American Express Insurance Division to Sell Wares on Web

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American Express Property Casualty, the Green Bay, WI, direct marketer of personal and home insurance, is preparing to launch its first e-mail marketing campaign, joining a growing group of insurers attempting to sell their policies directly through the Internet.


The company said it would launch the service in California in May and roll it out gradually across the country, adding a few states each month. The sales and marketing of insurance are highly regulated on a state-by-state basis, hindering insurers' efforts to roll out national Web campaigns.


AEPC, which is a division of financial services conglomerate American Express Co., New York, plans to market it both through direct mail and e-mail marketing.


A 140,000-name e-mail campaign promoting the site will target Californians in May, said Sharon Stein, a spokeswoman for the insurance division. Target names will be acquired from the American Express credit card database and other sources, she added.


Additional e-mail campaigns will be rolled out to other states as a handful of states come online each month.


"By April of next year, we should be up in all 34 states that we underwrite in," she said.


The company also is planning some direct mail to promote the site, but Stein said she did not have information on those efforts.


The e-mail campaigns will promote an automated feature of the site called the Insurance Analyzer, which assesses the insurance coverage customers select online and makes recommendations for additional coverage or different types of coverage based on information the customer provides.


The company, which traditionally markets insurance through direct mail and affinity programs, also will emphasize the fact that its policies are favorably priced compared with policies sold by agents.


AEPC's state-by-state move to the Internet is similar to that of Allstate Corp., which late last year said it would use the Net to embrace a hybrid direct sales strategy that also will involve its traditional agents. The Chicago-based company said it would launch the program in Oregon in May and gradually expand it around the country, state by state, with 16 states scheduled to be included by the end of this year and the rest of the country by the end of next year.


Geico, one of the nation's leading direct marketers of insurance products, offers free auto-rate quotes on its Web site and allows customers to buy a policy in 44 states and the District of Columbia, with verification through either e-mail or direct mail. The company, a unit of Omaha, NE, investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, also recently added a feature to its site that allows consumers to request an immediate phone call from a Geico representative.


Progressive, a large direct marketer of insurance products that also offers quotes and sells policies directly on the Web, said the evolving nature of the Internet makes it difficult to target consumers with traditional methods like direct mail.


"The question 'Can you use mail to drive people to your Web site in a way that's economical?' does not have an easy answer," said Steven McKay, direct mail product manager at the Mayfield, OH, company. "Part of the difficulty is that the Web is something of a moving target. As people become more comfortable with the Web, and as it penetrates more deeply into the population in general, the way people use it and their attitudes about it change."


He added that the company will continue to test direct mail as a means of driving people to the site, however.
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