As the dot-com bubble grew in the late 1990s, and Internet companies appeared out of thin air as quickly as most would evaporate a few years later, the insurance industry watched, by and large, from a distance. The biggest and best-known companies had, after all, been established at least five decades earlier.
Jonathan Adkisson had already gotten his start at one of them—GEICO—and had spent a number of years at Farmers Insurance Group when he grew increasingly curious about the approach to his line of work that the Internet could offer. By the summer of 2000 the dot-com bubble had burst, but a new online insurance company known as Esurance had survived—and had recruited Adkisson to boot. Fifteen years later, Esurance is a subsidiary of Allstate and a $1.5 billion in premium volume business, with Adkisson as the company’s president.
“When the opportunity arose to move to a technology startup, I had the perspective that this was going to be a great business; that this was going to be the way business is done in our industry, in my lifetime and career—so I wanted to be involved in it,” Adkisson says.
But back in 2000, Adkisson’s enthusiasm ran contrary to the rest of the industry. Traditional insurers saw the Internet as a disruption rather than an asset, a potential threat to companies that had laid their foundations during the Great Depression or even earlier. Adkisson himself uses the “Queen Mary vs. a speedboat” analogy when comparing his time at Farmers to his early days at Esurance. Being able to operate similar to the agility of a speedboat is what gave Esurance a running start toward an entirely new way of doing business. “We’re about using technology to make our interactions with customers better, and give them easier access,” Adkisson says. “We demystify the process so customers understand their coverage options and what they entail, and use technology to make quoting, buying, and claims more efficient, which allows Esurance to offer lower prices.”
All that was novel to the industry fifteen years ago, and is, of course, much more common now. That’s why Esurance continues to strategize by designing innovative tools to both simplify its customers’ online experience and save them money while doing it. Examples include things like Coverage Counselor, an automated tool to help customers choose the right coverage options, and photo claims and video appraisal tools for easy claims processing, as well as a usage-based insurance option—“which lowers costs for those who don’t drive as much, keeping in line with our approach as a brand,” Adkisson adds.
If any of Esurance’s tools sound familiar, there’s good reason—its direct-to-consumer, DIY model has become increasingly popular via high-profile companies such as GEICO and Progressive. “We’re in a very competitive market with some very worthy competitors,” Adkisson admits. “But there’s a whole host of things we do that we’ve later seen them doing as well . . . and sometimes we see competitors doing something that we research and decide to adopt for our customers. It makes us better having to compete against strong competitors.”
A place Esurance feels especially strong is in the social media arena. Credit could go to the post-Super Bowl TV spot that generated 5.4 million tweets as part of a sweepstakes; it could also go to its partnership with Major League Baseball that generated four billion impressions throughout the season. Aside from large campaigns, Esurance’s everyday content offers everything from seasonal tips to how-tos. Its goal is to provide content that will help, educate, or excite people. With an increase in reach and engagements this year, the program has been a big success.
Something that’s most definitely of interest to Esurance customers of late are matters of cybersecurity. The topic has been a perpetual hot-button issue for years in the case of Esurance, Adkisson says, due to the very nature of the company. But the big-name credit breaches of recent years are far less likely to happen at Esurance, due to protective measures such as the Tokenization process (which keeps customer info away from the Esurance browser) and preventative measures for data loss and email processing. “As e-commerce became ubiquitous, consumers became less concerned with sharing information online,” Adkisson says. “But more recently, with the high-profile breaches, security has become of interest again.”
Since 2011, when Allstate became the parent company for Esurance, much of the company’s focus has been on geographic expansion. Now that much of that has been accomplished—with offices in nineteen cities, and customers in forty-three of the fifty US states—improvements to data collection as well as the overall customer experience loom large on the horizon. What won’t be seen is an online business resting on its laurels. “There’s a lot of opportunity for innovation moving forward,” Adkisson says. “I think Esurance is the kind of entrepreneurial company that will take advantage of those opportunities.”