Esurance, a direct-to-consumer personal insurance company, announced a new mobile feature that it’s calling an industry first: video appraisal, which enables consumers to video chat in real-time with an Esurance appraiser to get their claim estimates immediately.

The San Francisco-based company, which offers auto, homeowners, motorcycle and renters insurance direct to consumers and through sister company Answer Financial, says the video appraisal feature is designed to take away some of the stress and time involved in dealing with a car insurance claim.

The mobile app is available on the latest version of Esurance Mobile, and enables consumers with eligible car insurance claims to video chat with an Esurance appraiser using their smartphone, which can eliminate the need for an appraiser to inspect the vehicle in person, Esurance says, saving customers the time of scheduling appointments and waiting for payment processing for their claims.

Also see 7 Auto Insurers Making Mobile App Inroads in Claims

The entire process for a video appraisal can be quick and easy, the company says, and at the conclusion an Esurance appraiser can send an electronic payment to settle the claim, potentially getting a claimant back on the road faster than using a traditional in-person appraisal.

Typically, the length of time between scheduling a vehicle inspection and getting back on the road is a critical period for consumers and insurers alike, the company says.

“Video appraisal is based on a Web services application, which uses WebRTC [Web Real-Time Communication] as a core component to stream video and voice,” says Joe Laurentino, Esurance VP of material damage. The connection between a customer’s mobile device and Esurance appraiser is peer-to-peer and allows for a direct connection, Laurentino says.

Calls using this type of connection don't send voice and video data through a centralized server, but rather use firewall traversal protocols, such as Interactive Connectivity Establishment, to allow a direct connection. A combination of various programming languages including Objective C, C++, Java, .NET and JavaScript were used to code the app, Laurentino says.

The video appraisal feature, which is available for both Esurance policyholders as well as non-policyholders who have a claim with Esurance, lets consumers schedule video appraisals at convenient times for them; get an appraisal without having to leave their car in the shop; and get a damage estimate and payment right away.

During the appointment, an appraiser will show the claimant how and where to video the damage, which allows the appraiser to provide an appraisal in real-time through the Esurance mobile app.

Esurance Mobile is available for free download on iTunes or Google Play, the company says. Video appraisal works on either Apple and Android devices with front and rear cameras and at least iOS 7 or Android 4.0+ operating systems.

Users need to download the Esurance Mobile app, have an open eligible claim, a good signal, a 4G LTE connection, and conduct the appraisal in a well-lit area with access around the entire vehicle.

Laurentino first came up with the idea for virtual appraiser three years ago. “Many consumers are already using Facetime, Skype and other apps to communicate virtually, and we sought to recreate that type of experience and apply it in a way that was a win/win for Esurance and its customers,” he says.

“Customers can still get a personal interaction with us, but they can use technology that they carry around in their pocket ever day — their smartphone,” Laurentino says. “We have a specially trained claims team to handle these appraisals, and they have great non-verbal communications skills that lend themselves to creating a very personal experience during the video chat.”

With the new mobile app, the company is aiming to enhance customer satisfaction by settling claims faster. “Esurance is the first insurance company to use video chat as a powerful business tool with real payouts to the customer in terms of time savings, and to the company in terms of productivity and efficiency,” Laurentino says.

The app is the latest example of the company’s efforts to offer online tools that change the way consumers think about insurance from quote to claim, Laurentino says. “Many Esurance customers are digital enthusiasts who embrace technology that helps make their lives easier, and video appraisal fits the way these customers want to do business.”

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