MasterCard International has formed an alliance with business insurance provider to sell commercial insurance coverage to small-business owners online.

Through the alliance with ePolicy, begun Nov. 15, MasterCard posts a link to on its Small Business Connections Web site. Using the link, small-business customers can buy insurance products, including professional liability, workers' compensation, commercial auto, and umbrella policies. They do not have to be MasterCard holders to do so.

The Torrance, Calif.-based ePolicy offers quotes and lets businesses buy insurance online, sometimes within 15 minutes. Its carriers include American International Group, Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., Interstate Insurance Group, Kemper Insurance Cos., and TIG Specialty Insurance Solutions.

"Everything is totally online - you can buy products on our site without any human intervention," said Scott Bloom, vice president of business development at ePolicy. He said customers can get real-time quotes and then bind, purchase, and download policies from the site.

The company has developed customized products with its carriers and offers much of the technology that permits completely online transactions, Mr. Bloom said.

It has also worked with insurers to make the policy language "more user-friendly" and easier for business owners to understand so that they have fewer questions while applying, he said.

In addition, he said, ePolicy operates a call center so that customers can also speak to a licensed insurance agent during the sales process.

In surveys of MasterCard small-business customers, access to high-quality, low-cost insurance ranks as a top need, said Steven Abrams, senior vice president of corporate payment solutions for MasterCard in Purchase, N.Y.

"Insurance is a very, very hot topic," Mr. Abrams said. And as more small-business owners become comfortable using the Web, he said, offering products like insurance online will become more commonplace.

Mr. Bloom said ePolicy also offers 15% discounts on professional liability policies to all small-business customers because it is able to streamline the carriers' offline distribution and pass on the savings.

As part of the deal with MasterCard, all ePolicy customers will get access to MasterCard's small-business Web offerings, including news, payment plans, shopping, and links to other service providers via MasterCard's MarketAccess site. MarketAccess gives small-business owners secure access to suppliers, including, OfficeMax, and Paper Direct, sometimes at a discount. The site also lets business owners manage their financial data over the Internet on Smart Data Online, an interactive tool.

"Historically the online delivery of these products has been somewhat cumbersome," Mr. Abrams said, but ePolicy has been able to capitalize on technology to ease the sale of commercial insurance on the Web.

MasterCard will advertise ePolicy's services to its customers through the Web site, e-mail and other promotions, Mr. Abrams said. Whether the site adds insurance products depends, he said, on how the alliance is received.

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