When Nicolas Weng Kan, CEO of Google Compare, addressed the Trusted Choice® Company Partners meeting last week, he made one thing clear: “We are not becoming an auto insurer, nor an insurance agency.”
After much speculation, the company entered the insurance industry when it launched an online comparison website for auto insurance in March. But Weng Kan said becoming an insurance company—or an agent—is not Google’s objective.
“We have licenses, but only for regulatory purposes and we don’t issue policies or service policies—this is not our expertise,” he said. “Our expertise is understanding where the customers are and linking them back to the people who know how to service them.”
Google Compare is focused on the financial vertical, with six products live in insurance and banking, according to Wen Kan. In the U.S., in addition to auto insurance, it launched an online comparison website for credit cards in December 2014 and plans to launch a platform dedicated to mortgages before September of this year. In the U.K., Google Compare offers travel insurance, auto insurance, credit cards and mortgages.
Google Compare’s auto insurance comparison site has already made waves, and the company is rolling out the service in more states in the coming months—Texas and Illinois are en route to be live before the end of June, according to Weng Kan.
That pace, and Google’s substantial resources, has some in the industry concerned. But others see a unique opportunity to help consumers discover the superior value proposition of independent agents by leveraging Google’s marketing power. Discovering which side is right in that debate is a priority for industry leaders.
After their presentation, the Google Compare team met with senior leaders from TrustedChoice.com, Trusted Choice and the Big “I.” “We are actively engaged in a continuing dialogue with Google Compare to ensure that independent agency companies and their distribution channel of independent agents have an opportunity to benefit from Google’s entrance into the marketplace,” said Chip Bacciocco, CEO of TrustedChoice.com. “That thoughtful conversation has been ongoing for a few months.”
More Than Price?
According to Google, individuals who searched for auto insurance-related terms on their mobile phone jumped from 37% in Q1 2014 to 45% in Q1 2015. Add in tablet devices and the most recent number rises to 52%.
So the company is doing what it does best: breaking down big data to solve problems. In preparation for its auto insurance debut, the tech giant started running focus groups and received questions like: Why isn’t there a website to compare auto insurance like hotels or flights? “Consumers want immediate relevant results based on their search intent,” Weng Kan said.
Currently, Google Compare markets itself by ranking third on overall Google “auto insurance” search result returns. On mobile devices, Google Compare jumps up to the No. 1 or 2 position, depending on screen size.
After a consumer chooses to enter their information into Google Compare through a four-step process including vehicle, driver, current coverage and personal information, Google Compare’s displays results not based on cheapest price, but rather on a concept called “relevance rating.”
“A lot of customers do not buy the cheapest products. They want additional information—they want to understand what they’re buying,” Weng Kan said of lessons Google learned from the U.K. launch of Google Compare. “We started aggregating that information and realized [consumers] were going below the fold to positions 2, 3, 4 and 5. So we said, why don’t we move No. 5 up, if we know that the customer is looking at that product or brand?”
In fact, the No. 1 position accounts for just 36% of sales in Google Compare in the U.K. Weng Kan notes that brand strength of the insurer matters for certain demographics, but comparison between products becomes the marketing equalizer on the site. In the U.K., he notes that “stripping down” coverage on policies so that the price is lower is not paying off.
“The strength of the brand and the relationship matters, and we started integrating that into our model as we show you the results,” Weng Kan said. “Results do not always start at the cheapest and by not doing that, we’re offering the customers the product they’re looking for.”
How It Works
After the shopper’s question set is complete, the data is sent to one of three rating platforms to generate quotes. Those results are displayed to consumers with a price and “marketing one-liner” summarizing brand-specific information.
“The model is going to evolve—the marketing message has the option to be much more tailored to the needs of the consumer,” Weng Kan said, adding that Google Compare believes the ranking is entirely objective. “We rank you by validity of your price or by what we believe will be the relevance of your proposition to consumers.”
While consumers are using Google to evaluate insurance options, when it comes to buying, they are going offline. In April, 61% of Google Compare auto insurance shoppers in the U.S. converted offline or talked to an individual when buying the policy. The company expects the percentage of offline conversions will increase as more carriers join Google Compare.
That fact is likely part of Google’s interest in presenting to the Trusted Choice partners meeting. “Agents provide unparalleled expertise, service and ongoing support to the offline insurance buying experience,” Weng Kan said. “What we’re seeing is that [consumers] start online, and then at the decision point, they say ‘I want to speak to somebody.’ They pick up the phone and this is the opportunity for you as an agent to shine.”
Weng Kan also asserted that Google Compare represents the most efficient way for insurers to market their products to consumers. “Google Compare is not paid unless the consumer purchases the policy,” he said. “We’re taking all the risk and hoping that at the end of the day, the customer ends up in a better position.”
For now, Google Compare is interested in not only expanding to more states, but introducing a five-star overall rating system for individual insurers on the site. Using Google Consumer Surveys to prompt consumers for feedback, overall results would stem from three factors: customer service, willingness to recommend the company and claim experience.
“Our capacity to integrate a lot of feedback is there just because of the size of the Google domain,” Weng Kan said.
Morgan Smith is IA assistant editor.