Gone are the days when Progressive Corp., the nation’s fourth-largest U.S. auto insurer, could grow through innovation alone. Future expansion will come at the expense of its rivals by going after their broader and older customer base, Nomura Equity Research concluded in a new investor note.
“The competition has become varied, specialized and intense. Not only is Progressive bigger but its main competitors are too,” Nomura analysts Clifford Gallant and Matthew Rohrmann wrote in their recent assessment of the company. “From here, growth will require attempting to take share from the likes of State Farm, whose share has been relatively steady for 50 years.”
To get there, Gallant and Rohrmann noted Progressive’s professed strategy of seeking ways to hold onto its customers longer through their lives, rather than just younger insured clients. Progressive expects to begin underwriting renters insurance, grow its homeowners partnerships, focus on strong service and claims experiences and steer a leading course through mobile apps and its Snapshot program, a device that fits in the car and helps monitor customers’ driving habits, enabling them to track projected savings online.
But the Nomura analysts wrote that they see Progressive as behind the curve from its competitors and facing a number of obstacles in its goal to hold onto older customers.
“Over time, the company will reposition as an insurer that a policyholder could keep for life,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, major competitors not only have decades more experience with these mature customers, but have the advantage of being a single insurer with one local agent.”
Gallant and Rohrmann said Progressive will only accomplish this goal by fulfilling a need to “successfully execute on many fronts including rebranding, partnering and ultimately, offering a real value to the customer.”
Until that point, the pair said the reiterate Nomura’s “sell” rating for the company, with the idea that “the “relatively high valuation of [Progressive’s] shares implies an unrealistic long-term growth rate.” They added they “are concerned that the longer the growth remains lackluster, additional challenges could emerge including retaining talented management.”
Progressive CEO Glenn Renwick said during the company’s 2014 investor relations meeting Thursday that “we are acutely aware we want a segment of customers that everybody else wants.” He argued that Progressive has “the right assets and can build on the skills we have” to get there.
Renwick admitted that Progressive is a major producer of “pre-Robinson” (pre-family) customers, but argued that going after competitors for the later-in-life client business makes sense because “we have those customers not as they exist today, but as they will look like years from now and decades from now.”
“We are a contemporary solution for these people,” Renwick said. “We have what they want, and we are no longer comfortable just being the prep school. We are going to go deeper into the insurance relationships with our customers, and if that means providing products we haven’t previously provided, so be it.”
Renwick reassured investors, however, that Progressive will still be “an auto-centric underwriting company” and that the other products are just “that bundling notion” with Progressive’s regular core business.