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Agents are slowly turning to the Internet as a way to market their products, but so far they haven't been welcomed by a lot of online buyers.
A survey conducted by IVANS Inc. by mail and fax from April 1 through June 30 found that agents are becoming more comfortable using the Internet as a business tool. But they are still grappling with how best to use the technology to increase business.
The survey follows an earlier one, conducted in February and March, in which Greenwich, Conn.-based IVANS found that insurance buyers are not so easy to come by in cyberspace.
Only 6% of Internet users surveyed said they were seriously interested in purchasing insurance online. Most of the remaining 94% indicated they prefer a more personal touch when buying coverage, according to IVANS.
The recent survey of agents showed that 59.9% of the 535 respondents are interested in selling insurance over the Internet.
World Wide Web sites already are in place at 38.7% of the surveyed agencies, and another 33.1% said they plan to have a site up and running within a year.
Those numbers are encouraging because they show agents are becoming comfortable with the Internet and are interested in making the investment in time and money to use the technology, said Chip Lawson, senior product manager with IVANS in Tampa, Fla. "It really gives us a positive outlook for the future," he remarked.
Agents are mainly using the Internet as an information resource; according to the survey, 65.6% responded that they use it for that purpose. The Internet is used as a marketing tool by 17.4% of the survey respondents, and 12% said they use it to generate sales leads.
Agents indicated in their responses that they are interested in selling coverage over the Internet because it provides an effective way to provide product information to prospective customers and to collect sales leads. Agents also said the technology allows them to provide 24-hour service that is fast and secure.
Mr. Lawson pointed out that agents face an uncertain future with regard to online sales.
"The great fallacy of the Internet is about it being the most important place for consumers today. Insurance is a fairly complex product," according to Mr. Lawson, and it is not easy for buyers to make decisions about buying coverage without some help.
"More people are dabbling with getting quotes on the Internet, but very few are buying coverage," Mr. Lawson noted.
A summary of the key findings of the study said, "The fully transactional Web site is the key to the agents' future. These sites can be prepared to deal with a variety of customers, ranging from those who are merely gathering information to those who are ready to buy."
While electronic communication with policyholders is developing slowly, agents already are wired to insurers. The survey showed 94.6% communicate electronically with insurance companies. The type of electronic communication that agents have with insurers was not defined, but it could include all forms of agency/company interface, including e-mail.
The survey summary said that a "quick scan of the industry reveals that leading (insurance) companies have many new applications under development and in use. An independent agency force that is electronically connected will be able to take full advantage of new technology as it is introduced."
Copies of the survey, "Insurance Agents and Technology," are available at no charge from Jim Kalach at 203-532-2139, or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Requests by mail should be sent to Mr. Kalach at IVANS, 777 West Putnam Ave., Greenwich, Conn. 06830.