Insurers Step Gingerly Into Cyberspace

The dilemma: How to work the Web without alienating agents

Robert Sanchez always thought his car insurance was a ripoff. The 38-year-old locomotive engineer has never had an accident, hasn't gotten a ticket in four years, and only drives his 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit 14 miles round-trip to work in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Yet he paid a pricey $880 last year for insurance. He whittled his premium to $480 this year by calling different agents, but hunting down savings on the phone was slow and frustrating. "They all wanted 20 minutes of my time," Sanchez says. So he went online, found InsWeb Corp.'s Internet site, and got a $286 bid from General Electric Co. "I don't think it took more than 10 minutes," Sanchez says. A bonus: At the lower price, he has more coverage.

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