Risk managers at large corporations have enjoyed access to sophisticated RMIS tools for some time now, but their smaller counterparts were left in the lurch because of the high cost of the systems. This is no longer the case, thanks to investments being made by their independent insurance agents and brokers in more informational, interactive and transactional websites.
These website portals are now gradually giving way or being augmented by mobile business apps connected to agency servers on premises or in the cloud. For risk managers or others charged with managing risk and buying insurance within small and medium size enterprises, the apps provide instant access to insurance-related information like policy coverage terms and conditions, and offer a secure way to file claims and make insurance policy changes, such as adding another truck to the commercial vehicle program.
While business apps have been proliferating throughout the business world, they have only recently caught up to the needs of SME risk managers. Part of the sluggishness is attributable to the SME’s insurance agencies and brokerages, which were capital strapped by the double whammy impact of the recession and a soft insurance market. With the recession in remission and insurance prices creeping upward, more dollars are in agency coffers to upgrade technology systems.
Such is the case at Rogers Gunter Vaughn Insurance, where CEO Sam Rogers said the agency is beefing up the functionality of its website portal to soon provide 24/7 interactions like claims filing and transactions. “Our next technology investment is a mobile app that clients can download and keep on their iPads and smartphones. We’re also working on coming up with an electronic version of an automobile insurance ID card to enable the filing of claims or the need to send in something using a smartphone or tablet. The things we can do now and will do are very exciting,” he said.
Cowart Insurance Agency in Lawrenceville, Georgia, is on a similar quest. “Our goal is to optimize our website for mobile interactions,” according to Donna Cowart, vice president of marketing and operations. “If an insured needs to contact us, it will be extremely easy for them to simply open up an app on their mobile devices and make the request right then and there with a few clicks. Many of our commercial clients are using mobile apps in their business dealings and we want to be a part of that,” she said.
It is not uncommon these days for a risk manager or other corporate executive to cram their smartphones and tablets with such popular business apps as Concur, to efficiently organize reimbursable business expenses; Dropbox, for remote file viewing and sharing; Meeting Mapper, a meeting organizing tool; EchoSign, an e-signature solution; Uber, a fast, reliable way to book transportation; and FuseBill, an automated billing and payments platform. Bear in mind that this short list barely scratches the surface. Mobile apps are proliferating in the way that more entertainment-oriented apps grew following the introduction of the iPhone seven years ago. Such tools are changing how business is conducted, providing true work-life integration, which enhances user experience and employee engagement.
The business value bestowed by these developments is significant. According to a May 2013 survey of 930 CFOs by Accenture, 79% of respondents stated that access to information was a key factor that would make their organizations more agile. The survey further indicated that mobility is the top technology investment priority for company finance directors in the next three years.
Another survey of more than 500 executives by CompTIA, a technology industry association, indicated that the key factor driving organizations towards mobility is “productivity gains,” cited by 62% of respondents.
The growing use of mobile apps insists that agents and brokers invest in these tools, according to Steve Anderson, an expert in agency technology issues who publishes The Anderson Agency Report. “Creating an excellent customer experience for the connected business consumer is requiring that they experiment with and implement new communication options. These options should include a client web portal, text messaging, instant messaging and mobile apps,” he said.
Agreeing, Stuart Durland, vice president, operations and co-owner of Warwick, NY-based Seely and Durland Inc., said: “An app makes risk management clients feel you’re in the 21st century—moving ahead and not stuck with yesterday’s technology.” The agency is using a mobile app from Applied Systems that remotely links its producers to the agency’s management system. “I see us soon providing a similar app to our insureds to service them in the ways they are increasingly expecting to be served,” he said. Anderson concurs that the future must become closer for many agents and brokers. “Employees access information using whatever device make sense at the time—a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. Saving your client time and effort helps create a better customer experience and higher retention.”