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Yahoo launches Insurance Center

The Net giant will unveil an area in its finance section where users can compare quotes and estimates for various types of insurance.

The days of traveling insurance salesmen knocking at your door may be numbered, thanks to the Web.

Yahoo (YHOO), in conjunction with InsWeb, tomorrow will announce a service under the Yahoo Finance section that lets users compare quotes and estimates for automobile, life, health, homeowners', and renters' insurance.

The launch of the Yahoo Insurance Center, which is now live, follows closely on the heels of America Online's entry into the insurance industry.

AOL last month announced that it will offer users of both its online service and its Web site discounted health insurance through Provident American. That exclusive partnership, which launches in October, will let users buy insurance online.

InsWeb only provides insurance quotes and estimates at this point, but company spokesman Greg Berardi said the company plans to sell insurance online at some point in the future.

"Our goal is to do end-to-end insurance sales, but now we're focused on what consumers really want, and that's comparison shopping," Berardi said. "Payment takes a pretty short time in the process, and what's really important is the ability to get quotes without having to spend the time making phone calls."

InsWeb is free, as is the Yahoo Insurance Center. InsWeb makes money by collecting customers' valuation criteria, such as car model, home value, and various risk factors, and calculating risk and rates using insurance providers' own formulas. Once InsWeb produces the quotes, consumers can then opt to send insurance carriers their personal information. At that point, InsWeb collects a fee from the insurance carrier.

Quotes are actual figures from individual insurance providers calculated with customers' personal information. Estimates are ballpark industry figures.

InsWeb does not have advertisements on its site. "We want to provide unbiased information, and advertising might undercut that image in some consumers' eyes," Berardi said.

Terms of the deal with Yahoo were not disclosed, but it does not prevent Yahoo from putting advertising on the Insurance Center.

InsWeb and the Yahoo Insurance Center will offer auto quotes from eight insurance carriers; life insurance quotes from three carriers; health insurance from two carriers in two states; and homeowner and renter insurance estimates. Quotes for homeowners and renters will be added in the next few quarters, according to Berardi. Additional health insurance information is also slated for the future.

Yahoo's Insurance Center offers the same functionality and content as InsWeb, which includes research information and analytical tools. Yahoo users will get a few extra features, including a health insurance needs analyzer to help users determine what kind of health plan they require.