This is an important step forward, even though many insurers could still be much better at doing it.
Insurers that get too caught up in a whirlwind of apps and tweets may be missing the real significance of mobile technology, said Matthew Josefowicz, a partner and managing director at the research firm Novarica.
"I think the real impact of mobile is going to be on enterprise communication," he said. That's because everyone is essentially carrying a computer that transmits photos, video and emails and they have that with them all the time, he said. And that is a very different dynamic than what we knew 10 years ago. The technology is light, portable and easy to carry around. A professional can connect from just about anywhere, and most devices come equipped with excellent cameras, GPS technology and videoconferencing capabilities.
Often it takes time to see the potential in technology, and for the insurance industry, consumer outreach was an intuitive first step. Claims management is another obvious application. An adjuster or a mobile claims center can use technology out in the field to take pictures, record damage, fill out forms and send all of it all back to the home office in an instant.
Other potential uses are starting to emerge as well, especially with the advent of tablets such as iPads. Insurers are starting to use both mobile technology and social media in areas such as loss control, underwriting, sales and customer relations management.
At the London insurance market, one of the oldest insurance markets in the world, transactions have always been done on paper. But paper may soon go the way of the buggy whip, said Craig Beattie, a United Kingdom-based analyst at Celent.
It seems the market is in the process of trying out iPads, which will more or less mimic the paper process without using paper.
Although mobile is nascent today and short-term adoption rates are low, close to a quarter of insurers plan to have significant capabilities within 24 months, according to a Novarica report, which is based on a survey conducted in April of 77 members of the Novarica Insurance Technology Research Council.
"A lot of insurance companies are thinking about it," Josefowicz said. "It's definitely a big topic of interest."
Although the benefits may be hard to quantify at this point, insurers that take a wait-and-see approach run the risk of getting left behind.
The good news is that this is one technology trend that doesn't involve a massive investment or a major systems overhaul. Mobile technology is relatively inexpensive and easy to implement.
As with any technology, there are always security concerns. But these risks can be managed, and, surprisingly, the security issues with smartphones and iPads may turn out to be less of an issue than they are with laptops, which are just as easy to lose but contain much more data than the typical mobile device.
Insurers have made big strides in using social media and mobile technology to reach the consumer. Now the potential for the enterprise itself may begin to unfold.
"It's part of the vocabulary now," Beattie said.
PATRICIA VOWINKEL has worked for national media outlets for more than 20 years.
September 1, 2011
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