Monday, June 09, 2008

Learning the Hard Way

[Welcome Kaiser Network readers!]
Second-tier carrier American Community has learned what other, more experienced companies long ago came to understand: it's mighty difficult to successfully market against agents.
While online quote engines like eHealth have enjoyed success, it's another thing entirely for a carrier to make a go of selling directly to the consumer. There are a number of reasons for this:
■ Lack of market penetration. Most people still prefer to deal directly with agents, and it's the agent that can "talk up" a particular carrier. Without this direct contact, companies (especially lesser-known ones like AC) can find it difficult to break into the market.
■ Lack of value. Consumers pay the same rate whether buying direct or through an agent. Since there's no financial incentive to avoiding "the middle man," consumers have no real reason to do so.
■ Lack of choice. When dealing directly with the carrier, the consumer is told only that carrier's "story," and given no information about other choices. This is especially problemmatic for consumers with health issues: if AC (for example) can't help them, they have no idea what options may be available in the open market.
■ Lack of relationship. An agent isn't just a salesperson, but an advocate. If (when) there's a claims problem, for example, an independent agent (who works for the client) can help navigate the home office, and is one more voice on the client's behalf. Dealing directly with the carrier means that, should there be a problem, there's no such outside advocate to help out.
Nice that AC saw the light.
[Hat Tips: Industry Radar and Rick Byrne]
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