So Appy Together: Could Insurance, CU Alliance Work?
Fans of the San Francisco 49ers are such avid users of social media channels that Esurance seized on an opportunity to create for them even stronger ties to the NFL football team.
The 49ers and the San Francisco-based division of Allstate announced a partnership June 17 that makes Esurance the exclusive car, motorcycle, homeowners and renters insurance sponsor of the football franchise. Through the new Faithful 49 program, fans will have access to a number of benefits such as free trips to road games on the football's team plane, lunch with a player and autographed items.
President of the 49ers Paraag Marathe and Esurance President/CEO Gary Tolman said the mutual embrace of digital and social media was one of the reasons that drew the entities together.
If insurance companies can collaborate with major sports teams, can credit unions carve a social media niche in that same arena? According to U.S. Auto Insurers’ Digital Presence: Take a Look at Yourselfie, a new report from Boston-based research firm Aite Group, many of the country's leading insurance providers are already active on social media channels so the potential is certainly there.
Aite looked at the top 19 auto insurance companies and found that 10 offered the ability to request a quote, make a payment and conduct most other functions through their website, mobile sites and mobile apps. Five of the largest, by market share, regularly updated all three and each channel was modern, easy to navigate and well curated, according to the research.
Lindsey O’Connell, an Aite research associate and author of the report, said while she thinks credit unions might benefit from doing the same, she stopped short of saying what the long-term outcomes would be.
“I didn't directly observe any additional revenue-boosting opportunities based on social or mobile presence,” O’Connell said. “In other words, insurance providers and credit unions can both improve their performance in digital channels as a first step.”
Among the top five auto insurance providers that scored high marks for their digital criteria were State Farm, Allstate, Geico and Progressive, according to Aite. For instance, what differentiated a better website was how well the quoting engine minimized time by predicting data using public records such as vehicle and voter registries so that residents or potential drivers, along with vehicle information, can be pre-populated by the system, rather than entered manually by the end user.
Aite also found other time minimizers included defaulting responses to more commonly selected choices, grouping questions so that individuals can quickly bypass sections that may not be applicable to them, and providing exhaustive options in drop-down menus.
“For better or worse, consumers are becoming more and more self-reliant. I think insurance providers are facing an inflection point, and if they don't get on the digital train sooner there might not be an opportunity to catch up later,” O’Connell said.
A marriage between credit unions and insurance providers with social media and mobile functions being the wedding band still has to convince members just how the alliances will ultimately benefit them. The key ingredient to success with collaboration across partners is to provide a familiar member experience and ensure the consistency of the credit union's brand, said Eric Cotter, senior product director of automotive solutions at CU Direct, a lending services CUSO in Ontario, Calif.
“Given the ever-evolving, growing mobile environment that consumers are using to connect with each other, expanding to provide seamless shopping, financing and insurance experience through mobile can be a key differentiator for credit unions as they seek to increase member satisfaction and revenues,” Cotter pointed out.
Credit unions should partner with organizations that can deliver value to members in channels that the financial institutions already dominate, he suggested. The caveat here is that members know, trust, and want to work with their credit union, not be passed off to another brand, Cotter said.
“Users are already have over 40 apps installed, there is no need to download five more to purchase a vehicle,” Cotter said. “If people can't find it, they won't use it.”
Indeed, competition in the auto insurance space continues to expand. In May, Wal-Mart announced that it partnered with AutoInsurance.com so that consumers can compare policy prices of several insurance companies including Esurance, Progressive and Travelers. In January, the $210 billion Desjardins Group in Canada said it would purchase several of State Farm Canada's insurance lines.
Meanwhile, Aite also wanted to find out which insurance providers passed a standard criteria list for mobile services, including having a mobile-enabled site, or a website that can scale for mobile use, which enables users to complete the most common transactions on their mobile devices and tablets, such as filing a claim or requesting a quote. On top of the site, insurers ought to have at least one mobile app that provided similar functionality to what the website does for policyholders.
The research firm found many sites provided a separate mobile-enabled site with streamlined options, including finding an agent, logging into an account, viewing product information, and filing a claim. However, O’Connell said across the board, such sites inhabited an awkward limbo between full-function websites and more agile mobile applications, though mobile applications are not the norm.
O’Connell said there are really two questions at hand: should insurance providers focus more on mobile-enabled sites, or should they focus on mobile applications? She noted that mobile sites tended to be less functional than both websites and applications, though more common than applications.
“I believe we will see a shift toward simplifying mobile-enabled sites, as such a feature becomes more of a must-have than an ought-to-have, and, at the same time, a move toward mobile applications that provide utility for consumers and policyholders alike,” O’Connell said. “Any insurance companies lacking a mobile application are missing a huge opportunity to connect with their client-base.
Citing industry data, Cotter said the auto market is the right place to grow mobile because only 43% of car buyers are satisfied with the financing activities of buying a car and auto enthusiasts engaged nine times more with mobile than the average user.
CU Direct has collaborated with a number of partners, as well as more than 11,000 auto dealers, to create a mobile and actionable automotive network, according to Cotter. As a result, the company has been able to deliver its CUDL AutoSMART mobile app to credit unions to help members with their car shopping and buying experiences.
“As consumers rapidly move to a mobile society, the competition for their trust and mindshare is greater than ever,” Cotter said. “Because of this increased competition, consumers are placing a high value on where they invest their time and who they trust.”