Google plans US auto insurance comparison shopping site, says analyst

Google may also be acquiring CoverHound, an insurance comparison shopping site, according to a Forrester analyst

Google may soon pilot a comparison shopping site for auto insurance in the U.S., as well as acquire an insurance shopping site in San Francisco to give it a head start, according to a research analyst.

The Internet giant already runs an insurance comparison website in the U.K., called Google Compare, following its 2011 acquisition of BeatThatQuote.com, and there have been reports previously that it would enter the business in the U.S. as well.

"Even though insurers have been mentioning Google overtures to participate on the comparison site to me for more than two years now, the Google Compare US site launch keeps getting pushed back," wrote Forrester analyst Ellen Carney in a note.

The site was expected to be launched last month in California to be likely followed in the first quarter of this year in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas. "Last I heard was that California pilot wouldn't begin until sometime in Q1," she wrote.

As evidence of Google's immediate plans in the U.S. insurance sector, Carney points to an entity Google Compare Auto Insurance Services, which is licensed to do business in more than half the states in the U.S. Google is also authorized to do business on behalf of insurers like Dairyland, MetLife, Mercury, Permanent General Assurance, Viking Insurance of Wisconsin and Workmen's, she wrote.

Google Compare is going to have big implications for U.S. insurers, but the many other insurers in the business are likely taking a wait-and-see approach before jumping on, Carney wrote.

Google did not immediately comment.

The company could stand to earn commissions on insurance policies sold on the comparison website. On its U.K. site, Google informs users that the services to them are free, but it is compensated by providers on its panel.

While doing research for a report on what Google Compare could mean for insurer strategies in 2015, Carney also found that Meredith Stechbart, who she identified as corporate treasurer for Google's insurance business and Regulatory Operations Program Manager at Google, had added CoverHound in San Francisco as one of the companies she's authorized to transact on behalf of, in addition to Google Compare Auto Insurance Services, on her California individual producer license.

Carney speculates that Google may be planning to acquire CoverHound, a platform for comparison shopping of insurance, which would give the Internet giant a quicker entry into the U.S. market and a "national full service independent agency with more insurers that have already signed on." Google's moves to acquire CoverHound may explain its recent delay in launching an insurance comparison site, she added.

"As much as I'd like to imagine someone could become so enthralled with the insurance industry that they'd leave a job at Google to become an insurance agent, there's a more logical explanation for the addition of CoverHound on Ms. Stechbart's license," Carney wrote.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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