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4 August 2009
Craig Weber

I saw some consumer data recently which suggested that insurers have weathered the financial crisis better than banks and capital markets firms. Not in terms of finances—although that may be true in many cases—but in terms of consumer opinions.

As an industry, before this period of uncertainty we were viewed on par with used car dealers and cell phone companies. Now we are viewed, well, about the same. But at least we didn’t lose ground, or the trust of our customers. Thank the regulators, or maybe a culture of conservatism, for keeping us mostly out of trouble.

Of course the battle for consumer mindshare is never ending. That’s why the current crop of TV commercials being aired by insurers concerns me. Some national companies are positioning themselves as feeling their customers’ pain. Call me a cynic, but I have trouble imagining a set of consumers who get a warm, fuzzy feeling as they think about their insurers. As a consumer myself, I don’t care whether my insurers feel my pain. I just want good service, good value, and integrity. Besides, recession kvetching is already out of fashion.

Other insurers are making hard price comparisons. Their claims are in close parallel: They all talk about how much their customers saved when they switched. Assuming the stats are true (and I do), the obvious conclusion is that switching carriers can make sense, no matter which carrier you start with and which one you end up with. Do we really want to encourage consumers to constantly spreadsheet their providers? Is all that churn good for the industry?

I’d prefer to see insurers focusing on attracting and retaining customers for longer relationships. That means understanding the risks, pricing accordingly, and delivering great service. And by eliminating switching costs, carriers ought to be able to reward customer longevity, and still improve their margins.

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