While the chief executive officer of Progressive didn’t rule out the possibility of ever partnering with an aggregator website, Glenn Renwick highlighted the virtues of going it alone in the direct auto insurance channel last week.
After fielding questions about Progressive’s alliance with homeowners insurance provider American Strategic Insurance, and strategies for growing in the agency channel, Analyst Paul Newsome, a managing director for Sandler O’Neill and Partners asked Renwick for his take on opportunities in working with various websites that are trying to aggregate the direct channel.
“We talk to a lot of them,” said Renwick noting that he would be “a little bit hedging” on the comments he delivered in his response because “those conversations are sort of ongoing.”
He went on to amplify his thoughts on the value of Progressive’s brand and challenges for aggregators who may not be able to deliver the most recognized brands to customers.
“For the most part, I would tell you that we concentrate a lot on our own brand and bringing people directly to us rather than intermediation that may or may not be value added.
“That’s not a commentary on their sites,” he said, referring to the aggregators.
“I’m just saying that we would prefer consumers to understand our brand, to respect our brand, know what we can do for them and come directly to us. That’s the model that works best for us.”
Renwick suggested that “the other major player in the direct space probably feels the same way,” noting that he had no real evidence that that’s the case and without identifying GEICO by name.
Still, with two key auto insurers currently out of the mix, “aggregators don’t always get a fair representation of competitors relative to market share,” he said, citing that as an ever-present challenge for aggregators in presenting choices to consumers. “It might sound attractive to some consumers that I have X, but if X doesn’t necessarily include the major suppliers that can be awkward” for the aggregators, he said.
As for Google’s rumored intention to enter the insurance aggregator space, which became a reality a day later, Renwick simply said that “it’s no great surprise that Google has interest in things,” adding that Google “could clearly consult with us.”
“We’re going to focus primarily on our own brand from a direct perspective,” Renwick said. “We’re very well aware of aggregators in the agency arena as well,” he added.
“Ultimately we know ‘best product best price’ is going to be a big win and we feel very good about our ability to get that message out. If I were in a different position and didn’t have a consumer brand, my answer to this might be quite different,” he said.
The Progressive call took place two days after the company published its 2014 annual report, featuring Renwick’s letter to shareholders providing a look at Progressive’s past and the present “Destination Era,” a term which speaks to the “continuing evolution of Progressive’s consumer driven journey.”
Renwick noted that achieving $20 billion of written premiums is a level that is now in sight in his letter. “Our multiyear trend of crossing a new billion threshold continued with 2014 written premiums of 18.7 billion. With no implied estimate of timing, the numerical milestone of $20 billion is now one we can envision, and I look forward to experiencing the same pride we felt as a company passing the $1 billion and $10 billion marks,” he wrote.
In 2014, Progressive also posted a 92.3 combined ratio and a 19 percent return on equity, the report said.