Insurer Practices/Profits

Meet the Robinsons: Progressive’s Ideal Insurance Customers—And Woe to All Others

By: Michael DeLong, CFA Insurance Research Advocate

Auto insurance companies like to present themselves as consumers’ friends. The mascots used in commercials, ranging from GEICO’s gecko and Aflac’s duck to Progressive’s Flo, are intended to put you at ease and get you to lower your guard. But Progressive’s recent second quarter earnings report offers a rare look at how it really views its customers—the insurer values some particularly high-value consumers, while dismissing many others.

Progressive calls these high-value customers the Robinsons. The Robinsons represent households who own their home and car and bundle their homeowners and auto insurance with the same company. An even more ideal Robinson household for Progressive would have multiple vehicles and drivers.

Progressive considers these customers extremely profitable for several reasons:

  1. The company believes they tend to remain with their insurance companies for a long time, with 45% of Robinsons having been with their insurer for eleven years or more.
  2. Many Robinsons (41% according to J.D. Power’s auto insurance survey) select their insurance company in order to bundle homeowners insurance and auto insurance, so they purchase additional products.
  3. Progressive has already designed and streamlined its quoting system for these bundles, in order to attract Robinsons and make their shopping and signing up as quick and painless as possible.
  4. 53% of Robinsons intend to renew their insurance policies with their current company, a much higher percentage than any other category of consumers.

For Progressive, the Robinsons are its ideal insurance customers and the company devotes significant time and effort enticing them to purchase policies. Insurance Journal notes that “they all represent the ideal scenario for lifetime value;” i.e., the total worth to an insurer of a customer over the whole period of their relationship. Progressive and other companies know that it is easier and cost effective to keep existing customers than to acquire new ones. Therefore Progressive goes to extreme lengths to specifically enroll the Robinsons, offering them discounted auto rates to begin a relationship, then encouraging them to bundle that initial policy with their homeowners insurance, and then suggesting additional policies and products.

If Progressive can successfully recruit the Robinsons, entice them to bundle their policies and is able to keep them happy and loyal, the Robinsons will wind up paying auto and homeowners insurance premiums to Progressive for years. If the Robinsons are wealthy, that opens up even more opportunities for products such as life insurance, a second home, a motorcycle, an RV or even boat insurance. These ideal customers are the foundation of Progressive’s profits since they tend to remain loyal, their premiums can go up year after year, and they buy more than one policy.

If, however, you are not a Robinson, Progressive will adopt a less favorable attitude, considering you of lower value. The Wrights are similar to the Robinsons except they do not bundle their insurance policies, and so aren’t as loyal or lucrative. Below them are the Dianes, who rent their homes instead of owning them, and have auto insurance and other products. And finally there are the Sams, who only have auto insurance. These customers are more inclined to shop around for different products and less inclined to remain with one company. The Wright families renew their policies with the company at a rate of 45%, and the Dianes and Sams are sensitive to price increases. So if Progressive increases the premiums for these customers, it runs the risk that they will investigate other insurance companies and switch to them if those companies offer better deals. Progressive prefers not to invest in serving the type of customers who are too price-sensitive to buy more and more coverage or to stick around when rates rise.

Progressive values customers who stick with them for a long period of time and who buy multiple products, and so the insurance company lavishes attention on their Robinsons. But the other customers that are savvier or that buy fewer products are considered less important and deserving of less attention. What Progressive blurted out during its finance call serves as a reminder that while the insurers present their good neighbor faces in the advertisements, they are not out there to make friends: they will track you, classify you, and slice and dice you before deciding how they treat you when you knock on their door. And if you’re a Sam or Diane, well there are no Cheers for you!

Even if you are a Robinson getting the best treatment, don’t forget that what they see in you is the opportunity to make the most profit. But with escalating premiums, consumers of every category are getting increasingly frustrated. We strongly encourage all consumers, Sams, Dianes, Wrights, and Robinsons alike, to take a careful look at their insurance company and comparison shop. Your insurer, despite their claims to the contrary, only views you as a source of revenue. And you should likewise be pragmatic. If they think of us as Dianes and Sams, you should consider them a Gordon Gekko or Mr. Burns.