Intact Financial Corp. is preparing for major technology companies to shake up the way Canadians buy insurance.
The country's largest property and casualty insurer is working to get more out of its marketing and increasing its presence online, but is also keeping an eye on the future.
"I think the bigger play is what happens three, four, five years from now, or maybe less than that, when you have big technology players who are not in the market today," said Charles Brindamour, chief executive of Intact, on a quarterly earnings call with analysts Wednesday.
Insurance companies once sold their services to consumers the same way post offices and tax preparers did – they opened offices on Main Street. Today, consumers connect with major tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn each day before they even leave the house.
Intact sees the potential for these tech firms to also sell auto, home and travel insurance policies at the click of a mouse – and that time might be close at hand. Google will soon test out Google Compare, which is an auto insurance shopping site, in the U.S. according to a recent report by Reuters.
These companies "who have strong brands, who have a very good understanding of consumer behaviour, who have agile technology, come in and start disrupting how the business is distributed," Mr. Brindamour said.
Intact distinguishes between competitors in "manufacturing," which is the actual underwriting of insurance policies, and "distribution," which is the sale of those policies to the consumer either directly or through broker networks. Intact already has more than 17 per cent of the property and casualty insurance market and intends to grow that share. It's the distribution side where Mr. Brindamour said the company is "getting prepared" for new players.
They aren't alone. Other financial institutions, including banks, life insurers and asset managers, are looking to social media, mobile apps and other yet-to-be-dreamed-up technology to target consumers in new ways and meet them where they are: online.
Now, Intact says building its digital presence is a priority, and intends to make its branding more streamlined and stronger. "We're putting a lot of emphasis on digital leadership," Mr. Brindamour said. The company operates under the banners Belairdirect, Grey Power and BrokerLink as well as Intact.
Technology is already reshaping Intact's business through telematics, which use wireless and digital technologies that send and receive information within a vehicle. Some insurers have rolled out telematics that monitor drivers in exchange for discounts for good behaviour.
Intact launched its telematics (also known as usage-based insurance) program in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick about a year ago and now has more than 60,000 customers enrolled in the program. It is preparing to launch such monitoring systems in Alberta, pending regulators' approval.
All that data can be useful, but Intact is still sorting out how best to use it. "I think we're learning to deal with the massive amount of new data coming our way," Mr. Brindamour said.
Intact benefited from improvements in weather conditions and favourable underwriting results in this quarter, and quarterly profits nearly doubled. That led the company to fourth quarter earnings of $205-million from $107-million a year earlier, handily beating analyst expectations.
The company hiked its dividend by 10 per cent to 53 cents per share on Wednesday, reflecting that 2015 marks the tenth straight year of increases for the company since its initial public offering in late 2004. Shares of Intact, which was formerly known as ING Canada Inc., have produced a 274 per cent total return since then.