Insurers turn to technology to woo drivers

Lacie Glover

Americans love technology, and we expect companies to deliver delightful digital experiences.

Insurers aren’t doing that — yet. So far, updates have been skin-deep.

“If you go to a carrier’s website, the look and feel is pretty good, but the functionality is lacking,” says Tom Super, director of J.D. Power’s property and casualty insurance practice, who conducted the company’s 2018 Insurance Digital Experience Study. People expect an experience that works like when they’re at Amazon, Netflix and Uber, Super says.

Though most auto insurers have a long way to go, major companies and new players have rolled out technology-based features to win over new customers and meet drivers’ demands.

Here’s a look at what insurers are doing today — and what they might try next.

Tracking for discounts

Many major insurers now offer telematics, technology that collects information about your driving behavior, in exchange for discounts or rewards.

Progressive was first, having launched its telematics-based program “Snapshot” in 2011. Customers who plug a device into their cars’ diagnostic ports to allow the company to monitor their driving can earn discounts. The technology — which tracks data like acceleration, hard braking, time of day and how much you drive — is also available in an app.

Other insurers that track driving behavior reward safe drivers with cash back, freebies or a combination of rewards and policy discounts. Often, drivers get a discount simply for opting in. While many companies say that driving behavior is monitored solely to determine discounts, Progressive might increase rates if your data show unsafe behavior.

Prices based on driving

Auto insurers’ use of demographic factors, such as age, gender and marital status, when setting rates isn’t exactly popular with drivers.

A start-up, Root Insurance, is trying a new model: Pricing based on how you drive, which could save money for safe drivers. The insurance, currently available in 19 states with plans for five more, tracks driving behavior during a two- to six-week “test drive” before giving you a quote.

The company still considers some demographic factors, but it isn’t as interested in your personal details, says CEO and co-founder Alex Timm. “There’s not really a ‘great driver’ demographic — we find them across the country, in all sorts of situations,” Timm says.

Evaluation to end bad habits

Beyond offering discounts to customers who opt into monitoring programs, insurers want to make you a better, safer driver. Depending on the program, drivers may get immediate feedback through in-app driving reports and scores, or even from devices that beep when drivers brake hard or turn too sharply.

Related links

NerdWallet: 5 Surprising Factors That Inflate Your Car Insurance Rate

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Distracted Driving 2016