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Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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There's a Potential New Wrinkle that could muss up insurers' distribution strategies.

There's a Potential New Wrinkle that could muss up insurers' distribution strategies. More than one in six Americans who go online have sold something over the Web, or tried to - mostly using Internet classified and auction sites, according to a new poll from The Pew Internet & American Life Project. About 25 million people, or 17 percent of adults who use the Internet, have sold goods or services online, the Pew research reveals. And visits to classified ad Web sites such as Craigslist have grown 80 percent in the past year.

Where does insurance fit into this? Right now, pretty much nowhere. Despite the almost comically broad mix of products and services bought and sold through online sites, insurance products account for a negligible (if that much) portion of these transactions. There are obvious reasons (regulation, product complexity, etc.) for this, and yet ... there is an incredible opportunity for insurers that figure out how to get on this bandwagon. Consider these statistics from the Pew study:

- Online sellers have an early-adopter profile and are relatively intense users of the Internet. Twenty-two percent of home broadband users, 23 percent of work broadband users, and 30 percent of those with broadband at home and work sell things online, compared with 13 percent of dial-up users.

- Twenty-six percent of wired adults ages 29 to 40 (GenX) sell things online, compared with 17 percent of the GenY (ages 18 to 28) segment and 13 percent of all Internet users over 40.

- Twenty-one percent of those who have Internet access and live in households that have an annual income of $50,000 or more sell things online. And 21 percent of college graduates who surf the Web sell things online.

Considering those demographics, aren't these the types of customers with whom your company would love to do business? Clearly, however, they are not going to want to buy insurance or other financial services products in a "traditional" manner. They are going to want to have a significant degree of control in the transaction, they probably are going to want to negotiate and barter in terms of coverage and price, and they won't want to be face to face with an agent to close the deal. Big obstacles for insurers - but also an opportunity too good to pass up. Where's your bid?

Katherine Burger, Editorial Director

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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