ONLINE BUSINESS

Best of the Net: Setting Policy

If a dangerous and insecure world raises questions about your insurance coverage, these sites can help you reexamine your options -- up to a point.
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Best of the Net

With worries about safety and risk now an integral part of the business and personal landscape, we figured it was a good time to look for insurance information on-line. However, we found the task daunting. Search engine Google.com returned more hits for insurance than it did for MP3. After paging through hundreds of sites, we chose six. Some, like Insurance.com and USAA Educational Foundation, also steer people to their owners' products at Fidelity Investments and United Services Automobile Association, respectively. Life-line.org is a not-for-profit that links to the for-profit insurance companies that sponsor it. Acli.com is the official site of the American Council of Life Insurers but has solid consumer information for those willing to dig for it. Finally, About.com's insurance site is a specialized search engine that organizes and annotates sites from throughout the industry.

When we showed the sites to a panel of CEO experts, we got a rude awakening. They said that most of the sites offer sophisticated consumers little assistance. "These Web sites are a great primer for people to begin learning about life insurance," said Arvid "Dick" Tillmar, CEO of TE Brennan, a risk-management firm in Milwaukee. "But you will want to sit down with an expert before you buy any insurance."

Tillmar and the other two judges don't sell insurance. Instead they help clients develop plans to reduce their exposure to various calamities that can threaten a business, from damage to a facility to loss of key personnel or suppliers. Insurance is one ingredient in such plans but not the only one.

Scott Simmonds, owner of Insurance Consultants of Maine, a "fee only" provider of insurance advice and counsel, sets the bar high for a good Web site. "Most of these sites don't address the possible scenarios that a business owner faces," he said. For example, the sites should explain some of the factors involved in funding a buy/sell agreement between business partners in the event that one of them becomes disabled, Simmonds said.

None of the judges would steer consumers away from insurance Web sites, however. Rather, they suggest using the sites for understanding the basic concepts of insurance and for learning more about the types of products that insurance professionals recommend.

As Al Waters, CEO of Waters Risk Management, in Pinellas Park, Fla., put it: "Basic insurance information is wonderful. But as employers, we need to know more than most consumers. That additional information is very hard to find on-line."


Ron Feemster is a freelance writer based in New York City.


The Savvy Entrepreneur's Guide to Insurance on the Web


Site:
About.com
www.insurance.about.com

What it's good for:
Providing annotated links to information, rating agencies, and sales sites.

Don't waste your time if:
You're looking for introductory material. Go to one of the other sites instead.

What our CEOs had to say:
Al Waters thought it was "mostly for pros." But Scott Simmonds found "a lot for the consumer who wants to learn."

What you should know:
The site is maintained by a guide who contributes articles and keeps listings up to date.


Site:
Acli.com
www.acli.com

What it's good for:
Offering detailed consumer information, if you are willing to dig for it.

Don't waste your time if:
You're doing a search. Results are aimed at insurance professionals.

What our CEOs had to say:
Although Simmonds said it targeted insurance pros, Dick Tillmar found it informative about the effects of 9/11.

What you should know:
The site is run by the American Council of Life Insurers, an industry trade association.


Site:
Insurance.com
www.insurance.com

What it's good for:
Detailing basic insurance information and price quotes on many products.

Don't waste your time if:
You're looking for business life insurance.

What our CEOs had to say:
Simmonds and Waters both found it helpful for beginners -- "quotes, information, the works."

What you should know:
Fidelity, which operates the site, steers users to its products.


Site:
Life-line.org
www.life-line.org

What it's good for:
Providing good, clear information and a glossary of insurance terms.

Don't waste your time if:
You want details or technical information.

What our CEOs had to say:
Tillmar found it user-friendly; Simmonds praised its listing of insurance-company Web sites.

What you should know:
The site is sponsored by insurance companies that use agents.


Site:
Riskylife.com
www.riskylife.com

What it's good for:
Tracking down financial calculators and conservative retirement-savings information.

Don't waste your time if:
You want to get into fine detail about disability, long-term care, or business life insurance.

What our CEOs had to say:
Tillmar thought it provided more detailed information than some other sites did.

What you should know:
The site was developed by an assistant professor at the University of Central Arkansas and a personal banker.


Site:
USAA Educational Foundation
www.usaaedfoundation.org

What it's good for:
Finding "traditional" personal finance information.

Don't waste your time if:
You need sophisticated business-insurance information.

What our CEOs had to say:
Simmonds liked the quantity of data; Tillmar praised the site's comprehensiveness.

What you should know:
The company that sponsors the site insures many military families.


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Please E-mail your comments to editors@inc.com.

Last updated: Jul 1, 2002




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