With the global economy thawing out after the long winter of the financial crisis, the small business market is on the rebound. And it's not just in the US. In markets extending from Canada to Australia, small business owners are starting up, borrowing to expand, and they’re hiring staff, all of which are driving the need for commercial insurance to protect assets and employees. And just where are these busy small business owners doing their research and, in many cases, shopping? Online. So with all this digital shopping and buying, just what changes will these digitally sophisticated small businesses drive for insurers? For starters:

  • Typical consumer online features are creeping into commercial insurance sites. In the US, small business owners are more likely to go online to research, renew, and service their policies than the average online consumer. What’s driving these small businesses to digital insurance? Business owners and their staffs bring their consumer experiences with them to work, prompting business insurers to rethink the content, usability, and functionality present on their business insurance sites. For example, Hiscox’s online site features not only simplified packaging that makes quoting easy but also the ratings and review functionality that we are used to seeing on direct personal insurer sites like Progressive Casualty Insurance’s site.  
  • Changing firmographics are forcing a shift to digital business risk-centric experiences. Changing customer expectations and new risks in white-hot growth businesses like energy construction and medical marijuana are forcing carriers to rethink their small business customer segmentation. What would be really great to see is segmentation for small businesses that went beyond the industry and number of employees to look at structure (corporation, LLC, sole proprietership, for instance); life stage (start-up, growth, transition, and so forth); or technology dependency or stance (in Forrester parlance, optimists or pessimists.) Need some examples? Kemper Specialty pitches the business life stage on its commercial auto landing page. And State Farm offers content on how insurance needs change as the business matures, but sadly offers that content only as a PDF on its business insurance landing page. Meanwhile, Allstate offers a “People Like You” button on its business insurance landing page, instead of overwhelming an online shopper with a long list of industry types. 
  • Specialty lines that demand specialized mobile apps. The mobile boom is gaining a foothold in commercial lines. Commercial carriers are creating mobile applications to help business owners manage even specialized risks. Great American Insurance has launched two mobile applications for the policy management needs of commercial trucking firms and equine-related businesses like racing, boarding, breeding, and training. Along with mobile apps for policy holders, commercial insurers could consider mobile apps that coach their commercial agents through the business characteristics they need to understand when selling specialty policies to businesses with very specific needs like horticultural or jewelers block insurance.

How is the small business insurance customer factoring into your digital strategy in the coming year?