Tech Industry

A quick fix for a car insurance headache

An Internet start-up will soon announce a fast way to get your auto insurance carrier to pay your claims and repair your car.

An Internet start-up will soon announce a fast way to get your auto insurance carrier to pay your claims and repair your car.

Ensera's automated process for accident claims and repairs is not yet fully operational, but it plans to announce deals with major players in the $28 billion U.S. auto collision repair business in December.

Tony Aquila, chief executive of the 10-month-old company, said Ensera's clients include GE Financial Assurance, Mercury Insurance and Amica Insurance.

Larry Brown, an Amica systems engineer, confirmed the relationship. Amica is using iON Connection, a working portion of the total system Ensera plans to build.

"All our staff adjusters and appraisers are outfitted with digital cameras and laptop computers," Brown said. "It's cut our turnaround time from a week to a day."

In theory, Ensera's complete process will work best when your car has crashed but your computer has not.

A consumer who has just experienced an auto accident, Ensera asserts, will be able to use any browser to take the following steps:

• Claim. The first stop is a Web page at the consumer's auto insurance company, where an initial claim for reimbursement is typed in.

• Police report. Instead of a consumer having to go to a police station or talk with an officer in person, an official report of the accident will be filed using a Web form.

• Damage appraisal. An insurance claims adjuster, using iON Claims, sends a digital picture of the damage to a central office.

• Scheduling repairs. The insurance company's Web site then shows the consumer a list of approved repair shops and displays the first time slot each shop has available.

Compared with the present system--which basically consists of the consumer schlepping around town or listening to music-on-hold until all these steps are done--a Web-based system could cut days or weeks off the process.

"Historically, it takes approximately eight days to get a completed report back to an insurance company with photos and estimates, utilizing the (snail) mail system," said Tim Davis, owner of a damage-appraisal company serving California, Arizona and Nevada.

But since he started using iON Connection, he says, "The cycle time, including the field inspection, can be as low as two working days."

Ensera must still convince the auto-repair industry of the Web's advantages over proprietary estimating and payment systems, such as ADP's Shoplink.

And it faces competition from other Internet start-ups that had the same idea, with names like RepairCar.com and ProcessClaims.com.

But armed with $20 million in venture capital--raised in August primarily from CMGI @Ventures and Wand Partners--Ensera is loving its dot-com competition to death.

Go Media, the parent company of GoClaims.com, was purchased by Ensera in August for an undisclosed amount.

And Jack Rozint, the founder of RepairCar.com, was hired as a senior vice president of Ensera last month.

Despite the savings promised for insurance and repair companies, consumers do not seem to be reaping big reductions in their auto premiums just yet.

But soon, coping with the aftermath of a fender-bender may not leave you feeling like such a wreck.

A Wired Watchdog update
The Wired Watchdog column reported in July that Network Solutions, the largest domain name registrar, was said to be hoarding over 1 million expired domain names that should have been returned to the public pool for registration by others.

Asserting that this is an illegal restraint of trade, Internet entrepreneur Stan Smith has filed a lawsuit against Network Solutions. The company declined to comment on the suit.

Consumer advocate Brian Livingston appears at CNET News.com every Friday. Do you know of a problem affecting consumers? Send info to tips@BrianLivingston.com. He'll send you a book of high-tech secrets free if you're the first to submit a tip he prints.