Few life insurers have only just begun to investigate functionality available via mobile apps. This may be attributed to a limited demand for consumer apps in the life insurance industry. However, with predictions that smartphones will overtake feature phones in the United States in 2011, doing nothing may quickly leave an insurer behind in the market for the younger generation of consumers, according to analyst firm, Celent.
In its recent report, “North American SnAppshot, Life Version: Mobile Apps for Life Insurance and Annuity Consumers,” Celent examines the consumer-facing iPhone, Blackberry and Android apps created by 11 North American life insurers in North America.
Some 61.5 million people in the United States carry smartphones—nearly 30% of all cell phone users, and that number is expected to grow. It is too soon to tell whether the rush to mobile applications will fundamentally alter insurance sales and service processes. But the rise of apps, app stores and mobility-driven models is creating undeniable energy that will help usher in the next wave of insurance technology innovation.
To assess this evolution, Celent reviewed publicly available information about life and annuity insurer mobile apps, and browsed through platform stores and websites to find any life insurers with mobile apps.
The firm found 11 life insurers that offered mobile functionality to consumers:
• American Family
• Legal & General America
• New York Life
• Principal Financial
These 11 insurers’ apps display a number of general sets of functions, including product information, account information and quotes. Unlike P&C apps reviewed by Celent, claim functionality doesn’t exist in the life apps. Celent also found that in comparison to the P&C insurers who brought significant app functionality online in just 18 months, life insurers are not quickly investing in or investigating mobile apps.
According to Celent, reasons for this slow uptake include:
• Life insurance does not translate as easily as P&C insurance into a transactional mobile app
• Consumers do not see an imminent need for life insurance mobile apps, as is evidenced by low download rates and Celent’s smartphone user survey results
• Questions remain whether life insurance—a one-claim event—is the best product to target with a mobile app. Are investment and ancillary products sold by insurers, like annuities and long-term care, better options?
• Investments into producer and distribution mobile apps promise greater returns for life insurers
• There are still-undefined levels of risk associated with mobile apps, however, this can be alleviated. All interfaces, such as customer and broker portals, and call center screens, could be implemented as thin layers containing only presentation information. These interfaces should be able to call Web services, and as such, be independent of core systems.
Because of these reasons, life insurers question the business case for mobile apps. In Celent’s view, the current (if somewhat limited) value for the business in investment in mobility comes in two areas—a marketing effect and improved customer engagement.
The analysts firm contends that having the logo on a consumer’s mobile phone, where it might be seen multiple times a day, is a cheap, excellent way to build brand recognition. In addition, increasing the ease with which consumers can interact with the company by enabling them to use their device of choice improves the customer perception and engagement.
And what is it that consumers really want from a life insurer’s mobile app? According to a recent Celent survey of smartphone users, while nearly 35% of respondents said that they will probably never use a life insurance mobile app, the most desired functionality is customer service: address change, beneficiary change, policy details and bill pay.
However, as time progresses, so do consumer demands.
“With a consumer base that is still evolving and adapting to the new world of apps, perhaps the question should be ‘What do consumers really want from an insurer mobile app today?’” the survey says. Celent plans to answer that question in a future report.