend to continue building around online overall and in homeowners in particular.

“LendingTree’s strong brand identity, online marketing and technology capabilities are the ideal match for what we’ve built at QuoteWizard,” said co-founder and CEO Scott Peyree. “This acquisition will give our business the reach and tools it needs to continue our growth trajectory while further diversifying LendingTree’s product portfolio.”

The acquisition is expected to close in the fourth quarter subject to customary closing conditions.

For the six months ended June 30, 2018, QuoteWizard reported approximately $75.6 million in revenue and approximately $12.8 million in adjusted EBITDA. LendingTree expects the acquisition to be accretive to 2019 adjusted earnings per share.

Year-to-date, QuoteWizard has received 6.5 million requests for insurance quotes, a number that Lebda said he thinks branding under the Lending Tree name will help grow.

At this week’s just-completed Insuretech Connect Conference in Las Vegas that drew 6,000 insurance and insurtech executives, Caribou Honig, co-founder of the conference, predicted companies like Credit Karma and Lending Tree would be looking to insurance.

“You should also keep an eye on the new companies coming to insurance. Not the insuretechs, not the longstanding ones, but others who bring capabilities and are starting to eye the insurance vector,” Honig told attendees. “Now many of them, you want to be in your supply chain. They want to be helping you succeed, and indeed many of those will be content in simply being part of your supply chain. But some fraction of them will want you to be in their supply chain. Pay special attention to those because that’s where the action is really going to happen.”

QuoteWizard.com offers personalized quotes on auto, home, renters, health, and Medicare supplement insurance. It is not itself a licensed insurance agent or broker. The company services clients by driving consumers to insurance companies’ websites, providing leads to agents and carriers, as well as phone transfers of consumers into carrier call centers.

QuoteWizard.com is based in Seattle, Washington. It has about 148 employees.

The company’s technology products include Delty, a cost-per-click platform; Cello, a lead distribution platform; and WizardCalls, a call transfer platform. Lending Tree Chief Financial Officer J.D. Moriarty said there is carrier interest in all three platforms, depending on their distribution models, which was one aspect of QuoteWizard his company values.

Moriarty praised QuoteWizard’s relationships with carriers and its agent network as important to the transaction.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based LendingTree’s site connects consumers with financial services providers from a network of more than 500 partners. Services include mortgage loans, mortgage refinances, auto loans, personal loans, business loans, student refinances, credit cards and more. Consumers receive free credit scores, credit monitoring and recommendations to improve credit health. LendingTree proactively compares consumers’ credit accounts against offers on its network and notifies consumers when there is an opportunity to save money.

BofA Merrill Lynch acted as exclusive financial advisor to LendingTree in connection with the transaction. GCA Advisors acted as exclusive financial advisor to QuoteWizard.

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