Road Testing Online Insurance Sites

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Shopping for insurance online certainly sounds appealing. In theory, you should be able to open up your web browser, log on to a popular insurance site and search for policies as you please. However, online shoppers will find that insurance search engines ask for more than they may be willing to give.  

“One giant pitfall is that many companies and broker sites require that people enter their names, email addresses and phone numbers before they will issue a quote,” Richard Reich, President of Intramark Insurance Services, said.  “This almost always leads to your email box filling up and your phone ringing off the hook as multiple agents contact you to buy policies.”

Someone in need of any type of insurance may welcome the follow-up. Insurance policies, whether for your car, well-being or life, are fairly involved and full of options that may require discussion. (I can’t say, for example, that I understood all the facets of the online auto insurance policies generated for my old, half-dead Toyota Corolla.) However, divulging a virtual novel of personal information can be off-putting and users should know what this information can and cannot be used for.

“Online consumers should always beware of methods designed to get their personal information,” Reich says. This is why the first thing that any web shopper should do when requesting online insurance quotes is read the site’s policy privacy.  Reputable insurance search engines will map out for you exactly what they plan to do with your personal information, even if this entails telling you that, yes, they do plan to pass it along and, of course, you can expect them to hound you. (Check out this privacy policy to familiarize yourself with the fine print.)

So, can the casual online insurance consumer do some non-commital window shopping? Here’s how I fared when I went shopping for auto insurance at four of the most popular online insurance search engines. (Note: I don’t disclose rates as I was solely interested in seeing what I needed to give to get them. Those interested in a price comparison can stay tuned for a follow-up article.)

GEICO:

Information Required: name, address, birth date, gender, marital status, occupation, email address and phone number

Pros: Geico figured out what type of car I owned as soon as I entered my name, address and birth date. Sure, this was a bit scary, but it saved me from having to input a lot of information I didn’t know offhand about my vehicle and current insurance policy. Additionally, while Geico asked an awful lot of follow-up questions about my occupation, they, unlike their counterparts, never asked for my social security number.

Cons: You wouldn’t know there was a privacy policy unless you, well, you knew there was a privacy policy.  Geico was the first online insurance agency to contact me after I neglected to purchase a package online. They sent me an email seconds after I x’ed off of the site at 2:12 p.m. This didn’t seem terribly intrusive or offensive … until I received a second email at 2:34 p.m the same day.

ESURANCE:

Information Required: name, gender, birth date, marital status, email address, address, education level, Social Security number, though I could opt to provide it at a later time. (Esurance also, oddly, asked if I or a family member had access to a PayPal account.)

Pros: Esurance didn’t try to hide its privacy policy. In fact, I had to check off that I had read it before I was even asked to give any private information. When I did go to read the policy, it popped up in a separate window, which meant I could reference it easily as I proceeded through the quote process. The opt-out for the social security number was welcome, though I didn’t realize it was available until I clicked on the link explaining why my number's submission was necessary.

Cons: I was pleased to see Esurance was so upfront about their privacy policy, until I realized that, of the four I read, it was the most complicated and involved. I might have had more time to read through the fine print if Esurance was able to generate my vehicle/insurance information from the personal tidbits they were requesting, but, alas, I had to enter all that information (which I didn’t readily know) on my own. Esurance was also the first to contact me by phone; an agent called my cell about twenty minutes after I filled out the quote application.

PROGRESSIVE:

Information Required: name, address, birth date, gender, marital status, education level, email address, social security number

Pros: Though not as immediately as Esurance, I was required to check off that I had read their privacy policy before submitting the most private of my private information. They also asked permission to send me occasional email updates later on in the process. Progessive was able to figure out my vehicle/prior insurance information on its own and they were the last to contact me with a follow-up sales pitch.

Cons: Unlike Geico, who just didn’t ask, or Esurance, who had an opt-out, I couldn’t get around Progressive’s request for my Social Security number. The online agency also tried to get me to sign up for a discount program that requires you to drive around with a “careful driver” meter in your car. While I suppose this may appeal to the frugal and committed insurance shopper, I just wanted to get to my quote, not wade through more red tape.

EFINANCIAL:

Information Required: name, birth date, gender, marital status, education level, occupation. Social Security number was listed clearly as “optional, but recommended". I thought I was getting away without telling them where I lived until they rather surreptiously asked for my car’s “garaging address.” Efinancial also wanted to know if I had custody of any children and asked me to personally “describe” my credit ranking.

Pros: Efinancial gave me quotes from several insurance companies (Progressive included; rates were comparable) so it was the first time that a single serving of personal information got me more than one rate. They also did call attention to their privacy policy (though I had already provided them with most of my info), which was the most straightforward and easiest to understand.

Cons: I had to manually enter all my vehicle/prior insurance information, which was starting, at that point, to annoy me since I knew other online agencies did the legwork for you. The site seemed to be having some sort of technical difficulty, which is why it required me to describe my own credit score, so I was dubious that my rate quotes, though bountiful, were accurate.   

Looking for the best insurance rates? Then you should probably avoid buying these vehicles. Check out MainStreet’s article on The Most Expensive Cars to Insure.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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