Direct Auto Insurance aims to provide affordable auto insurance to a broad range of drivers, including those who might be considered "high risk" and not accepted by other insurers.

The Nashville, Tenn., company maintains a network of more than 400 locations across 13 states, along with Web service options, and offers products and services including comprehensive and collision auto coverage, motorcycle insurance, individual term life insurance and roadside assistance.

Like many insurers, Direct Auto is looking to leverage the growing number of consumers who use smartphones and other mobile computing devices. To that end, the company recently announced two new mobile device capabilities to help customers monitor their driving habits, potentially save money on their auto insurance and make paying their insurance premiums more convenient via a mobile app and new text message payment option.

One offering, the free DirectDrive app for iOS and Android devices grades users based on safe and responsible driving. The DirectDrive app is designed to allow users to monitor and track their good driving habits using a smartphone’s various sensors to measure driving behaviors such as hard stops, accelerations and decelerations.

After logging each trip, the program calculates a user’s driving score on a scale from “good” to “better” to “best” and tracks the trip history over time. Based on a driver’s scores, the app then offers the driver feedback on how to improve driving.

In addition to learning about their driving behavior, users within the company’s 13-state service area can compete with other users on a DirectDrive “leaderboard” that ranks the top drivers in each state. As users demonstrate good driving behavior, they are awarded achievements that can be unlocked to boost leaderboard points, the company says.

Direct Auto also launched a text message payment option that lets customers pay their insurance bills through their mobile phones. As long as a customer has a mobile phone and a bank account, he or she can text in monthly payments either one day before or up to three days after a due date, without incurring late payment fees.

Users also can receive quotes and locate the nearest Direct Auto insurance location by using the new mobile app.

The DirectDrive app is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play. Future additions to the app will enhance the leaderboard with social capabilities, and will permit users to challenge others to good driving competitions, select a list of specific users as rivals to compete against and share scores on social networks. To further encourage safe driving, Direct Auto is working to offer users monetary rewards for every good mile driven.

Among the main business drivers that led Direct Auto to launch its new mobile initiatives were the fact that so many people have come to rely on their mobile devices to conduct all sorts of business and communication.

“Our customers rely heavily on their smart phones and other mobile devices,” says Brian Hanrahan, chief actuary at the company and the executive sponsor of the DirectDrive app. “For many of our customers, a smart phone is their primary access to the Internet. Since our customers strongly value mobile technology, we felt it a no-brainer to move into the mobile space.”

Many of the company’s customers use smart phones, according to John Mullen, president and CEO of Direct Auto. “As we continue to seek more convenient ways for our customers to make payments and lower their rates, one of the best solutions was to bring these options directly to our customers through their phones,” he said in a statement.

With the text-to-pay messaging option, Direct Auto customers can easily access and pay bills at their convenience, Hanrahan says. “Our DirectDrive app allows us to interact with our customers where it is most convenient for them,” he says. “Customer interaction is central to everything we do at Direct.”

The company is constantly looking for more convenient ways for its customers to make payments and lower their rates, “and one of the best solutions was to bring these options directly to customers through their phones,” Hanrahan says. Customers can now make payments from any location where there is Internet access, at any time through the DirectDrive app or a text message.

By learning more about their driving habits through the app, “our drivers will be able to take steps to reduce their monthly insurance bills,” Hanrahan says.

Through launching the new mobile capabilities, Direct Auto is building another avenue to engage with its customers, increasing its social media interactions, creating greater awareness of good and risky driving behavior, and learning how driving behaviors influence loss costs.

In November 2013, the company introduced a transactional insurance kiosk, called Direct on the Spot, which it deployed at 18 of its locations to serve as a beta test for a large-scale rollout of kiosks in supermarkets, malls, gas stations, car dealerships and other third-party locations. The machines deliver insurance quote in as little as 60 seconds, and through the kiosks’ touchscreen interface customers can purchase a Direct auto insurance policy and other services.

To develop the new mobile capabilities, Direct Auto’s Operations group collaborated with DriveFactor, a company that specializes in smart phone telematics applications. The two worked together to design, develop and deploy the foundation of the DirectDrive app.

“We utilized other in-house resources to develop the mobile functionality, instant quote and office locator tools for the DirectDrive app,” Hanrahan says.

The company partnered with FirsTech Inc., a provider of online bill presentment and payment solutions, to design and deploy the mobile pay-by-text services, which allow customers to make payments using their phone's text messaging service based on payment information captured and held securely online.

“By partnering with organizations that specialize in these technologies, we were able to leverage our existing IT capabilities” to create the new mobile offerings, Hanrahan says. “This is a combined effort between IT, the operations department and our third-party development partners.”

The company will use a “multifaceted approach” to engage its customers with the new mobile app, and expects to quickly adapt the application as new customer needs emerge or evolve, Hanrahan says. The launch of the new mobile app was a logical extension of Direct Auto’s omni-channel approach and its “social-local-mobile” strategic focus, he says.

Surely this will not be the last mobile-related offering from the company.

“The foundation of our DirectDrive app is telematics,” the use of computer technology with telecommunications systems, Hanrahan says. “There are many more functionalities in development to leverage that framework.”

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