ValChoice Offers Free Insurance Education Tools for Libraries

ValChoice, an independent data analytics company focused on the U.S. insurance industry, is offering public and academic libraries permanent, unlimited access to online calculators, insurance company ratings, tutorials and “how-to” videos, worksheets, and other tools designed to help users understand how insurance—such as car and home insurance—is priced, and how to decide on policies based on their age, deductibles, coverage limits, and other factors.

ValChoice logoValChoice, an independent data analytics company focused on the U.S. insurance industry, is offering public and academic libraries permanent, unlimited access to online calculators, insurance company ratings, tutorials and “how-to” videos, worksheets, and other tools designed to help users understand how insurance—such as car and home insurance—is priced, and how to decide on policies based on their age, deductibles, coverage limits, and other factors. The option is available to libraries that register with the site through the end of August.

“Every consumer is required to buy insurance, but hardly any understand what they’re buying,” founder and CEO Dan Karr told LJ. People are primarily “educated by the industry’s advertising budget,” and insurance commercials on television tend to focus on pricing or broad, general messages to reinforce corporate name recognition. “The lack of financial literacy is a serious problem, and libraries are well situated to educate their communities,” Karr said.

Karr was forced by personal misfortune to study the insurance industry extensively. While cycling to work in 2007, he was hit by a car and seriously injured. Although Karr was not at fault, and he had health insurance and his own car insurance, he initially faced six-figure hospital and medical bills. The ensuing multi-year grappling with insurance corporations ultimately led to a settlement for the bills, the founding of ValChoice in 2013, and the publication of his nonfiction title Injured Money (2014). Both the book and the ValChoice platform aim to help consumers make informed decisions when selecting providers and navigating claims processes.

Michael Zeller, assistant director, Shrewsbury Public Library, MA, was an early adopter of the platform after meeting Karr at the American Library Association’s 2020 midwinter conference in Philadelphia in January. He drew a positive comparison with Consumer Reports. The coronavirus outbreak and ensuing shutdown of Massachusetts libraries limited Shrewsbury’s outreach efforts behind the new resource, but Zeller predicted that it will prove to be very useful for patrons who are driving significantly less due to prolonged work-from-home scenarios, for example.

“There are a lot of predatory practices, and I think this is a really good tool to help patrons navigate” the insurance marketplace, Zeller said.

At the University of New Hampshire, business librarian and assistant professor Wendy Girven Pothier was another early adopter, adding ValChoice to the university library’s collection of financial literacy resources and programs this spring. The coronavirus outbreak and related campus closure limited in-person programming such as Financial Literacy month in April, but a lightly promoted webcast on ValChoice drew more than 20 highly engaged attendees, Pothier said.

“It was good attendance for something we put together in a week,” she said. “There was a lot of positive feedback” and it offered an opportunity for Pothier to promote other library resources directly to attendees in the weeks after students, staff, and faculty had begun working and attending classes remotely.

“Connecting people with information they need” is a core aspect of librarianship, Pothier noted, and “insurance is a topic that is hard to muddle through.”

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the need for information on this topic, Karr said. Citing two examples, he noted that people who are working from home for the indefinite future and driving much less frequently may be overpaying for their current car insurance. And credit scores can be a significant factor when companies are setting premiums, so job losses and debt can ultimately impact how much individuals are charged for insurance. “I think there are going to be significant changes that consumers won't know how to navigate” on their own, he said.

Patrons and staff at registered libraries can access video tutorials on how to navigate the insurance market during the pandemic, as well as a series of tutorials by life stage—ages 16 to 24, 25 to 54, and 55 and over—which guide viewers through different scenarios and coverage options.

“People tend to get insurance early in life by price,” Karr explained. “As they get older [that policy] may no longer be the best choice for them.”

ValChoice’s reports and insurance company ratings use data sourced from state insurance commissioners, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, AM Best Company, S&P Market Intelligence, and SERFF: The System for Electronic Rates and Forms Filing. Insurance companies and agents pay to license the results of the company’s analytics for marketing and outreach purposes.

The free access plan for libraries will enable ValChoice to tailor resources for the state where the library is located. Karr told LJ that aside from helping fulfill the public education aspect of the company’s mission, he believes partnering with libraries will be a good way to build the company’s brand.

“We’re an advocate and a watchdog,” he said. “People are intimidated” by the complexities of the insurance market. “They don’t take the time to learn about it because they think it’s too hard.” These tools can provide impartial advice for patrons exploring on their own, or can facilitate financial literacy programs at libraries interested in offering a deeper dive into the topic.

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Matt Enis

menis@mediasourceinc.com

@MatthewEnis

Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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