Commentary

Google Getting Out Of Making Financial Service Comparisons

Did you know Google had a comparison-shopping site for financial services? Precisely. And soon it won’t. Google is pulling the plug on Google Compare, which enabled consumers in the U.S. and U.K. to get competitive quotes from several — but not all — providers for financial products such as car and travel insurance, credit cards and mortgages.

“Consumers often use multiple sites to compare and take a lot of time to make decisions on financial products, reducing the appeal of the service to advertisers who already buy traditional search ads,” a person familiar with Compare tells the Wall Street Journal’s Telis Demos and Jack Nicas. “Google also failed to get some of the biggest insurers and lenders to participate, meaning shoppers received comparisons from only some potential providers,” they write.

In an email published by Search Engine Land, the Alphabet subsidiary “team” thanks its partners but says the service was not as successful as anticipated. 

“After a lot of careful consideration, we’ve decided that focusing more intently on AdWords and future innovations will enable us to provide fresh, comprehensive answers to Google users, and to provide our financial services partners with the best return on investment,” the email states. 

“The company only recently began rebuilding the Compare product from the ashes of the Advisor program in the U.S.,” Search Engine Land’s Ginny Marvin writes. “The single piece left standing from that initial effort was the credit card offering — savings accounts, CDs and mortgages had all discontinued.” 

Google launched auto insurance comparisons last March and a mortgage product in November, according to Marvin. The shutdown is beginning today and will be completed by March 23, according to the email.

“When Google jumped into the insurance-selling game, it joined a long list of technology companies that have been trying to shake up the market by selling things like auto and homeowner insurance online. The idea behind their sites is to help consumers save money by showing them multiple quotes in one place,” writes Conor Dougherty for the New York Times.

Google Compare got a finder’s fee from referrals; other sites sell the policies themselves. “The competition has so far done little to threaten the tens of thousands of insurance agents who continue to be the backbone of the business, but Google and others are likely to keep trying,” Dougherty proffers.

A commenter to a story about the shuttering of the mortgage comparison feature of the earlier product, Google Advisor, pointed out four years ago on Search Engine Roundtable: “As an advertiser and an online business developer I had strong concerns over the direction this type of service represented. The comparison engine stepped over the line of being an ad platform to being a competitor with many of the advertisers that generate significant revenue for Google. LendingTree, Intuit, Mint, LowerMyBills and more just in the mortgage and loan space are in direct competition with Advisor.”

But not necessarily.

Monday’s news “comes just over a year after Google made a big splash with news it was getting into the insurance business. It was made official in March 2015 when the deal between the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant and major partners Compare.com and CoverHound was made known to the public,” report Don Jergler and Amy O'Connor for Insurance Journal.

CoverHound.com CEO Keith Moore tells Jergler and O’Connor that Google plans to “‘go dark’ to retool all of its consumer product sites and improve the ‘customer experience.’” 

“We think it’s a smart move and something we have been pushing for all along,” Moore says. “We are still engaged with them and still have an active partnership and hope that partnership will continue down the road.”

That sounds similar to the Alphabet strategy for the erstwhile Google Glass, whose current homepage simply but emphatically states: “THANKS FOR EXPLORING WITH US. THE JOURNEY DOESN'T END HERE.”

One commenter to the Wall Street Journal’s coverage Monday blames government regulation for the failure of comparison sites for financial services while predicting that new forms of insurance innovation will be forthcoming online. 

Another hits the other nail in Google Compare’s coffin squarely: “It might have helped if Google had made the existence of the service known,” writes Mac Balkcom. “It is amazing that a company that makes its living selling ads for others can't get the word out for its own products.”

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