It’s a mad, mobile world, and today's insurance customers expect instantaneous service and information from their independent agents. According to IIABA’s 2010 Agency Universe study, today’s agents are less concerned about how much technology costs and more focused on usage: the need to market effectively on the Internet, security and ease of use of new real-time functionality.
Today’s application software, largely driven by cloud computing and available for little to no cost, can deliver multi-platform tools that enable agents to conduct business from virtually anywhere and reach customers like never before.
A recent conversation on the ACT (Insurance Agents Council for Technology) LinkedIn group illustrates the types of tools that property-casualty agents are using to meet the demands of today’s mobile, tech-savvy consumers. Some are for general use; others are industry specific. What they all have in common is a focus on sharing information quickly and easily over a variety of platforms and devices, with ease of collaboration the ultimate goal.
In no particular order, here are some of the most-mentioned apps or tech tools:
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Description: One of the most popular and well-reviewed programs (PC Magazine calls it “the simplest, most elegant file-synchronization tool we've ever used”), Dropbox allows users to transport and share documents, photos and videos simply by saving content to the Dropbox folder. Changes sync immediately across all devices with Dropbox installed. It’s compatible with nearly every computer and smartphone operating system, including Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Files are stored encrypted on Amazon S3 in secure data centers and also remain on users’ Dropbox-synched computers for added backup.
Cost: Basic plan free; upgrades range from $9.99 to $19.99/month. DropBox for Teams, $795/per for 5 users; additional seats, $125 each.
Mobile app: Available for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry.
User comments: “One app I use almost every day…Not a new app but a free cloud storage system that allows you to move documents easily between computers. I highly recommend.”
Description: Another true three-platform (desktop computer, mobile phone and Web) tool, Evernote makes notes, web clips, files and images available on all user devices and computers. You can save photos, audio and web pages with browser extensions. Notes capability allows sharing across all computers, phones and devices for easy collaboration with other users. Tracks itineraries, confirmations, scanned travel documents and maps. Add-ons include Skitch (for annotation and sketches) and Evernote Hello (to create a browsable history of individuals, encounters and shared experiences). CNET gives it a “spectacular” rating and especially lauds its note-taking capabilities and ease of searching loaded images.
Cost: Basic plan free; Evernote Premium with bigger upload capacity and greater sharing options, $5 per month or $45/year.
Mobile app: Available for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry
User comments: “Evernote is one of my favorites. It easily syncs with all device and has a great organization system for notes.”
Nickel River ActSocial (www.nickelriver.com)
Description: This industry-specific product uses an agency’s website as a launching pad for a social media platform that will serve as the hub of the agency’s social media presence. Fully integrated with Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook but branded to the agency, ActSocial allows users to create customized branded digital communities for agency employees, clients, prospects and partners.
Cost: See website for more information.
Mobile app: Mobile access available.
User comments: “A balanced and coordinated usage of YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter…can be very effective for agents wanting to build their brand presence on the Web. To bring those together and drive interested traffic back to the agency website, I would humbly suggest checking out Nickel River’s ActSocial web platform for insurance agents and brokers.”
Description: This relatively new product is a free-form task management app that lets you build and organize lists the way you want to (its developers say the product mimics the way your brain actually processes information). According to PC World: “After signing up for an account, you're presented with an almost entirely blank page. To get started, create a heading for something: a project, a goal, ideas, your daily to-do list, or whatever. Then press Enter, followed by Tab, and type your first entry. After a couple entries, you'll the get the knack: Workflowy is little more than an outliner, but one that's fast, easy, and unobtrusive.” WorkFlowy also has basic sharing features, similar to Google Docs, to share your lists with other users.
Mobile app: No dedicated mobile app.
User comments: “It’s a very simple outlining tool that is great for putting your thoughts in order on conference calls, blog posts, marketing campaigns…basically anything.”
Description: A cloud-based software system built exclusively for retail and wholesale insurance brokers, focused on solutions to increase sales and profits for use with an agency’s current agency management system. Data is backed up and encrypted daily and stored off site in secure server farms.
Cost: See website.
Mobile app: Available for iPhone, iPad, Android
User comments: “We have been beta testing a site called MarketEnsure.com for submitting business to carrier at our agency. It is a free online application. It allows us to track our pipeline and interface with our underwriters in a streamlined approach so it saves our staff a tremendous amount of time. The user can create a profile for their markets so it helps in knowing who to submit what to.”
Description: VentureBox Accounts allows you to manage your business finances: track expenses, pay bills, keep track of customer information and more. VentureBox Assist puts client information in a single, secure online location and allows you to share documents, track history and assign tasks. Users at getapp.com call it “a very efficient solution and suitable for companies that require basic project and customer management tools.”
Cost: Free for single users; Basic (up to 4 users), $19/month to Enterprise (up to 30 users), $99/month.
Mobile app: iPhone, iPad.
User comments: “I’ve recently started using a contact management system called VentureBox. It is accessible through Google Chrome and is set up to work well with iPads and tablets. In my pursuit of contact managers that work well for insurance agencies, I found this one to be the best so far, mainly because it is very customizable.”
Description: Allows you to sign virtually any document online in seconds, from any device, whether it’s sent as an email attachment or stored in a cloud service like Dropbox. All transactions are 100 percent secure, and you can even link to your DocuSign ID card to verify your signature. Several different editions are available, from a free app for single users to a specific product for real estate agents.
Cost: DocuSign Ink is free; Pro, $14.99/month for single user; Business, 2+ users, $19.99/month.
Mobile app: Available for iPhone, iPad, Android
User comments: “Ink from DocuSign is a free e-signature app that you or your clients can use to electronically sign documents. There is an iPhone/iPad app as well as a plug-in for Outlook.”
Description: The popular social location platform has more than 15 million users worldwide and more than 600,000 businesses using the merchant platform. Allows users to track friends, discover businesses nearby, save money and unlock deals. Merchants start by claiming their venues, then creating specials to attract customers. With the Foursquare dashboard, users can track traffic by most recent visitor, total daily check-ins, gender breakdown and more.
Mobile app: Available for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Phone.
User comments: “The one recommendation I have for independent insurance agents is to pay more attention to FourSquare. I recently visited a local agent who was blissfully ignorant to the value proposition of social media. When I showed him FourSquare, he realized how viral the potential of sharing with others the need for personalized insurance could become.”
Description: An industry-specific, one-stop customer prospecting site that will email your contacts up to 24 times a year; upload leads for you once a week; create emails with your logo and picture, and create sales pitch letters.
Mobile app: Not available.
User comments: “They don’t have a mobile app but I access the site with the smart phone and can do anything on my phone that I do with my computer. BusinessETouch.net works amazingly well over my phone so no matter where I am I have full access to my prospects and customers’ information along with my calendar and all the notes on each appointment.”