October 23, 2009

British Auto Insurer Aims To Help Virginians Save Money

There's an elephant in the room, and one UK insurance giant is hoping American consumers will notice. The Elephant Insurance Group, which has been selling insurance in Britain under the name Admiral Group PLC since 1993, is now selling auto insurance in the United States. Starting in Virginia, the auto insurance provider is now up and running, as of the beginning of October. Although only currently offering coverage to Virginians, the company expects to be a pachyderm-sized new player in the American car insurance market, hoping to eventually expand nationwide.

Admiral Group PLC is Britain's third-largest auto insurer. And, with a $10-million investment so far in Richmond, Virginia, the company expects brisk business and quick payouts of claims in the U.S. Although Virginia seems an odd choice for an international company to begin its campaign, Virginia's regulatory commission allows the flexibility of quick rate changes, meaning the company can determine its marketing and cost structure on the fly. In California, for example, it takes 63 days to change an auto insurance rate, and the process can literally take months in other states. And if the question, "Why America?" comes to mind, well, the U.S. has become ripe for new auto insurance companies. Geico, and its process of educating and transforming the American car insurance market, has shown American consumers another way to get auto insurance quotes and buy auto insurance. And Elephant is poised to exploit that.

Most of the U.S. auto insurance market is still agent-based, meaning each customer has his or her own personal representative. But Geico has successfully shown Americans that the agent is not always necessary. Elephant Auto Insurance Group will keep their business phone and Internet based. Admiral Group's foray into the American auto insurance market will be its fourth overseas company. With 12 brands extending into three European countries – and now the US – Admiral operates a direct-to-consumer insurance business, serving customers via the phone and Internet. So far, it has nearly 2 million customers worldwide. The company is not expecting its international divisions to post a profit for another four to six years. If that happens, however, the group will double sales in the next eight years. Admiral Group has no debt, and has consistently reported higher net income since its initial public offering in 2004. The giant had a higher return than any other insurance stock in Europe, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.com.

So why call it Elephant? Said CEO and Admiral founder Henry Engelhardt in an interview published in Bloomberg: "The elephant is the biggest animal in the jungle, it could step all over a gecko," referring to the English-accented mascot for Geico. And this Elephant will definitely be noticed when it comes to Virginia auto insurance.