Aggregator websites are fast becoming one of the main channels to market for direct insurers and brokers alike, generating millions of quote requests each month.
New figures show that the total number of completed aggregator-instigated quotes almost doubled from 4.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2006 to 7.8 million in the first quarter of this year.
The figures, coming from CDL a supplier of web infrastructure to insurance aggregators, come as no big surprise considering the prominent position aggregator websites now occupy.
What has also become apparent is the increasing hold that brokers have on the market. According to one aggregator website, Gocompare.com, the percentage of completed aggregator-instigated quotes is split 60/40 in favour of brokers over direct insurers.
But so far, website aggregators seem to be the preserve of those larger brokers that have used their relationships with insurer partners to negotiate attractive pricing and levels of cover.
For these brokers aggregators provide a significant revenue stream. Software house Open GI says that for some the aggregation channel constitutes more than 70% of all new business sales.
The latest statistics on aggregator volumes point to a rapidly growing marketplace. So what are the opportunities for smaller brokers operating as part of the aggregator business model? There are many, according to CDL, which is encouraging brokers to embrace the new intermediary model.
CDL general manager Rick Slater says: “Brokers who wish to capitalise on the vast number of leads that aggregators can send their way must have the online infrastructure to cope with it.”
Some of the older more traditional brokers don’t want to make the commitment on technology, says Hayley Parsons managing director of Gocompare.com. While others are wary of the intermediary channel contracting.
Aggregator websites have also tended to focus most of their attention on personal lines, forcing down prices in some markets and suiting larger brokers.
“There are seemingly more quote requests for motor insurance made than there are cars on the road,” says Slater.
It could be argued that the motor insurance market has become saturated. A spokesman for Open GI says: “A broker today wanting to become a panel member of Confused.com or Moneysupermarket.com for example, really has to offer something different.”
Hope remains, as aggregators turn their attention to other business lines and new opportunities present themselves. There are signs that aggregators are looking to expand the product lines available to consumers. BeatThatQuote.com and GoCompare are both expanding into household lines and CDL expects others to follow.
CDL’s Slater says: “Further down the line, we would expect aggregators to use this channel for some of the smaller commercial lines that are more easily commoditised.”
Jon Morrell, deputy managing director of broker Direct Choice (part of the AA), believes there is a lot of opportunity for smaller brokers to differentiate themselves in the home insurance market.
“Home insurance is a tricky proposition to underwrite in the online environment but with enough thought it can be adequately addressed,” he says.
There may even be the potential for niche aggregator sites, adds Morrell. And it’s in these non-standard areas that often the smaller broker can compete very successfully.
While competitive pricing is important, Andrew Lee, chief executive of OutRight (owned by Fortis), points out that price does not necessarily rule supreme. He says: “There is increasing pressure on aggregators to include key policy features to ensure that consumers can compare like with like – and identify the policy that most meets their needs.”
Drop out rates remain relatively high in the online world. According to Parsons, about 50% of customers still prefer to complete their transactions over the phone.
Richard Mason, director of insurance at Moneysupermarket.com, says: “Some people get a comparison quote online, but instead of applying online they ring the cheapest insurer and buy over the phone.”
Morrell adds: “If cases are presented that aren’t completed then it’s possible for the broker to follow up and use his expertise, which may not be best demonstrated online.”
A principal issue for aggregator websites is driving enough volume of traffic to the site to fund a solution. ComparetheMarket.com recently announced a £20m sponsorship deal with Channel 4.
This can present a particular advantage for smaller brokers that would normally struggle to develop a marketing strategy on that scale, says Morrell.
Website aggregators seem to have got the jump on brokers in terms of capturing the online audience. But this doesn’t mean that the medium is off-limits to brokers. Having seen off the threat posed by insurers bypassing them in the late 1980s, brokers have already demonstrated that they are prepared for a new challenge. IT
Tips for brokers using aggregators
Price is important but so are policy details. Brokers need to be competitive. Itâ€™s important to be among the cheapest quote providers, but not necessarily the absolute cheapest. It is crucial for the inquirer to glean other information, so the customer identifies the policy that most meets his needs
Consider the consumer experience. There is a relatively high drop out rate, if having selected a product from an aggregatorâ€™s website the consumer is transferred to another website (for example, the brokerâ€™s) where he has to re-key the data. Once-only data entry is more user-friendly.
Establish a technology model that can cope with high data volumes. Brokers using quote engines that are tied to the back-office can encounter problems in terms of performance.
Look carefully at the aggregatorâ€™s revenue stream. And be certain that you understand the cost of acquisition (pay per click, pay per sale etc.).