It isn’t a question of “if” insurers will execute their mobile strategies, but “when.” Mobile technology’s reach and transaction capabilities are permeating all lines of insurance business, but based on the particular or unique application, there are a host of technology, business and related cost variables to be considered. As a result, many insurers are still finding their way down the ever-expanding mobile highway.
“We now carry on our person at all times a device holding 32 Mbps of computing power that is always on, yet the insurance industry makes very little use of this technology,” Chad Hersh, managing director of the insurance practice at Novarica, told a standing-room only session of attendees at the 2014 Insurance Accounting and Systems Association’s 2014 Educational Conference and Business Show this week. “One of the challenges for many insurers is even coming up with a strategy...some want to get online with their direct writers, some need mobile to better engage the customer,” he said.
Companies are thinking about this because they want to reach their customers in the most efficient way, noted session panelist Sundar Vallinayagam, CEO and co-founder of Jarus Technologies. “As recently as two years ago not as many insurers had any sort of mobile strategy.”
Scott Minkel, VP, Director of Information Services, United Fire Group, agreed. “We are mindful of our current website and related mobile technology capabilities, and were initially concerned about not having [mobile] in the marketplace.” The Cedar Rapids, Iowa writer of property and casualty and life insurance also sells annuities, so the big push was to get apps in the hands of its 1,200 independent agents. After success with the development of a P&C app, the firm just recently launched a life app. “Of 900 agents that sell life, we have had 63 I0S and 41 Android downloads,” Minkel told the group.
For session panelist Brad Miller, manager of IT Services at Farmers Alliance Mutual Insurance Co., McPherson, Kansas, mobility was part of a larger technology modernization strategy, but its 600-plus agents were also a large consideration.
“We knew we needed to be ahead of the curve, and because our goal is efficiency, we initially wanted to take advantage of what was out there in terms of support,” he said, “so we customized an existing app.”
Both insurers confirmed that return on investment is secondary to creating improved customer service with agents and policyholders as well as other variables such as retention, marketing distribution, using the app for branding new products and more.
“We are seeing that agents are demanding this technology, so it becomes the business driver,” said Vallinayagam.
And as each application varies in its requirements, so do the costs. “Costs depend on whether you start from scratch to working with existing apps, from the web site that you want to make mobile, whether customized, tied back to back office, use case testing, etc.,” noted Hersh.
The panelists agreed that interest in mobile apps isn’t just growing by independent agents, as claims field personnel also see value in being able to use mobile devices to transmit information anytime, anywhere.
Still, said Patti Griffin, partner at Accenture Duck Creek, as more and more insurance field personnel use mobile, they are finding that there is information that does not lend itself well to this type of technology. “Adjusters tend to use their smartphone and then email photos from the phone,” she said. “It’s important to get all the information into the mobile device so the adjuster gets it once. I can't take a lot of notes on a small phone, only take photos. So we are seeing more claims personnel using mini tablets and other devices.”
Hersh agreed that the “as is” state leaves much to be desired from the “to be” state in mobility’s ability to drive efficiencies, but told the group that from his perspective, there is a sense of new urgency related to mobile apps, largely because the technology capabilities are expanding so rapidly. “You want to be able to settle a small claim using the device of choice,” he said.
Hersh pointed to recent ads depicting Esurance’s mobile app as an example of what insurance business and IT executives are beginning to examine and consider as they develop their mobile strategies. “A claimant calls to schedule an appointment with the adjuster, but it’s a video appointment, enabling the adjuster to review the damages in real time via live video.” Other examples currently under review by larger carries include new wearable devices.
“Imagine the adjuster up on the ladder inspecting storm damage, actually inputting information in real time by talking into his wristwatch. Wearables will be much bigger in this space within the next 12 months."
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