Online insurance site launches Sept. 13

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Another dot-com will be launched today. No, it's not providing a forum for online auctions or peddling high-end cosmetics. It's selling insurance.

Internet commerce must be here to stay.

ECoverage aims to take the hassle out of buying insurance by leveraging the direct-to-consumer assets of the Web, offering individuals quotes, sales, account management and claims filing capabilities for auto, home and marine insurance policies.

The company last week named Kowloon Wholesale Seafood Co., Santa Monica, Calif., as agency of record. Its launch campaign breaks this week in financial publications. TV and radio commercials will follow next month.

ECoverage's ad budget was undisclosed. But Kowloon President Dick Sittig said the new account would having billings close to that of its other account, Foodmaker's Jack in the Box fast-food chain, and the two accounts are similarly sized.

Jack in the Box had measured spending of $51.2 million in 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting, a number expected to grow somewhat this year. This would suggest eCoverage's billings could be about $60 million.

Backed by Softbank Technology Ventures and Softbank-backed E*Trade and E-Loan, eCoverage will emphasize customer service to help people navigate a complicated and time-consuming process of buying insurance. Company board members include David Coulter, former Bank of America CEO; James Robinson III, former CEO of American Express Co.; and Kenneth Langone, co-founder of Home Depot.

Although several sites provide insurance quotes online, eCoverage debuts with few peers in the online insurance sales space. In fact, Jupiter Communications has not yet measured the size of the online insurance market because there is not enough business yet to quantify, said analyst Robert Sterling.

Mr. Sterling expects additional sites will enter the online insurance sales arena soon.

"I would be surprised if we don't see [more] Internet pure-plays cropping up and I'm sure we'll see traditional carriers getting into this," he said, adding that traditional carriers ultimately may have a leg up on pure-plays such as eCoverage. "The advantage always lies with the company that has the customers in place already."

Contributing: Louise Kramer.

Copyright September 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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