Making The Middleman An Endangered Species

You've cracked your windshield and you need it replaced. So you call the 800 number on your in-surance policy to make a claim. You may not realize it, but that call is likely to connect you to one of several networks of glass installers, which are connected by computer to your insurance company. This electronic connection saves you time and your insurer big bucks because now it doesn't have to cut a separate check for every claim; it can pay hundreds at a time. The only party that doesn't benefit may be the local auto-glass shop: If it isn't part of such a network, it stands to lose a major chunk of business--and find its profit margins eroding because the insurers' buying clout has driven prevailing prices down.

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