One of my clients is an automotive insurance company. The other day, while a few of us were working on a positioning document, one of my contacts at the company observed that their company seemed to be held up to higher scrutiny than other organizations (like the power company or water utility).
They were right — that IS the case. They ARE held up to higher scrutiny and the resulting (and often caustic) criticism that comes with it. It’s not that they are doing something bad. The reason is: When people plug something into an electrical outlet, they get a tangible result and they know that the power output will be reflected on their next bill from the power company. And, when people turn on the tap and fill a glass with water, they know that their drink will be reflected on their bill from the water utility. In both cases there was a tangible result for a specific cost… And the more of a result that is needed, the higher the cost. It makes sense.
But that’s not the way it works with automotive insurance. You pay a pre-determined amount, which you might or might get a benefit from. Some people pay and pay and never need it; others need it frequently and get a better benefit. In other words, it doesn’t feel (at least to the consumer) like there is a direct result associated with a specific cost.
Insurance companies have tried to do something about this, including offering rebates to good drivers, but I don’t think any of their efforts are as successful because the end result is still the same: People pay for a service that they may or may not need. As a result, insurance is commoditized and people look for the cheapest insurance, they barely understand what their coverage offers, and they are quick to complain and switch companies.
There is, however, a type of insurance that is growing in popularity in the UK that could be the answer North American insurance companies are looking for: Pay-As-You-Go insurance.
With Pay-As-You-Go insurance, you basically pay for the miles (or kilometers) you drive. Your car is always covered with some basic coverage (in case someone steals it or in case it spontaneously combusts) but when you drive your car, you pay by the mile for additional coverage in case of collision.
By using GPS, insurance companies can see how far you travel and bill you accordingly. If you’re the kind of car owner who only uses your car to go to church on Sundays, you’ll pay less insurance than someone who goes on cross-country drives. That makes sense. And although it doesn’t completely eliminated the commoditization of insurance, it does create a clearer sense of pay-for-use, similar to what people understand when they plug things into their electrical outlets or pour water from the faucet.
I realize that there are other issues that need to be worked out. Privacy issues will need to be addressed. Customers will need to be assured that their car’s GPS information will only be used to determine distance. Speed and destinations cannot become part of the equation. If that issue can be resolved, I think we’ll see this as the Next Big Thing in the automotive insurance industry. Customers will enjoy rates that are more clearly linked to usage and good drivers won’t end up paying higher premiums because there are a lot of bad drivers on the road.