Google may bring auto insurance shopping service to US

An entity called Google Compare Auto Insurance Services is now licensed to do business in more than half the US, an analyst finds.

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Google may be getting ready to move into auto insurance quotes. Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Google may finally be ready to launch its auto insurance comparison shopping service in the US, according to an industry analyst.

A review of state insurance commission filings by Forrester Research analyst Ellen Carney discovered that an entity doing business under the name Google Compare Auto Insurance Services is licensed to do business in more than half the US, according to a Carney blog post. The company is also authorized to transact business with half a dozen insurance providers, including MetLife, Mercury and Workmen's Auto Insurance.

Carney also notes that a corporate treasurer at Google named Meredith Stechbart, who doesn't appear to have any insurance industry experience, is licensed to sell insurance through Google Compare as well as auto insurance comparison site CoverHound.

Taken together, the moves suggest that Google is getting ready to offer tools in the US for auto insurance comparison shopping, in much the same way it already does with hotel and flight reservations. Fees paid for referrals through the service could deliver Google a new revenue source in the face of the company's eroding search dominance, which slipped to 75.2 percent in December from 79.3 percent a year ago, according to analytics firm Statcounter.

Google has been offering auto insurance quotes in the UK since 2012, a year after it purchased BeatThatQuote.com, a British price comparison service that offered instant quotes on personal financial products. Google has been courting insurers to participate in a US site for almost as long, but the service's launch keeps being delayed, perhaps to complete an acquisition of CoverHound, Carney wrote. She now expects a pilot program to launch in California in the first quarter of 2015, followed by launches in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Carney suggests that a Google acquisition of San Francisco-based CoverHound could give the web giant a headstart in a very competitive market.

"As much as I'd like to imagine someone could become so enthralled with the insurance industry that they'd leave a job at Google to become an insurance agent, there's a more logical explanation for the addition of CoverHound on Ms. Stechbart's license," Carney wrote.

"An acquisition of CoverHound gets the Google insurance entity to market faster in the U.S. than they've been able to get on their own," she writes. "It gets them a national full-service independent agency with more insurers that have already signed on."

Carney also notes that CoverHound's experience in the industry would give it clout and that an acquisition could explain the delay in launching the service.

Neither Google nor CoverHound responded to requests for comment.