Sam Friedman – July 13, 2012
In one of the most memorable episodes of the classic TV sitcom “The Honeymooners,” Jackie Gleason’s iconic character, Ralph Kramden, appears in a live infomercial touting the “Chef of the Future,” a nifty little tool that supposedly can perform a dozen or so key tasks in the kitchen. Unfortunately, Ralph’s get-rich-quick scheme doesn’t quite pan out, but he had the right idea in marketing a multi-tasking gadget that can make your life simpler, easier, and more efficient.
If Ralph were doing an infomercial today, he might appear in a spot with a claims management theme. He’d likely be pitching how mobile technology can turn every policyholder into a “Claimant of the Future.” If the spot were targeted within the industry rather than at consumers, Ralph would hail how mobile tools can help develop those who investigate, facilitate, and settle claims into the “Claims Managers of the Future.”
Mobility is nothing new—at least not since laptops and notebook computers hit the market. However, smartphones and tablets have the potential to take claims management to the next level because they are just about the most insurance-friendly technology tools to come along in ages for both adjusters in the field as well as those policyholders suffering a loss.
Smartphones in particular are a revelation for insurers and customers alike who are dealing with a claim. Carriers have already set the stage to reap savings by transferring some basic insurance and claims administrative/support services to policyholders or business partners via mobile devices. In so doing, insurers are reducing the number of inbound service calls, while also realizing that some elements of self-service can actually speed up the claims process and ultimately improve customer satisfaction.
In addition, many carriers have equipped their field adjusting staff with personal data assistants to optimize the estimate-writing process through more efficient scheduling, routing, and workload management, which ultimately reduces cycle time and claim costs.
Besides allowing policyholders to call for help at the scene of an accident, most smartphones these days provide claimants with the following tools and capabilities:
A camera (for both still pictures and video) to take shots of damages to a vehicle, home, or business moments after a loss. Truly proactive policyholders can produce a photo or video inventory of their insured properties and valuables before a loss right on their mobile devices.
Easy access to a claimant’s policy information.
Recording functions to document exactly what led to a loss while the information is fresh in everyone’s minds, including audio or video statements from witnesses collected at the scene.
Faster first-notice-of-loss capabilities, either through email or an insurer’s own mobile application, including basic claims processing and adjuster contact information for reference.
Recommendations (and in some cases even ratings) for insurer-approved towing, car rental, and repair and restoration services, with the phone’s GPS system able to steer claimants to the provider that is closest to an accident scene or property loss location.
Facilitation of premium payment and claims settlement processes (for example, providing information about deductibles and loss estimates).
Personal lines insurance companies have been very eager to jump on this claims technology bandwagon, with many already offering mobile apps to policyholders. However, the deployment and use of such capabilities are still in the very early stages. Indeed, three out of four auto and homeowner insureds queried in a pair of online surveys conducted last summer by Deloitte Research didn’t even know whether their carriers offered mobile apps.
However, Deloitte’s “Voice of the Personal Lines Insurance Consumer” surveys also found that those who do use their insurer’s mobile apps like them a lot. Among auto respondents, one in four found such apps to be extremely useful, and an additional one in three said they are very useful. Age was a major differentiator in the surveys, with younger consumers more likely to find insurer mobile apps useful.
Right now, mobile apps are nice-to-haves rather than must-haves for policyholders. Only about one in 10 auto and homeowner insureds indicated that they would be likely to change insurers based on the availability of smartphone applications. But that percentage is likely to rise as more apps are introduced, awareness of their availability and capabilities increases, and more consumers come to depend on smartphones and tablets to conduct their everyday business.
Social media and mobile devices can also be an unbeatable combination for insurers looking to help their policyholders avoid losses and manage claims. Property insurers are already using social media to alert their customers about the threat of disaster risks—for example, by issuing tornado watches. Some are emailing and tweeting their policyholders when a wildfire is approaching their home or business (with loss prevention teams on call to help secure an exposed property before catastrophe strikes).
Being able to reach a policyholder in real time over their smartphone or tablet when a disaster looms can give insurers an enormous advantage, potentially making the difference between life and death, as well as between minor damages and a total loss. And when disaster does strike, mobile devices might be the only reliable means of contact with claimants until downed power lines and telephone landlines are repaired.
While a lot of the early action in mobile insurance apps is in personal lines, such devices could come in handy for commercial policyholders in claims management as well. Workers’ compensation insurers in particular could benefit from following the lead of their personal lines counterparts by introducing their own apps. Policyholders could be encouraged to have their front-line managers and workers take pictures at accident scenes and file first notices of injury right off their smartphones and tablets. The days of injured employees not taking the time to find the disposable camera in the company’s “accident kit” are over!
Mobile devices also make the lives of insurance personnel easier when it comes to handling claims. Smartphones and tablets are very portable tools, which can be particularly useful in the field—especially in a disaster zone. Adjusters and fraud investigators can literally hold a policyholder database in the palm of their hand. They can capitalize on the same set of capabilities as their claimants—using their smartphones and tablets to record damages, take statements, check coverage details, suggest the most convenient repair services, file their reports from the site of the loss, and communicate in a variety of ways with the home and regional office.
However, here is where the potential dark side to the mobile revolution comes into play. As with any technology, a tool is only as good as the person using it. Smartphones and tablets, notebooks and laptops are already revolutionizing how claims are managed, but the people using these devices are still prone to leave them on a car seat, in an airport waiting area, or in a restaurant, bar or bathroom, as well as have them stolen while in the field, creating potentially huge exposures in terms of privacy breaches.
Insurers and large commercial policyholders alike are well aware of this exposure. It’s no accident that the annual conferences earlier this year of both the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance in San Diego and the Risk and Insurance Management Society in Philadelphia included sessions on the prevention of data breaches off portable devices, as well as how to cope with the aftermath if one should occur.
There’s so much to be said about how a key component of claims management is privacy protection that I’ll hold off until a future column to address this potential exposure in more detail. But for now, it’s enough to emphasize that insurers would be wise to have a multi-layer risk management program in place just to deal with the possibility that a mobile device with identifiable personal information could fall into the wrong hands.
Such a program includes training (along with periodic reminders and refresher courses about the importance of securing mobile devices), password protection, encryption programs, remote-disabling capabilities and—should the worst-case scenario arise and a major breach occur—loss control and remediation policies.
In “The Honeymooners,” Ralph Kramden’s “Chef of the Future” infomercial didn’t end well. When challenged with a simple question—“Can it core an apple?”—the answer was no, or at least not as quickly as the old-fashioned way, with a simple pocketknife. Ralph stumbled trying to demonstrate the alleged superiority of his revolutionary new product and ended up destroying the set, along with any chance of anyone buying his pitch.
Chances are that the mobile revolution in claims management will go much more smoothly. However, the lesson here is that, while new tools can be very valuable in making a process faster, easier and cheaper, in the end it still comes down to the skill of the individual wielding them, whether you’re coring an apple or managing claims.