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September 19
09:01 2016

Where mobile is touching the agent’s world–Part 2

“The minute a carrier or an agent can put anything on a mobile device, it gives their customers and their prospects another way to interact with them.”

Deb Smallwood
Strategy Meets Action

Independent agents need to consider consumers’ desire to use their mobile devices (smartphones and tablet computers) for insurance transactions. In consumers’ interactions with the insurance industry, nine de facto channels of mobile behavior exist:

  1. Access websites to research insurance.
  2. Search to find an insurance product or provider.
  3. Submit a query or request a quote.
  4. Text to quote or submit a risk.
  5. Pay premiums.
  6. Access a service portal.
  7. Text to service their policy.
  8. Submit a claim or claim info.
  9. Access claim processing and service.

Part one of this article in the July 2016 issue of Rough Notes covered items one through four. Let’s now consider items five through nine.

  1. Pay premiums.

Some consumers today want to pay with credit cards or even a mobile payment service. By contrast, with tight commissions, agencies don’t want to add to costs by absorbing fees, including those generated by accepting premiums via a mobile payment tool. But isn’t it better to accept the premium—and gain the client—than cut off the flow of new business because of the payment method?

Using a mobile device to pay premiums is on the rise, notes Ron Berg, executive director of Agents Council for Technology (ACT). For those Millennials (born after 1980, according to Pew Internet Research) and Generation X-ers (born between 1965-1980) who don’t have a checkbook, for example, an alternate payment route is a must, whether the agency or the carrier bills the policy. Apple, Google, Amazon and Stripe offer this type of payment system.

Consumers don’t view the request to make a mobile payment as a huge “ask,” especially if they see it as more efficient on their end of the transaction. Twenty-four percent of U.S. mobile consumers already use a mobile wallet capability, according to the 2015 Adobe Mobile Consumer Report that was based on a survey of 4,000 mobile consumers across the U.S., United Kingdom, France and Germany.

While this survey didn’t specify if insurance was one of those products, mobile payments are growing for at least one independent agency carrier. In the first quarter of 2016, 74% of Selective Insurance Company of America mobile application users used a mobile device to make payments. Rohit Mull, senior vice president, and chief marketing officer of Selective, says, “It isn’t generally the norm for new customers to make their first-time premium payment online or via a mobile device.” But it is “increasingly common for existing customers; they expect to have the option to make renewal payments electronically and often opt to do so.”

Karlyn Carnahan, research director of Celent’s P-C practice, notes that mobile applications offered by insurance carriers give consumers “access to some of the most standardized options” they might want, such as viewing the policy, seeing and paying their bill, reporting claims, getting claim information and getting support during the claim process.

Steve Anderson, technology consultant for independent agencies, asserts the growth of mobile payment options “is training consumers (or at least digital consumers) that the payment process should be easy and seamless.” He fears brokers could face disintermediation over credit card and mobile payment issues. “I strongly believe that their client should come to the agency website in order to make premium payments.”

In the Steve Anderson Payment Process White Paper 2016, Anderson explains, “Under the current state of technology used by insurance agents, the best they can do for electronic payments is put a link to the carrier’s phone number or online payment portal on the agency website or mobile phone app.”

But passing a consumer along to a carrier’s payment system “is an invitation for the customer … to move away from the agent relationship to the carrier relationship,” Anderson warns.

Anderson adds: “Agency management systems and carrier download of data do not—to the best of my knowledge—carry data on amount due or payment made history. Until recently … there was not even a data element in the ACORD XML [EXtensible Markup Language] data set for this information.”

He points out that security is normally the reason given by carriers for refusal to make payment information available via management system access. “In a day and age when every local bank can provide complete and secure online access to every customer’s account and transaction history, I don’t understand why insurance companies cannot make this information available to their agency force,” says Anderson.

  1. Access a service portal.

The insurance industry is playing catch-up in online reputation. Online retailers, for example, are viewed as innovative by 60% of consumers, but only 10% say the same about the insurance industry, reports Carnahan, citing Celent research.

Berg notes that insurance consumers now have higher expectations for online and mobile service capabilities due to the “excellent interactions” they enjoy with other industries. Carnahan poses the rhetorical question: “When a police officer’s lights are flashing in the rearview mirror, how quickly can a policyholder log into his or her carrier’s customer portal and retrieve that insurance ID card?”

While some insurers have built or are building self-service portals, notes Deb Smallwood of Strategy Meets Action, many are “separating out quoting versus servicing.” These portals allow for paying premiums, filing claims, and getting insurance cards.

Carnahan notes that carrier mobile applications typically stop short of allowing a policyholder to endorse a policy “because, for most carriers, the independent agent is a very critical part of that process” and carriers want to “make sure that the agent is involved in helping the consumer make the right choices, especially because so many customers … may be spread across multiple carriers.”

  1. Text to service their policy.

As agents, we need to be able to respond to customers’ requests in any reasonable communication method. And–yes–texting is reasonable.

But that doesn’t change the need to store a copy of any communication with a prospect or client. Whether communicating via phone call, email or text, we can’t relax our decades-long habit of documenting a customer’s file. What’s more, in my view, an agency professional must provide the same level of consultation to the prospect or client regardless of the communication method.

When one method fails to meet the need to document, we must transition to another more appropriate method. Let’s assume, for example, a client texts us: “I need to add a car to my policy.” Our response might be: “No problem. Who’s driving it?” The client replies: “My new stepson. I got married last week.” It’s reasonable to text back: “We need to cover this. When’s the best time I can call you to discuss this further?”

  1. Submit a claim or claim info.

Berg notes that a claim can be a “touch point along the [consumer’s] journey that really can be painful, can be life altering.” And those “are the things they’re starting to look for more and more on mobile.”

The purpose of insurance is to soothe, financially, that pain point. After consumers experience a loss, they want to know: Is this covered? With a mobile device, consumers might be able to soothe that pain sooner. Isn’t that good for the insurance provider, especially the insurance agent?

Carnahan notes that reporting an auto claim via a mobile device is “highly valued” for personal lines and commercial lines customers “because when you are remote—like when you’re in a vehicle—a mobile application can be quite helpful.”

Mull notes that Selective has “seen  growth in claims submissions via mobile, where customers can conveniently report a claim and attach photos of their incident.”

Even if a mobile device doesn’t allow a start-to-finish completion of a claim, it can still be productive. After all, customers want the feeling of having progressed with their portion of the transaction, even if much more work needs to be performed prior to the claim being finalized.

The agent and carrier need to wrestle with the requirements of claim submission and how that fits the consumer’s mobile world. It’s a balancing act. If a claim submission isn’t detailed enough, the agent can follow up with the client.

Smallwood points out that insurers are expanding mobile capabilities for claims, beyond “the first generation of mobile apps for claims [that] were cumbersome.” She cites, for example, an accident a colleague had in a rental car. While waiting for the police to come, he was trying to download the carrier’s application, but it required registration “and it was clunky and difficult to use.”

Now, carriers are “starting to get more streamlined, next-generation claim apps.” These provide the capability to take claims photos, upload them, and tag them for geocoding. The phone app “knows your ‘geolocation,’” which can allow for prefilling of information, says Smallwood.

  1. Access claim processing and service.

Carriers also are starting to enable consumers’ use of mobile for claims “for adjusting beyond filing,” notes Smallwood. For homeowners, for example, some carriers have a mobile app with video camera functionality that allows a claims representative to see the damage.

Carnahan says that “some carrier apps allow consumers, in the case of a claim, to interact via video communication with a claims adjuster.” More than that, though, she adds, consumer expectations and technological literacy have risen such that customers expect transparency and participation in the claim process.

“I can see where my car is on [ride-sharing service] Uber within seconds as it’s moving. Why can’t I tell what the status of my claim is?” she asks.

Celent’s research from 2015, says Carnahan, showed that 22% of consumers are “highly digital,” with another 36% considered “newly digital” and 42% defined as “analog.”

That’s the environment we as agents are in—so let’s get ready for when consumers approach us or respond to us via their phones and tablet devices.

The author

John Gage is systems administrator of The Knight Insurance Group in Toledo, Ohio. He is a member of the product advisory subcommittee for CSR24 and past president of the northwest Ohio chapter of Applied Client Network. A group of educators and advocates for users of Applied Systems software, Applied Client Network identifies and responds to needs of users in developing new education, tools and materials to drive efficiency and agency value. It has more than 55 affiliated local and virtual chapters. Visit Applied Client Network at


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