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9 consumer-friendly auto insurance innovations

Technology advances are increasingly changing the world of auto insurance. (Photo: iStock)
Technology advances are increasingly changing the world of auto insurance. (Photo: iStock)

It's not your parents' auto insurance marketplace.

Technology, like the smartphone and artificial intelligence, is allowing traditional insurers and tech start-up companies the ability to create smarter and more consumer-friendly tools, especially for filing claims.

The face of car insurance is undergoing a steady transformation with the development of phone apps, data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) advances, machine learning breakthroughs, real-time video streaming, and telematics. It's important for insurance agents and brokers to closely follow who's doing what to stay current with policyholders and prospects.

Related: S&P panelists: Insurance industry is 'ripe for disruption'

Here are nine new auto insurance advances to keep your eyes on:

Root Car Insurance

(Source: YouTube)

Smartphone-driven quote & coverage from Root

What’s innovative about it: 
Startup Root offers a smartphone app that tracks your driving habits and offers you a policy with a price based on how safe you are behind the wheel.

Related: 5 things traditional insurance carriers can learn from the successes of tech start-ups

How it works: After downloading the Root app and filling out a few details, such as your age and gender, go on driving as normal. Your phone will track your driving behavior, such as how hard you brake and how fast you take turns.

After a few weeks, you’ll receive a quote and coverage recommendations based in part on your habits.

Launched: October 2016.

Good to know: Root is currently available in Ohio only, with planned expansion into Illinois and other states in early 2017.


(Source: Snapsheet)

Mobile auto claims by Snapsheet

What’s innovative about it: 
Snapsheet provides the only fully mobile claims solution, enabling the customer to settle the claim virtually. The Chicago-based startup uses proprietary technology to optimize virtual claims operations for auto insurance carriers.

How it works: Clients use the app to send photos of car damage directly to Snapsheet’s appraisers, who then take over communication with insurers and body shops to settle the claim. 

Launched: 2016

Good to know: According to the company, the app can close an auto claim in an average of just 2.5 days.

Related: 11 companies lead the J.D. Power Auto Claims Satisfaction study


(Source: DropIn Auto)

Drone-based video streaming for claims by DropIn

What’s innovative about it: 
DropIn, a Los Angeles-based startup, provides on-demand live video streaming services to help insurance companies improve the claims and underwriting process. The solution relies on a drone equipped with a camera or a smartphone camera, depending on the scenario.

Related: Emerging technologies: Best dream or worst nightmare for P&C insurers?

How it works: A person in a car accident could contact their insurance adjuster, who can interview the drivers and appraise the damage — sometimes right on the spot by viewing the damage through the driver’s smartphone. The drone comes into play in a couple of cases including doing a fly-over for a property appraisal or sending in a fleet of drones to a disaster area and appraising the likely damage.

Launched: The company launched in 2015. DropIn recently earned a spot in the Plug and Play insurance app incubator, which will give it access to a number of top insurers such as Allstate, Nationwide and State Farm.

Good to know: The drones are operated by a a group of on-demand drone operators who can drive to a site, operate the drone and transmit the video and pictures to the insurance company. The company currently has a network of 1,100 licensed operators, according to TechCrunch.

auto damage shown on smartphone

(Photo: iStock)

Auto damage and safe route app from Liberty Mutual's Solaria Labs

What's innovative about it: 
The Solaria Lab's artificial intelligence (AI) Auto Damage Estimator app technology was trained using anonymized claims photos so the software could be built.

Related: Emerging risks in auto technology

How it works: If you end up in a crash, you can take a picture of the damaged fender and upload it to the app. The AI will compare it with thousands of photos to determine which one is most like your car’s damage and tell you on the spot what the likely cost of repair will be. The API also aggregates public data on things like auto theft, parking citations, and crashes to help drivers find the safest routes and parking places.

Launch: It should be available in the coming months, according to TechCrunch.

Good to know:  “Liberty Mutual will not share personally identifiable usage data we collect with any third party except to service customers’ auto policies, for research, or as required by law,” according to Ted Kwartler, assistant vice president of Liberty Mutual Innovation.

Amazon Echo on desk

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Insurance advice through Amazon Echo

What’s innovative about it: 
Liberty Mutual and its affiliate Safeco Insurance are the first insurers to let customers use Amazon Echo’s cloud-based Alexa Voice Service to get basic insurance advice.

Related: What Amazon can teach auto insurance carriers

How it works: If you own an Echo, download the Alexa app. Then enable Alexa’s insurance skill, and you’ll be ready to chat up your new insurance expert through your Echo speaker (or Tap or Dot).

Safeco has prepped Alexa to drop knowledge on nearly 100 insurance FAQs and industry terms so far, plus handle such tasks as locating nearby agents. Alexa can also tap into Liberty Mutual’s MasterThis online knowledge base, an insurance tutorial hub.

Launched: September 2016 for Safeco; December 2016 for Liberty Mutual.

Good to know: Users can also get car insurance rates for a Liberty Mutual policy from Alexa.

Allstate door sign

(AP Photo)

QuickCard Pay real-time claim payments from Allstate

What’s innovative about it: 
Claim check? What claim check? Allstate, in a partnership with MasterCard, can now send customers’ claim settlements directly to their debit card accounts.

How it works: As long as you have an email address and a qualifying debit card, you can use QuickCard Pay. After your claim is settled, Allstate will deposit the money into the debit card account you have on file. This is a speedier and more secure alternative to sending checks.

Launched: Rolled out nationwide December 2016.

Good to know: QuickCard Pay is compatible with MasterCard and Visa debit cards, but not American Express and Discover, according to NerdWallet and an Allstate spokesperson.

Related: Metromile raises $192 million to take on car insurance business

FICO SafetDriving Score

(Photo: eDriving)

The FICO Safe Driving Score

What’s innovative about it: 
You’ll no longer need to guess how good a driver you are. FICO — best known for doling out credit scores — is partnering with driver-education company eDriving to calculate Safe Driving Scores. Finally, objective proof that you really are the best driver in the family.

Related: 4 reasons why smart mobility and autonomous driving will cause disruption

How it works: Drivers need to enable eDriving’s Mentor telematic program on their smartphones to begin tracking driving behaviors. Your FICO Safe Driving Score is based on your performance behind the wheel, including factors such as texting while driving, accelerating, braking and cornering.

The Mentor app also coaches drivers. Auto insurers might eventually use Safe Driving Scores to predict how accident-prone policyholders will be.

Launched: FICO Safe Driving Scores are currently available to certain business car fleets, with a widespread rollout planned for early 2017, according to NerdWallet and an eDriving spokesperson.

Good to know: After fleet drivers, teen and novice motorists will be the first to have access to Safe Driving Scores.

Say Insurance

(Photo: Say Insurance)

Insurance scores via Say Insurance

What’s innovative about it: 
In most states, auto insurers use a credit-based insurance score to help calculate the price of driver policies. However, they don’t typically share the score with the drivers themselves. Startup Say Insurance is giving shoppers more transparency around their insurance scores.

Related: Keeping the human touch as AI takes hold in insurance

How it works: Say Insurance receives your insurance score fro, LexisNexis, an analytics company, and provides it to you for free when you request a quote for one of their car insurance policies. To help reduce your rates, Say also adds points to your score every time you renew your policy — 50 points after the first renewal, 100 after the second, 150 after the third, and so on.

Launched: October 2016.

Good to know: Say Insurance is currently available to Illinois residents, with expansion planned throughout 2017, beginning with Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee, according to NerdWallet and Marc Deiter, the company’s director.

Insurance 101 for Teen Drivers


Car insurance education for high schoolers

What’s innovative about it: 
The average teen knows very little about car insurance, but that might change soon. High school students in Pennsylvania recently became the first to have an interactive “Insurance 101” course as part of their curriculum. The course module is now available to teachers nationwide.

How it works: The course was designed by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department along with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. It shows students how driving decisions and other choices can cost or save them money on insurance.

For example, students learn that by hitting the books instead of, say, playing video games with friends, they could boost their grades and qualify for a good student discount on insurance.

Launched: October 2016.

Good to know: The “Insurance 101” course module is publicly available for download.

Editor's note: Several of these innovations were first described by NerdWallet's Alex Glenn in, "Business unusual: Car insurance innovations for consumers."

Related: Lemonade continues to disrupt the insurance sector

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