The Travelers Companies Inc. is adopting a new strategy to become more price-competitive in personal auto insurance.

Travelers’ CEO Jay Fishman explained his company’s personal auto strategy at the Barclays Capital Global Financial Services Conference in New York recently.

Travelers said it will begin launching a new private passenger automobile product—called Quantum Auto 2.0—offering more customized and segmented services, more competitive pricing features, and new discounts for consumers.

The new Quantum Auto 2.0 will eventually be offered in all but three states. Initially, it will be launched in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina and Wisconsin, starting later next month, according to Travelers.

In states where the product becomes available, new accounts will be sold under Quantum Auto 2.0, and the product will be available to agents at their discretion for existing accounts.

Base Commission in Quantum Auto 2.0

Fishman also said Travelers decided to lower the base commission for Quantum Auto 2.0 by approximately two points from Quantum Auto 1.0. But he assured the total compensation program for Quantum Auto 2.0 will be “very competitive” when compared to other large national carriers.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to the commission structure for our new auto product and developed one that supports a lower price position,” a Travelers representative told Insurance Journal. “The structure allows us to provide a more competitively priced product for agents and consumers. We value our partnership with agents and continue to invest in the independent agency channel to help them grow and succeed in today’s increasingly competitive environment.”

During his Barclays Capital presentation, Fishman clarified that Travelers’ strategy of seeking improved rate continues for business insurance.

Jay Fishman Travelers Corp.
Jay Fishman

“We remain very pleased with the execution of the strategy of seeking improved rate and we remain committed to it in our business insurance business. We continue to seek improved rate gains. We continue to seek improved profitability, as we continue to seek mid-teens return on equity over time,” he said.

But Travelers wants to be more price-competitive in the personal auto market. “This is what’s been happening in the personal insurance marketplace—carriers, particularly direct writers, are spending extraordinary amounts in advertising, significantly focusing on saving money for the customers,” Fishman said.

“Consumers are responding to all of that—with a meaningfully increased, but I would argue not exclusive—focus on price in the purchase decision,” he said. “It is not independent of other factors but it’s becoming increasingly more important.”

Impact of Comparative Rating Technology

And among independent agents, the adoption of comparative rating technology has enabled them to meet the demands of customers who were seeking a greater emphasis on price far more efficiently and more easily than it was previously, Fishman said.

“The way comparative raters work—the agent gets customer information, puts it into a simultaneous multi-carrier quoting engine,” he noted. “We participate in these—have been from the early days. There is an immediate response, showing a comparison of carriers, and the agent will make a preliminary carrier selection.

“Then subject to the customer’s agreement, they will actually go out and order reports. That’s when money begins to get spent, so there is an important step in there. It will confirm the selection and they end up with a bindable quote,” he said. “It also tells the agent what discounts are being applied and shows various discounts by different carriers.”

‘If You Are Not First or Second…’

He said the data is compelling: “If you are not first or second in this selection process, the likelihood of actually getting the business is low.”

“You don’t have to be first in terms of low price. There are other things that are considered,” Fishman said. “There are other things considered by the agent, predominantly, but also by the customer. But being in the first or second position is critical for the long-term success.”

It is changing the business in a couple of ways, he explained. He noted that the number of actual auto quotes for Travelers delivered through the comparative rating technology has doubled in the past four years, from approximately 1.4 million quotes (predominately for new business) in 2008 to just under 3 million quotes in 2012.

“If we are on the agent platform, we will be quoted along with anybody else who is on that platform,” he said.

In contrast, “our proprietary system is declining in terms of quotes,” he observed. “We suspect this will continue, and more and more of the quotes will be delivered through the comparative rating technology. About 80 percent of our auto quotes are coming through that platform.”

Turnabout in Strategy

Fishman said that in the personal insurance business, also dating back to 2010 and into 2011, Travelers took “the exact same approach” that it took in commercial — because of the interest rates and changing weather patterns, “not just in auto by the way, but in homeowners as well, and because, in auto specifically, of changing loss patterns, we made the decision to raise price.”

“We were hopeful that that would be sustainable, and it turned out that two things happened,” Fishman said. “One, our profitability most certainly improved—margins began to expand.” But unfortunately, he added, “the effect on new business has been significant and negative.”

Back in the first quarter of 2011, the company was doing $171 million of new business in Travelers’ agency auto—personal auto insurance market. But by the first quarter of 2013, the new business shrank to $86 million.

“That’s not acceptable. That’s a strategy that simply didn’t work,” he said. “We suspect it worked as it relates to profitability, but it didn’t work with respect to volumes. And so we are actually changing that.”

He noted that Travelers announced the first step in the second quarter: “In that second quarter, we announced an expense reduction program of $140 million.”

“It’s critical—absolutely critical—for a long-term success now in this business to be a low-cost producer with a very effective pricing segmentation. Those are going to be the keys for a long term success,” he said.

Further commenting on the new Quantum Auto 2.0, Fishman said the goal is to be “a low-cost manufacturer of a highly sophisticated and segmented auto product that successfully competes in the marketplace from a pricing standpoint, and generates an appropriate return.”

He said the company—in the process of taking all underwriting data from Quantum Auto 1.0 and funneling it into Quantum Auto 2.0—found that it could leave out some of the more stringent underwriting elements.

“We have found that we are going to be waiving the 4th and 5th year minor violations for drivers who have been incident free for three years,” he said. “We had a more stringent underwriting element in Quantum 1.0. But as we back-tested it, it turned out it didn’t matter. It was competitively problematic, and it didn’t produce the desired loss trend. So this is a change we are making.”

Additionally, there will be youthful driver leniency for tenured families, he said. “Again, we are not just making this up — this is a result of eight years of experience with Quantum 1.0 and actually seeing loss data from it.”

Compensation Program

“We are of course changing pricing in the cells to reflect the underwriting experience and improve returns,” he said. “It will of course incorporate a $140 million expense program that we announced and also, we’ve made the decision that we are going to lower the base commission by approximately two points from Quantum Auto 1.0. This is a significant financial change here.”

“People will ask, ‘How competitive is your compensation program?’ We absolutely believe that the total compensation program for Quantum 2.0 will be very competitive with other large national carriers,” Fishman said.

“There are certain large carriers that continue to pay base commissions that are lower. There are certain large carriers that will pay more,” he said. “We will fit in comfortably in the arena of compensation.”

“We are starting to roll the product out. We will do so in all but three states where we will not be subject to approval because I suspect credit scoring is really the limiting factor in those three states,” Fishman said. “It will be used for the new product—meaning all new accounts will be sold under Quantum 2.0, and the product will be available to agents at their discretion for existing accounts.”

(This article was originally published on the Insurance Journal website. Report Young Ha is the East Coast editor of Insurance Journal.)