February 13th, 2013
This article first appeared on TechCrunch
Car insurance is a necessary evil for all drivers. Of course, if you don’t happen to be accident prone, paying expensive monthly or annual bills is a headache and seems equivalent to setting your wallet on fire. Of course, insurance companies are great at reminding us that the world is a wild and dangerous place and that more coverage equals better protection from the vagaries of the road and those costly surprises. Plus, there’s the fact that auto insurance is required by law.
So, as with airline tickets, hotels and many other necessary purchasing decisions, drivers want to be able to comparison shop for the best rates, deals and packages to limit costs and make an informed buy. In spite of the millions the big insurance companies spend on marketing, the industry remains inefficient, search and discovery is still messy and there really hasn’t been much innovation in recent memory. That’s why CoverHound launched its comparative insurance platform last summer — to introduce transparency and simplicity to insurance shopping.
Founded by veterans of insurance companies like InsWeb, Unitrin Direct and State Farm, the San Francisco-based startup is building a platform that provides consumers with instant, accurate and actionable rates from top carriers. Incubated alongside companies like Astrid, Kismet and Crittercism as a graduate of AngelPad’s startup accelerator, CoverHound allows everyday drivers to not only compare policies by buy and manage their plans directly through its platform.
With the number of policies sold through the platform growing by over 60 percent month-over-month, CoverHoud is announcing today that it has raised a $4.5 million round of series A financing led by RRE Ventures. Bullpen Capital and existing investor Blumberg Capital also contributed to the round, which brings the startup’s total funding to $6.5 million.
While plenty of the largest insurance companies offer comparative rates, CoverHound wants to become the Kayak of personal insurance, a destination that aggregates rates from all the major carriers and acts as an independent insurance agency. Carriers themselves have to hold and support the policies their customers purchase, while issuing and upholding the risk associated with each plan.
By remaining independent, CoverHound isn’t tied to the same risks that issuers are subject to with their customers/shareholders, however, the startup wants to make sure that it doesn’t allow its model to turn into a use to be a hands-off-type middleman.
Instead, the startup provides ongoing service to its policyholders, monitoring and adapting their policies as their needs change in attempt to ensure that they’re getting the best fit and pricing. It does this, in part, by providing its customers with access to professional advice both online and over the phone during the shopping process via its in-house team of insurance professionals.
The platform collects users’ basic personal information and what kind of policy the’re looking for, at which point it presents a list of prices and plans for the user to review. The startup has partnered with carriers like Travelers, GMAC, Safeco, Progressive and others to provide consumers with accurate, personalized rates.
The company is also attacking the B2B2C side of the industry with a portable “Storefront” that enables financial institutions to provide their customers with CoverHound’s rate comparisons and personalized policy vehicle. In other words, with a single snippet of code, banks and institutions can offer the startup’s insurance rates and policies, adding car insurance to the services they already provide online, like loans and credit cards, along with getting access to a supplemental revenue stream.
Now in over 30 states in the U.S., the startup plans to use its new funding to expand its support nationwide, ramp up hiring and continue to pursue partnerships with brands looking to power their own insurance channels. While it’s been primarily focused on auto insurance, CoverHound has begun to move into homeowners and motorcycle insurance and plans to build out support for other personal insurance products.
The startup declined to share specifics on its monetization (although, like any other insurance agent, CoverHound is paid a percentage of the premium for every policy they sell) or how much it’s been able to save its customers on insurance policies, which isn’t always a good sign; granted, it’s still in the early going.
Consumers are increasingly going online to research and discover the best insurance services and solutions, and this macro change in consumer purchasing behavior can work in CoverHound’s favor. Of course, while the online insurance shopping market is growing steadily, there are still plenty of options for insurance shoppers.
The big insurance providers have already established significant presences on the Web, and carriers like Progressive have been loudly touting their comparison shopping tools for years now in TV commercials that seem to air every five seconds. What’s more, the model feels more than a little familiar, to a degree derivative of web insurance pioneers like Esurance, which was the first platform to offer comparison quotes online. Esurance sold to Allstate in 2011 for $1 billion, and this consolidation could work in the startup’s favor.
If CoverHound is able to prove that its algorithmic comparison shopping engine is more refined and its service more personalized and consumer-friendly than these incumbents, there’s no reason to think it couldn’t be a huge business. But there are a lot of options and a lot of noise in this space, and while insurance of every stripe is always in need of greater transparency, startups have to work extremely hard to stand out.
What’s more, CoverHound is competing not just with giants like Progressive and Esurance but brokers as well, who essentially do their own comparison shopping to provide their clients with better deals. In the end, it’s all about who can offer the best rates, and certainly CoverHound could have a leg up by automating comparison shopping and removing the friction.
“We’ve spent the past year building an insanely complex comparison engine that allows users to sift through tens of thousands of different carrier and coverage combinations to help them discover the policy with the best value. But we’re really just getting started,” said CoverHound founder and CEO Basil Enan. “Our dream is to become the brand that consumers trust for all of their insurance needs.”