Google Wants to Sell You Auto Insurance

4:01 pm ET Jan 8, 2015

Google Wants to Sell You Auto Insurance
By Rolfe Winkler

Google is plotting a move into auto insurance in the U.S., including a comparison-shopping site from which users would also be able to buy policies, an industry analyst says.

Forrester Research analyst Ellen Carney wrote in a blog post Wednesday that an entity called Google Compare Auto Insurance Services is licensed to sell insurance in 26 states and is authorized to sell policies in at least one state on behalf of six insurers, including MetLife, Mercury and Viking Insurance of Wisconsin.

Moreover, a Google executive recently won authorization to sell insurance through Google Compare as well as through San Francisco auto-insurance comparison site CoverHound, suggesting the two companies are working together.

Google already provides auto and travel-insurance quotes in the U.K., as well as mortgage quotes, and even credit cards.

The moves suggest the search giant wants to offer similar services in the U.S., potentially displacing existing middlemen, as it has done in shopping and travel. Google provides its own product-search tools on the Google Shopping website, and increasingly offers specialized flight and hotel booking tools.

A Google spokeswoman said in a statement “We can’t comment on speculation. Don’t fault us, though; we enjoy your coverage.”

Greg Isaacs, president of Insurance Solutions at CoverHound, confirmed that Google’s Meredith Stechbart is endorsed on his company’s insurance license, but declined to specify how the two companies are working together. “We haven’t been acquired,” he said.

Google’s moves to offer more services directly are potentially risky, because online middlemen like Priceline and Expedia are also big Google advertisers. But such moves can save users clicks and could bring Google revenue through commissions.

In insurance, companies such as esurance and Progressive allow users to compare their own policies with others’.

Carney says Google has been working on the insurance offering for more than two years. In part, that reflects the state-by-state regulation of insurance in the U.S. In Idaho, for instance, Google Compare is licensed to sell insurance on behalf of three different carriers.

Carney says Google may also face resistance from insurance companies that are reluctant to share information that could help Google compete with them someday.

Google has faced similar challenges in shopping. Google has spoken to retailers about the prospect of adding a “buy” button so that consumers can buy products direct from Google pages. But some retailers have pushed back, fearing they would end up in brutal competition with one another on a Google page they don’t control.

The mobile revolution is putting more pressure on Google to build up “vertical” search engines for specific categories, since smartphone users are being trained, for instance, to go direct to Amazon’s app to buy products, or Expedia’s app to book a flight or a hotel room. If Google doesn’t provide more efficient services that cater to particular types of searches, it risks being cut out itself.

– Lisa Fleisher contributed to this article.


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