Canadian Underwriter

Going Mobile

November 30, 2014   by Craig Harris, Freelance writer

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In the world of shiny new apps for everything from celebrities to cooking to cars, the property and casualty insurance industry is, perhaps predictably, slowly playing catch up. Several insurance companies have recently launched mobile apps, mainly directed at consumer claim reporting capabilities.

The Co-operators was one of the first companies to hop on the mobile bandwagon, releasing an iPhone app called Mobile Assist in October 2010 that allows customers to submit home and auto insurance claims using any Mac mobile device. Other companies have followed, including RSA Canada’s launch of its online home and auto claim reporting feature directly through its mobile app on all three platforms – Blackberry, iPhone and Android. RSA customers can report a home or auto claim, locate their broker, access product information, find auto repair shops and contact emergency services, the company announced in February 2012.

Other insurance companies, including State Farm Canada, La Capitale General Insurance and Alberta Motor Association, have also introduced mobile apps with various features, including claims reporting.

In April 2014, Quebec-based insurer SSQauto upped the ante by releasing a mobile claims app available to the general public, not just the company’s clients. The free smartphone app includes three modules: the joint report (on the scene of the accident involving two vehicles), the auto insurance claim (one vehicle involved) and the home insurance claim, according to an SSQauto press release.

“We understand that any claim comes with its share of concerns. We make it our duty to offer effective and modern solutions for fast insurance claims settlement,” said Gilles Mourette, CEO of SSQauto. “Users of our mobile app will have access to the equivalent of a claims adjuster at their fingertips, around the clock, propelling our quality customer service to new heights.”

Key Differentiator

In a recent report on insurance trends, consulting and technology firm CapGemini said that mobile self-service tools, particularly for claims, could be a key differentiator for insurers in the years ahead.

“Claims services are the most widely available mobile self-service feature, and usage will increase sharply according to surveyed insurers – to 73% of providers in two years’ time from 16% now,” according to the GapGemini’s World Insurance Report – 2013.

“Investment is most likely initially in innovative and easy-to-use ‘apps’ that help customers to file and track claims (e.g., customers can upload pictures of an accident, follow a detailed accident checklist, connect with local agents, and call roadside assistance),” the research report noted. “Claims services on mobile should ultimately generate substantial ROI, but must be considered by insurers to be a ‘must-have’ rather than a ‘quick win’ since the development time is somewhat protracted (as well as the cost being high).”

There is little doubt that mobile technology, especially related to smartphones and apps, is growing in usage. In 2013, 83% of Canadian households had an active cell phone, up from 78% in 2010, according to Statistics Canada. StatsCan also noted that in 2013, 60% of households reported using a cell phone exclusively, up from 39% in 2010 and 26% in 2008.

Growing in Usage

A recent report from comScore also shows a number of Canadian mobile stats. The annual report, called 2014 Canada Digital Future in Focus, reveals smartphone usage is up by 13% compared to 2013, now reaching three out of every four mobile users. The same report noted that mobile subscribers grew by 5% in Canada year over year to more than 23 million.

In Canada, mobile data traffic will grow 900% from 2013 to 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 54%, according to Cisco.

The total number of apps users in 2014 is 18 million in Canada and 2 billion worldwide, expected to surpass 5 billion by 2019, according to a study by the Information and Communications Technology Council, The Appification Of Everything – Canada’s Apps Economy Value Chain, 2014. Canada’s apps enterprises currently generate $1.7 billion in annual revenues. Annual revenues by 2019 are projected to be $5.2 billion.

“The insuring public in Canada has widely accepted the mobile device as a primary method of interaction, whether it be by email, voice, text or now via specific applications,” notes Jim Eso, senior vice president, property and casualty for Crawford and Company (Canada) Inc. “It is the application technology that is likely the best able to deliver the speed and security that insurers need to see to meet their goals.”

So while the mobile world is clearly set to expand, where exactly do insurance company claims apps fit in when it comes to usage and functionality?

“The success of mobile apps for claims has been moderate so far in Canada,” says Mukul Ahuja, senior manager at Monitor Deloitte. “The focus has been on basic features, such as FAQ, click-to-call, FNOL reporting and process updates. Most of these apps are currently disconnected apps that provide directions but not rich functionality.”

Infancy of Development

Adjusters generally agree that mobile apps for insurance claims are only in the infancy of development when it comes to making a difference in customer experience.

“As much as there was hype about the launching of apps by (insurers), I would be very surprised if there was much uptake on those,” notes Fred Plant, president of Plant Hope Adjusters. “The image of someone standing beside their wrecked car calling up an application to start filling in forms might seem sexy in light of all the technical buzz in our lives right now; however, in reality, that person just wants to use that phone to call someone.”

“In some respects, it is smoke and mirrors with these apps in that they (insurers) are trying to plug into that younger demographic who are living on their phones,” says David Riddell, president, Canadian Claims Services. “But the question is really how functional the apps are at this stage. I think it is still early days.”

According to an article in the June 2014 issue of Canadian Underwriter magazine (App for That by Greg Meckbach), in 2013, Deloitte Canada conducted a phone survey of Ontario and Quebec residents who had purchased home and auto insurance, and asked them whether or not they had downloaded an app.

“Less than 2% of those surveyed had,” says Mark Patterson, senior manager at Deloitte Canada, as quoted in the magazine. “When we asked the follow-up question, How many times have you used that app? Most of them said it was once. They downloaded it, they looked at it and never used it again,” Patterson adds.

For Plant, this relatively low rate of take-up shows that some of the hype around mobile claims technology belies the reality of the adjuster’s day-to-day job.

“Technology has created more immediately available information, in the form of pictures, video, text,” Plant says. “But I wouldn’t say it is better information or that it has changed what we do as adjusters. We have to be careful about how we document everything involved in a claim, the ‘five W’s’ of what happened. We have a saying here that: ’email, and texting, are great ways to move information, but not necessarily the best means of communicating.'”

Several wrinkles have to be ironed out if claims apps and mobile technology in general are to become widely adopted and truly functional for clients and other parts of the claims process, according to sources. The three major issues are integration, functionality and a broader (or more “holistic”) view of the entire claims value chain.

Technology Integration

The integration of mobile technology to existing claims management systems, as opposed to serving as a mere standalone feature, has been a consistent challenge for insurance companies.

“Challenges exist (in integration)
, yet there continue to be strides as a number of carriers are undergoing technology transformations today,” Ahuja notes. “As these reach completion, the required industry standards for mobility and connectivity will improve and be implemented consistently where integration and communication issues today will become less prevalent.”

Insurance company core systems are at least one contributing factor to the integration challenges of mobile claims technology, according to Riddell.

“Part of the problem insurance companies have is that they are dealing with legacy systems themselves,” says Riddell, who also notes he is aware of several insurers undergoing claims technology overhauls. “With acquisitions, some insurance companies find they are operating three separate systems. Until such time as insurers deal with their own technology issues, I can’t see something meaningful coming in terms of adjuster or other integration – they are just dealing with too many technology platforms right now.”

“There are integration challenges when Crawford is working for a large number of carriers with different claims platforms, security protocols and communication methods,” Eso notes. “But the future I think will include a breaking down of those barriers because of the focus on improving the customer experience.”

Degree of Functionality

Another obstacle in the path of mobile technology take-up is the degree of functionality that apps or other tools can offer. Many of the existing mobile solutions for claims in Canada are limited by their degree of effectiveness in terms of improving cycle times and providing real-time customer self-service options. However, other countries around the world are seeing more widespread adoption of mobile technology in insurance claims settings.

“There’s high potential for growth as indicated by global leading trends,” Ahuja points out. “We see interesting examples in the U.S. market (such as GEICO, USAA, esurance and State Farm) with multiple million downloads… The focus has been not only on providing immediate assistance and support, but effectively leveraging smartphone capabilities such as the GPS and camera, to offer capabilities such as video appraisal and image capture control, and access to ancillary services and partnership networks,” he notes.

Ahuja also observes that the quest for more functional, practical application in mobile claims technology will not stop there. “From a B2C perspective, there will be a shift from high touch to virtual touch (e.g., remote image capture, mobile video, proactive location-based advice) that balance customer’s desire for personal touch and interaction with convenience of service delivery and cost,” he says.

One of the key questions is: Can that functionality extend to adjusters? Are adjusters an integral (or secondary) part of the business to consumer smartphone app integration? Will there be more business-to-business apps that give adjusters hands-on functionality for reporting to insurance company partners?

Ahuja says that limited apps for claims adjusters are available in today’s market. “For example, it is possible to provide Guidewire claims functionality on a tablet today, and tools exist that allow customers to act as the eyes of the adjuster,” he says.

Eso notes that while there are opportunities for adjusters and insurance company partners to work on common technology platforms, “mobile apps directed to consumers are in the short term more likely in the world of the insurer, rather than the independent adjuster.”

Crawford & Company’s work in this area has concentrated on efficiency and avoiding duplication between multiple insurance company partners, according to Eso.

“Our own development work in this area is moving toward a workflow solution that would allow our own applications to interact with the carriers claims platform or at a minimum send the information in a format that can be directly input to the insurers systems with minimal intervention,” he explains. “Elimination of double keying or having different parties requesting the same information again from the insured is a high priority.”

Eso cites the example of Crawford’s CMS Property Advantage, which provides field adjusters with tablets and wireless technology to remotely upload site visit reports and related documentation. “For our clients, the main impact on efficiency or cycle time when a CMS Property Advantage report is done is on the front end cycle time – getting coverage determination confirmed and repair work started more quickly means improved customer satisfaction and shorter repair time lines,” he says.

“In the last year we have refreshed our fleet of mobile tablet computers to our field adjusters and continue to review new technology solutions involving smartphones,” Eso adds. “In order to keep up with ever-changing technology and customer preferences, we are now actively pursuing smartphone solutions that will eventually make today’s tablet computers obsolete.”

Claims Value Chain

Another shortfall of the current manifestations of mobile claims technology is the limited view of the claims value chain, according to some sources. Many of the necessary suppliers for insurance companies in auto repair or property restoration are not part of the app equation – at least yet.

“(Mobile technology) is less prevalent in other areas such as restoration, auto repair, home inspection or appraisal services,” Ahuja says. “The opportunity exists to look at the claims ecosystem more holistically and bring together partners that can provide that personal or virtual touch and improve service levels, while reducing costs.”

(In May 2014, FirstOnSite was one of the first property restoration services to launch a mobile app, called FirstOnSite SOS. Available for Android, Blackberry, and iPhone, the mobile app provides a direct connection between the company and its customers)

“New mobile solutions that act as a portal for all of the vendors on the claim is coming as the next real advancement in mobile claims handling,” says Eso. “The use of smartphone technology that allows multiple parties in a claim to interact in real time will further drive improved efficiency and customer experience. We are now starting to see some take up at the insurers as they become more willing to try a very different approach to information gathering and sharing on a claim,” he adds.

Ahuja argues that this direction of collaboration and integrated platforms for all parts of the value chain is where the claims management process has to move in the years ahead.

“Future solutions will continue to focus on integrating multiple partners and streamlining the claims process to deliver transparency, speed and value,” he says. “From a B2B perspective, it’s about greater connectivity between preferred parties on a common, holistic application with real-time capabilities.”

Mobile Investigations

Another potential use of mobile technology is in the arena of claims investigations. While adjusters and claims investigators have widely tapped into social media to identify and check on suspicious claims, they have not been as diligent in accessing information from mobile devices. Given the increasing use of smartphones for everything from Instagram to Pinterest to Snapchat to Facebook, this could be a glaring oversight, according to at least one source.

“The bottom line: Social networking via mobile devices is on the rise,” notes author Pierre Khoury in a September 2014 article in the U.S.-based Claims Magazine, published by PropertyCasualty360. “Investigators are not prepared for this shift and are missing information. If company investigators are not exploring these platforms, investing in the tools to conduct the investigations, and constantly tracking the shifts in technology, they may be neglecting a significant amount of investigative information.”

This change in the nature of online investigations requires a corresponding response from adjusters and inves
tigators, according to Khoury.

“It is undeniable, the investigative shift is on,” he notes in the magazine. “Investigators who don’t know the difference between iOS7 and Android 4.4 need to put on their reading glasses and start learning. Online searches need to be augmented with searches based on a mobile device or a mobile operating system. Because the applications are based on location settings, GPS spoofing technology is required for accurate searches and investigations.”

Aside from potential investigative payoffs, mobile technology may be poised for bigger benefits in the entire claims management process, according to Ahuja. Some of these advantages have been documented to improve turnaround and reduce costs.

“When (mobile apps) are integrated with existing systems and offer rich functionality, our experience and Deloitte research indicates a reduction in cycle time by nearly 50% for non-complex claims,” Ahuja notes.

While Riddell says it is still early on in the mobile claims technology evolution, “I would watch this space. I think there is more to come; as we go along, the apps will get better and more sophisticated,” he notes.

How long that process of improvement will take on the mobile claims technology front is anyone’s guess.

“I think that in some ways B2B adoption tends to lag behind consumer adoption of new and innovative technology revolutions, so we may still be sending our reports and Excel spreadsheets off for inputting into claims systems for a while yet,” Eso concludes. “But the flow of information from a mobile device directly into the insurer systems will no doubt not be too far off.”