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Insurance via Internet poses threat to agents

NEW YORK — To the list of jobs threatened by the Internet, add one more: insurance agent. Technology startups and companies from the insurance industry are introducing websites that sell policies for drivers, homeowners, small businesses, and others. The portals, which promise savings by showing consumers many price quotes so they do not have to shop site by site, are putting pressure on insurance agents, who typically collect 10 percent or more of their policyholders’ payments. Its still a nascent business, but people in the insurance industry and Silicon Valley say it is only a matter of time. Even Google is getting involved. “There are 40,000 agencies in the US, and you could absolutely imagine them shrinking by a quarter, and the ones that are left will deal with more complicated needs and more affluent customers,” said Ellen Carney, an analyst at Forrester Research. The Google Compare auto insurance site has been operating in Britain for two years, and Google is working on something similar for the United States. Google has a partnership with Comparenow, a US auto insurance comparison site owned by Admiral Group, a British car insurance company. Admiral Group introduced Comparenow about a year ago. Not long after,, an online retailer, started selling insurance, too. Then there is Walmart, which does not sell insurance but recently formed a partnership with The insurer leases space in Walmart stores. CoverHound and PolicyGenius are online insurance agencies. Others, like Comparenow, send traffic to insurers and get a finder’s fee. But in all cases, they are pressuring Main Street agents. “A lot of people are waking up to the fact that it’s a massive industry, it’s old-fashioned, they still use human agents, and the commissions are pretty big,” said Jennifer Fitzgerald, founder of PolicyGenius. “It’s ripe for — I hate to use the word — disruption.” — NEW YORK TIMES