If there was ever any doubt that mobile apps are a growing business, Apple Inc. recently announced that it has announced it sold more than $10 billion worth of applications through its app store in 2013, generating more than $3 billion in revenue.
To commemorate the milestone of Apple’s big business, the Orlando Business Journal pinpointed eight apps that businesses should download. But what's their usefulness to independent agents? We asked National Underwriter Property & Casualty's columnist Rick Gilman to weigh in on each, and how it could apply to agents and brokers. Click through the slideshow to find out how independent agents can best use them.
Square Register: If you've ever grabbed lunch from a food truck, you've probably had your credit card scanned with one of these devices, which easily attach to the seller's smart phone.
Gilman's take: "Square Reader and Square Register are two great convenient apps/tools for retail businesses to process payments, track inventory and manage the commerce of their business. If an agency takes credit cards for premium payments, then the convenience of Square might be valuable but because the transaction frequency is very low in an agency, I don’t think it’s necessary."
CamCard: Lets users scan business cards directly into your phone and automatically adding it to your into your contacts.
Gilman's take: "While I don’t use this particular business card reader, I’m a big fan of the functionality and convenience it provides by quickly and easily inputting someone’s contact info directly into your phone and other devices. There are a lot of apps that do similar things. I use CardMunch from LinkedIn. Two things make CardMunch unique in this category: first, because it is owned by LinkedIn, if the individual whose card is being scanned has a LinkedIn profile, that information comes into your record with 1-click Connect capability. The other differentiator is the fact that CardMunch is human entered as opposed to OCR. Yes, it can take a hour to have the completed download of the data, but the accuracy is generally higher than OCR. In the three years I’ve been using the app, I’ve never had to edit the data being returned."
Asana Mobile: Helps small business staff stay up to date by creating personal task lists that open for view.
Gilman's take: "The idea of an app that supports teamwork and managing tasks across teams and individuals is very appealing. The free version allows for unlimited teams of up to 15 members with unlimited projects and tasks, so testing it out certainly has no downside. As for agencies, I can see using it to track goals and progress on specific tasks. For commercial lines agencies, I would imagine for large commercial clients, a team approach to sales and service can go a long way to strengthening the relationship. Using this app could help management facilitate that process."
MobileDay: An app that bypasses the need tfor users to remember access codes to conference calls.
Gilman's take: "This app sounds like a real winner. If your agency is anything like my business, I’m constantly going from one conference call to another, often on different systems; this app appears to streamline the process. I just downloaded the app onto my iPhone and can’t wait to test it out."
SignNow: Another digital signature capture app that allows documents to be uploaded and signed via smartphone.
Gilman's take: "Sounds like a great app for capturing on site signatures electronically. If it integrates with the agency’s management system and it's secure, then it makes a lot of sense to use. It’s just another tool to expedite the processing of policies, sales, claims, etc."
Zendesk: An easy way to interact and problem-solve with customers on the fly.
Gilman's take: "Seems like a cool app to support customer service, but I’m not sure the type of support agency CSRs provide is best suited to this application. Also, again I’d want it to integrate into the agency management system in order to have a single location for all things customer centric."
Shoeboxed: This easy-to-use app keeps track of all your business receipts through scanning and categorizing them.
Gilman's take: "This looks good for individual or very small businesses. One concern is the Magic Envelope and sending them all my receipts and documents for hand entry. What happens with those paper documents? Given the data collected by insurance agents, I would probably restrict its use to expense receipts and other non-client specific documents. I will try this one, though, for my expenses and see how it works for tax reporting purposes. It sounds like it will reduce my need to keep track of those items in my spreadsheet. Like CardMunch I mentioned above, I do like the human data entry and QC."
TripIt: TripIt acts like a personal travel agent by keeping all your travel plans in one place.
Gilman's take: "If you’re traveling a lot to different cities and hotels, I can see using it. The biggest complaint I have with this kind of app is does it integrate with my calendar, or do I need to now have my travel info in its proprietary calendar or do an extra step of exporting it? If it’s just giving me a cleaner, more convenient view of the travel-related information without my having to re-enter any data, that would be ideal. If it’s duplicative, then I would likely not use it for long. I have many apps on my phone that I no longer open for just that very reason."