November 14, 2013

Mobile Phone Insurance Market Shares:

The top four wireless carriers in the U.S. collect more than $7.8 billion in protection plan premiums from their customers, and top electronics retailers collect an additional $4.3 billion for mobile phone service contracts. A handful of administration and insurance companies work with them.

So much is written about the iPhone, Android and other mobile handsets. But there's so little written about the service contracts and insurance policies that protect them from theft, loss, damage, malfunction, and manufacturing defects.

Likewise, With Asurion LLC paying its investors a billion-dollar dividend last year, one would assume more would be known about its protection plan market share and client list. But it's hardly ever mentioned.

As we continue our tour of the service contract industry, it's time to fill in the blanks on the companies that sell these protection plans to consumers. Turns out it's a huge market that's split between the wireless phone companies and the electronics retailers such as Apple, Best Buy and others. But the phone companies dominate the market, and Asurion dominates the phone company segment of the market.

To construct our market sizing, we started with a few data points and some assumptions about attach rates and market size. Some of the best data points came from CTIA – The Wireless Association, which closely tracks the growth in the installed base of mobile handsets in the U.S. Its semi-annual wireless industry survey gathers subscriber data from the carriers themselves, and claims a 97% response rate for its latest edition.

More Cellphones Than People?

CTIA found precisely 326,475,248 wireless connections as of December 31, 2012 and an estimated 2012 revenue of $185 billion for the U.S. carriers. And yes, that means there are more connections than there are people in the U.S. We assume that's because some people have separate phones for work and home, and separate accounts for their phones and tablets. And some people have both pre-paid and post-paid accounts with the various carriers.

We also found that Apple Inc. is doing a good job of reporting its AppleCare extended warranty revenue. But as we detailed in the January 17, 2013 newsletter, it takes a few tricks to get the desired data. Basically, AppleCare is a product protection program with a two-year term, which means half of the revenue from any given contract is put into the "current" bucket, which holds liabilities under a year old, and half is put into the "non-current" bucket, which holds liabilities more than a year old. But Apple also sells gift cards, and because one never knows when those gift cards will be redeemed, it all goes into the "current" bucket.

For the year ending September 28, 2013, Apple reported having on hand $7.435 billion in current deferred revenue and $2.625 billion in non-current deferred revenue. We're going to assume all the non-current deferred revenue comes from second-year AppleCare premiums -- paid by consumers but yet to be recognized by the company -- and that it's matched by an equal amount of current deferred revenue (the first year's portion of the premium). There's some qualifications to that formula to account for any overlap with factory warranty and for plans sold in the middle of a fiscal year. But let's just say that in round numbers, AppleCare is a $5.25 billion program worldwide for the fiscal year that ended in September 2013.

However, there are two problems with that number. First, AppleCare also covers Macintosh computers and iPod music players, and it does so in multiple countries besides the U.S. In the October 31, 2013 newsletter, we found AppleCare plans for sale in Canada, Europe, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Therefore, not all that deferred revenue is for iPhone and iPad extended warranties, and not all of it is collected from American customers. And of course, the iPhone didn't go on sale until 2007 (and initially for just the AT&T Mobility network), while the iPad appeared in 2010.

Four Assumptions

So we're going to make four assumptions. First, we're going to assume the installed base of mobile phones continues to grow slightly this year. We'll assume the net gain in 2013, after retirements, is 6.5 million units from the year-end 2012 CTIA figures. Second, we're going to assume that half the handsets currently in use in the U.S. are smartphones: 167 million units. Third, we're going to assume that 40% of the AppleCare program is covering iPhones and iPads in the U.S., up from only 15% in 2009 (when it was primarily for Macs and iPods).

Our fourth assumption comes from our readers. For two years, we've been gathering data points from mobile industry insiders about the size of their wireless protection programs. And they keep saying the same thing: while protection programs for the old Nokia "dumb" phones and the Motorola flip phones were only pleasantly successful, sales of protection programs -- service contracts and/or insurance contracts -- have been a monster hit for smartphones and tablets.

Two insiders told us 60% of the smartphones are protected. One told us 66% and another told us 63%. So we're going to use the round number of 60% as our assumption for the attach rate of smartphone protection programs. That's an extraordinarily high number, considering that attach rates for passenger cars, appliances and most other consumer electronics categories are far lower. But it's supported by the anecdotal evidence, and it makes intuitive sense in that a hand-held gadget that's made of glass and is worth multiple hundreds of dollars would seem vulnerable to most consumers, and therefore worth protecting.

Installed Base

So first, let's take a look at the installed base we're projecting for the U.S. at the end of this year. We predict there will be 333 million devices in use. And out of the 167 million of them that are smartphones, 100 million or 60% of them will be protected in some fashion, by some company. Add to that 21 million protected tablets and 12 million protected dumb phones, and we have a population of 133 million protected devices and 200 million unprotected devices in the U.S. at year's end.

Figure 1
Mobile Phone Service Contracts & Insurance
Installed Base of Protected Handsets, 2013
Total Handsets & Tablets = 333 Million

Figure 1

As was mentioned, the source of the tremendous growth in handset protection programs has been the growing popularity of the smartphone, which now accounts for half the installed base. And conversely, as consumers feel the vulnerability of their Androids and iPhones, they increasingly dismiss the value of protecting their dumb phones. So for dumb phones, the attach rate is actually falling.

Take this back five years, and we have a population of 285 million devices in 2009, but only 50 million were smartphones. Extended warranties and service contracts for dumb phones were still popular back then, because they weren't seen as dumb. But the programs weren't ever wildly popular, so no 60% attach rates for them.

In Figure 2, we've assumed a 2009 attach rate of 50% for the smartphones -- still on the high side, but again plausible. And although we estimate that the population of protected tablets was only 6 million units back then, that's actually more than half of the number of tablets in use at the time (it was still a year before the iPad appeared). And we've assumed that 34 million dumb phones were covered by some sort of protection plan back then, while 192 million were not.

Figure 2
Mobile Phone Service Contracts & Insurance
Installed Base of Protected Handsets, 2009
Total Handsets & Tablets = 285 Million

Figure 2

We have similar data for all the years in between, which takes into account these trends: the soaring popularity of smartphones and tablets, rising attach rates for their protection programs, the replacement and retirement of dumb phones, and the diminishing popularity of protection programs for those.

In the October 31, 2013 newsletter, we laid out all the players in the protection business from the point of view of the mobile phone companies. Something that probably should have been mentioned is another trend regarding the sellers of the handsets. It used to be the domain of the phone companies in the era of the dumb phones, but has broadened considerably in the smartphone era to include all sorts of retailers.

The Carterfone Decision

For an analogy, let's go back decades, to the era of the Bell System, when phones weren't sold; they were rented. And if you happened to somehow come into the possession of a surplus phone, it was illegal to connect it to the network. The Bell System had a monopoly on the customer premise equipment, and most customers were locked into a rental program.

That monopoly began to disintegrate 45 years ago, when other manufacturers began to sell everything from acoustic couplers to Mickey Mouse phones on the open market. Suddenly, you didn't have to rent your Princess Touch-Tone phone from the Bell System; you could buy one in the local electronics shop. And then along came fax machines, modems, answering machines, and numerous other types of customer premise equipment.

A similar uprising has occurred in the wireless industry more recently. Five or ten years ago, you got your handset from the wireless phone company, along with a two-year subscription. And in most cases you were locked into that subscription, both legally and technologically. AT&T Mobility's wireless phones didn't work on the Verizon Wireless network, even if you could unlock them and wiggle out of your contract. The German-owned T-Mobile USA network followed the rest of the world's GSM standard, but Sprint and the others didn't. So you couldn't just jump from one network to another with the same handset, unless it was one of those multi-band models.

Retail Sales of Smartphones

But anyway, the arrival of the smartphone opened up the possibilities for sales of handsets and their protection programs to a wider group of merchants, particularly electronics retailers. iPhones and other brands could be sold by Best Buy, Radio Shack, Target, Walmart and other retailers, in addition to the Apple retail stores that were popping up in major cities. The same was true for tablets. They still could be locked into a certain carrier's network through both code and contract, but at least they could be bought on the open market.

Therefore, during the years from 2009 to 2013, consumers could buy their smartphones, dumb phones and tablets from either retailers or phone companies. And the retailers included both Apple and the others. We have good data on the sales of AppleCare plans. And from the October 31 newsletter, we have good data on the price of the phone company plans, and the players involved.

In Figure 3, we're looking at the market shares of these three types of sellers of mobile phone protection plans: the phone companies, Apple, and the retailers. Insiders have told us that protection plans now account for about two to four percent of the wireless phone companies' revenue. Let's say it averages out to around three percent of their total mobile revenue. That's actually a bit below the attachment rates the retailers of electronics and appliances quietly report to us for their sales of extended warranties and service contracts. But that's a topic for another newsletter.

This week, we're going to focus in on just the sales of protection plans by the wireless carriers and their administration and underwriting partners. As we outlined in the October 31 newsletter, we consider the phone company plans to be superior offerings, because they cover the additional perils of damage, loss, and theft, while the retail programs cover just defect, malfunction, and sometimes damage. So assigning them an average revenue share of three percent while the retail protection programs for electronics and appliances are bringing in three, four, or even five percent is somewhat counterintuitive. But those are the reports we're getting.

And so, we have a good idea for the amount of wireless handset protection plan premiums paid by consumers. We know how many devices there are, and we can estimate the portion covered by a protection plan. And we know the monthly or annual price for each of the plans, as well as the administrators and underwriters of them.

Market Size

We estimate AppleCare is bringing in $2.1 billion this year for U.S.-based iPhones and iPads, up from $2 billion last year. And we assume that the carriers brought in about three percent of their $185 billion for their protection plans last year, at a mixture of monthly rates from $8.00 to $13.00. Given the growth of smartphone sales in 2013, we expect the carrier plans to bring in about $7.83 billion this year, up from $5.67 billion last year. And then tentatively, we're adding in $2.2 billion for the protection plans of the other retailers, which we'll detail in a future newsletter.

That gives us a market for wireless protection plans of $12.14 billion in 2013, of which the phone companies control 65%, and the retailers control 35%. Within that retail category, Apple controls a little less than half while the other retailers control a little more than half. So AppleCare's share is 17% while the other retailers and direct-to-consumer plans have the remaining 18%.

Figure 3
Mobile Phone Service Contracts & Insurance
Premiums Paid per Year by US Consumers, 2013
Total Sales = $12.14 Billion

Figure 3

By the way, we're counting the phone companies' own retail storefronts in the phone company category, even though technically they're making retail sales. We're also counting the retailers' sales of phone company insurance plans in the phone company category, even though technically they're also retail sales. And we're counting the other retailers' sales of AppleCare plans in the AppleCare category. That's to avoid double-counting, and to make everything go into one of only three segments: either phone company, AppleCare, or other retail.

It becomes too complicated if we look at where and how the protection plans were bought: in a storefront, online, or by a telemarketing channel. Instead, we're looking at the brand name of the coverage: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, other wireless carrier, Apple, Best Buy, Walmart, Radio Shack, Target, and other retailers and direct-to-consumer plans.

Growth of AppleCare

As was mentioned, AppleCare plans for iPhones and iPads weren't always as popular as they are now. In Figure 4, we're tracking their growth from 2009 to 2013, as well as the growing popularity of the mobile phone companies' own insurance and service contract plans.

Figure 4
Mobile Phone Service Contracts & Insurance
Premiums Paid per Year by US Consumers, 2009-2013
To Phone Cos, AppleCare & Other Retailers

Figure 4

As can be seen in Figure 5 below, back in 2009 the phone companies controlled about 67% of a $5.1 billion protection market, while the retailers controlled about 33%. Within the retail segment, though, AppleCare for iPhone had only a 5% share, while the other retailers had 28%.

Essentially, the pie charts in Figures 3 and 5 are the market shares at the beginning and end of the chart in Figure 4, for the years 2013 and 2009, respectively. In every year in between, the phone companies maintained their control of the protection market, though AppleCare is slowly taking share away from both the carriers and the retailers.

Clerks and Cashiers Selling Insurance?

We expect the carriers to remain dominant until and unless the retailers figure out how to sell mobile phone insurance plans that cover damage, loss and theft along with defects and malfunctions. But we fully expect the retailers to find a legal way to add loss and theft coverage to their plans, making them more competitive with the programs of the phone companies.

Figure 5
Mobile Phone Service Contracts & Insurance
Premiums Paid per Year by US Consumers, 2009
Total Sales = $5.1 Billion

Figure 5

From the October 31 newsletter and other sources, we know the underwriting partners involved with each of the major players. AIG works with Apple and Best Buy. Assurant Solutions works with Sprint, T-Mobile, and Radio Shack. CNA also works with Sprint, and with AT&T Mobility and Walmart. Liberty Mutual works with Verizon Wireless and with Sears Holdings in certain states and for certain programs. And then there are additional electronics retailers and mobile phone companies partnered with AmTrust, Zurich American, Virginia Surety, Dealers Assurance Co., Chubb, and Balboa Insurance in various capacities and in certain states.

Asurion's Dominant Market Share

But let's leave aside the AppleCare and other retail protection plans for the balance of this newsletter, and focus just on the protection plans sold by the major wireless phone companies. What we've found is the pervasive involvement of an administration company called Asurion Service Plans Inc. in many of the phone company protection programs.

As an administrator, Asurion works with AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, and until this past summer, with T-Mobile USA. That gives it an enormous presence in the mobile phone protection market, though it works with multiple insurance underwriters.

In Figure 6, we've taken the mobile phone company portion of Figure 4 and divided it into three groups: programs where Asurion works with CNA (AT&T Mobility and Sprint), programs where Asurion works with Verizon and Liberty Mutual (Verizon and T-Mobile), and programs where Asurion is not involved. The market shares speak for themselves.

Figure 6
Mobile Phone Service Contracts & Insurance
Asurion As Administrator, 2009-2013
Percent of Programs Sold by Phone Cos.

Figure 6

That jump in the "not Asurion" segment in 2012-2013 is due to the switch T-Mobile made recently from Asurion/Liberty Mutual to Assurant Solutions. In addition, Sprint has a tablet-only program where it works with Assurant Solutions, to complement the smartphone program it has with Asurion and CNA. But these and the programs run by the smaller wireless phone companies are the only phone company-provided protection programs where Asurion is not involved. And Assurant Solutions is the only company to take any share away from Asurion so far.

Furthermore, Asurion merged with NEW Customer Service Companies Inc., so it now also controls the administration of the retail service contract programs of Walmart, Sam's Club, Target, Home Depot, and Office Depot, among others. NEW used to work with AIG, but switched the underwriting on key mobile phone retail accounts such as Walmart to CNA several years ago. But again, that's a discussion for a future newsletter. Here we just want to make the point that Asurion is by far the dominant administrator of mobile phone insurance plans, while Assurant Solutions is an up-and-coming second.

Phone Company Plan Underwriters

Finally, we get to the point of this week's newsletter. We've estimated the total market for phone company-provided protection plans at $7.83 billion in 2013, up from $3.42 billion in 2009. But we haven't assigned the revenue to specific carriers. And we won't. Instead, we'll assign the market shares to the insurance underwriters that work with these phone companies. That way, we can eventually merge them with the underwriters we found in the vehicle service contract industry, the home warranty industry, the retail appliance service contract industry, and eventually the consumer electronics industry.

There are actually fewer underwriters involved in the mobile phone protection industry than in any of these other segments of the service contract industry. In the wireless phone company segment, we found only three insurance companies with any significant market share, not counting the contingent liability insurance policies used in just a handful of states for some programs. Those three are CNA, Verizon/Liberty Mutual, and Assurant Solutions.

When you widen the scope to include not only direct-to-consumer plans such as SquareTrade but also retail programs such as those named in Figures 3 to 5, you come across a few more insurance companies. But mostly what you get is additional market share for one of these three.

Together, the big three have 97% of the phone company protection market. In Figure 7, we've detailed the market shares of their programs. AT&T Mobility and part of Sprint are with CNA; T-Mobile USA, US Cellular, and the rest of Sprint are with Assurant Solutions; and Verizon Wireless is with Liberty Mutual. And then AIG works with one small prepaid wireless service provider, and Zurich American and Dealers Assurance Co. work with a another small carrier that's expected to be acquired soon by AT&T Mobility.

Figure 7
Mobile Phone Service Contracts & Insurance
Premiums Paid per Year by US Consumers to Phone Cos.
Underwriter Market Share, 2013
Total Sales = $7.83 Billion

Figure 7

Since 2009, the big changes have been the appearance of the Sprint program for tablets, and the change of underwriters for T-Mobile. Both of those accrue to the benefit of Assurant Solutions, and come at the expense of Asurion and its underwriting partners. So if we roll back five years to the state of the market in 2009, we have the following.

Figure 8
Mobile Phone Service Contracts & Insurance
Premiums Paid per Year by US Consumers to Phone Cos.
Underwriter Market Share, 2009
Total Sales = $3.42 Billion

Figure 8

Figure 6, if you disregard the naming of Asurion as the administrator, fills in the data for the intervening years between Figures 7 and 8. But basically, CNA's and Assurant Solutions' market shares have been growing, while Liberty Mutual's has been falling. But the big three have been splitting 96% to 98% of the carrier market every year since 2009.

Cumulative Attach Rates

We should note that while we initially assumed that 60% of smartphones have a protection plan, that means they have an protection plan from either a phone company or a retailer. So that doesn't mean the phone companies are signing up 60% of their smartphone customers for a protection plan. Actually, they're signing up only slightly more than half of the 60%. Retailers and direct-to-consumer plans are signing up the balance, led by AppleCare, Best Buy, Radio Shack, Walmart, SquareTrade, and others. And Apple has the highest attach rate of them all. But no single company has a 60% attach rate.

So if we go back to Figure 1 for a second, we started out with the assumption that there's a population of 167 million smartphones in the U.S, of which 100 million are covered by a protection plan and 67 million are not. Of the 100 million, we're estimating that 52 million are covered by a phone company protection plan while 48 million are covered by AppleCare or another retail plan.

Of the 52 million protected smartphones, the team comprised of AT&T Mobility, Asurion and CNA have the leading market share, thanks primarily to the head start they got with the iPhone in 2007. Verizon Wireless and its partners Asurion and Liberty Mutual are close behind. Sprint is split between CNA and Assurant, and T-Mobile switched from Liberty Mutual to Assurant over the summer.

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