Catch-up time is over; it’s time to move into the mobile app world
Statistically, most of those who are reading this article have used an app on a mobile device—a smartphone or tablet. Therefore, it’s safe to say that your (and your customers’) mobile interactions with more progressive companies in banking and retail, as well as digital native companies, are conditioning you and property and casualty policyholders to expect a highly personalized and seamless experience across platforms.
So why should it be any different for insurance? We must also deliver consistent information and services across all touchpoints.
Unfortunately, P&C agencies and insurers are playing catch-up in the mobile app space, with most apps failing to deliver features and functionality that meet customer needs and expectations or, worse, even match existing services offered on websites.
The insurance mobile app lag
In order to address the problem, it is necessary first to identify the issue. For example, research from Cognizant—an IT consulting/services firm—reveals just how far behind the insurance industry is compared to other verticals, and research from Google provides us with a perspective.
P&C agencies generally rely on their carriers to lead the way regarding technology. Yet Cognizant found that “72 of the top 100 U.S. P&C insurers do not even offer a customer-facing mobile app, despite having an otherwise strong online presence.”
The good news here is that insurers have finally recognized the power of the World Wide Web anare doing a good job with websites.
The bad news is that mobile is the Internet all over again, and insurance is playing catch-up (again). While having a strong web presence is vital for prospects searching online for insurance, the insurance industry has failed to engage and deliver mobile to the customer.
Cognizant noted: “The main reasons for lagging activity in the mobile apps space seem to be fear of channel conflict with agents or brokers, and a sense that customers are not interested in downloading an app. However, insurers must act now or risk losing relevance as customers increasingly seek seamless service across channels.”
Forward-thinking carriers recognize that they need a dual-channel strategy when it comes to mobile apps—one that supports the independent agency distribution channel, as well as their own mobile app offering.
Your clients are downloading apps and will download your agency app if it benefits them.
Interestingly, Cognizant also found that 24 of the 28 insurers offering a mobile app recorded growth in their net written premiums. Fast-growing mid-sized insurers—those with about $5 billion in net written premiums—are leading the mobile app race and have a much better chance of satisfying customers.
The fact that 72 of the top 100 carriers don’t have a mobile app is an opportunity for agencies to remain at the center-point of communication with policyholders by deploying an agency-branded mobile app.
The move-ahead challenge
The question for agency principals is: What makes an insurance app good/great?
To address that question, it helps to understand app user behavior, and Google’s research on “How People Discover, Use and Stay Engaged With Apps” is a good start.
In October 2016, Google surveyed nearly 1,000 app users aged 16-64, focusing on how apps are discovered, installed, utilized and abandoned.
The key findings:
Discovery: Friends and family are the number one way people learn about new apps.
Installation: Price and privacy/security are important; 50% of smartphone users have never paid for an app.
Utilization: Ease of use and navigation are twice as important as anything else an app can offer. If an app is not easy to use/navigate, it will not be used.
Apps and mobile sites serve different purposes: apps are used for doing specific tasks, and mobile sites are used most for browsing and exploring.
Abandonment: App size and memory usage are very important. Too much of either leads consumers to uninstall apps. Technical issues/crashes and difficulty in navigation can also cause the user to uninstall.
Unfortunately, P&C agencies and insurers are playing catch-up in the mobile app space.
Google noted that apps help us become more productive when engaging with service providers, and they allow for a more immersive experience when playing games or checking out media. Mobile-optimized websites provide a better experience for shopping or searching the Internet for nearby things to do, or places to eat or drink.
Many agency principals believe that if they have optimized their website for viewing on a mobile device—often called a “web app”—that they have a mobile app. They don’t. The way you know whether or not your agency has an app is simple: If it’s downloaded from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, then your agency has a mobile app. If you ask your clients to “bookmark” your website, that’s not a mobile app.
I use my mobile-optimized website to attract prospects searching for insurance, and my agency-branded app for engaging with and servicing clients.
Cognizant’s must-have app features—emergency assistance, quote and claims management—are offered by only about 30% of insurance company mobile apps.
A good insurance customer-facing mobile app will allow agencies to do for clients what they already do, but do it on the client’s mobile device. It will also help agencies:
- Improve policyholder communication and engagement;
- Improve claims efficiency and loss ratio; and
- Provide a convenient and cost-effective way to reach out to customers.
Keep in mind that what agency principals think would be a great feature in an app may not appeal to your clients. Apps are all about servicing the user’s mobile moment simply and effectively. There’s a balance between meaningful and meaningless app features. As Google’s research showed, ease of use and navigation are twice as important as anything else an app can offer.
Not all apps are the same
On paper, one insurance app may have the same features as another, but the way in which those features are accessed and utilized in an app may be completely different. So here are some “under the hood” questions that agencies can ask app developers in order to learn how well constructed an app is:
- How is your agency app administered?
- Is your agency app engineered to integrate?
- Where are app and report data stored? Device or cloud?
- Where are documents and images stored? Device or cloud? (Note that device storage takes-up storage space and memory).
- Does the app “crash”?
- Does it contain bloatware or unnecessary features?
The banking industry has been working on app features much longer than the insurance industry. When I look at the top five features in a banking app, they are very similar to the five most basic service functions we deal with every day at an insurance agency:
- Accounts/Balances = Policy Info
- Bill Pay = Bill Pay
- Transfer Money = Change Request
- Deposit Checks = Proof of Insurance ID Card Image
- Alerts = Push Notifications/Texts to Clients
There are plenty of other features that a banking app may offer, but the top five are what clients need in an app, and they are arguably the top five features that should be in an insurance app.
Many agency principals think it’s great that banking and other verticals have a head start on insurance—forward thinking agencies should embrace those efforts and learn from them. I believe it is imperative that agencies pay attention because those verticals are training your policyholders to expect good service via mobile.
Hundreds of agencies believe that the features offered by the Insurance Agent mobile application (the app my agency uses)—GoInsuranceAgent.com—are precisely what independent agents need now.
These are not early days for mobile apps, but it is still early days for insurance mobile apps. The longer independent agents wait for directs, captives, and other competitors to deploy their apps, the greater the risk that independent agencies will be displaced. Don’t let it happen to your agency.
Chris Paradiso, CPIA, is president of Paradiso Financial & Insurance Services, headquartered in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. His agency won PIA National’s Excellence in Social Media Award in 2013. He also heads up Paradiso Presents, LLC, which provides social media consulting, seminars and workshops to help agencies thrive in the online marketing world. Contact Chris via email at firstname.lastname@example.org