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A Comeback for Native Mobile Apps in Insurance?

One vendor at ACORD LOMA says insurers should embrace the app model even though it can be difficult to encourage policyholder adoption.

Insurers know mobile is here to stay, but have struggled with one particular idiosyncrasy of the channel: While native apps offer the most robust, differentiated experience possible, policyholders don't necessarily need to store an insurer's app on their phone. Allstate's EVP of technology and operations, Suren Gupta, summed up the issue in an interview last year with Insurance & Technology:

"The frequency of touchpoints with customers is not all that often compared to the banking space. I don't think it will ever hit the same point," Gupta, who used to work at Wells Fargo, says. "But we absolutely need to be there when people want it, with the info they need just in time — for example, if someone gets in an accident and doesn't have their insurance ID card on them."

So, insurance companies have become leaders in developing for the mobile web, because all smartphones have web browsers. HTML5 has opened up many options in that arena, according to Kemper Direct CIO John Elcock and Homesite Insurance CIO Peter Settel.

But the mobile browser might never fully catch up to the capabilities offered by a native app. Sundar Vallinayagam, CEO of Jarus Technologies, says that browser-based experiences "don't have the depth and feature set that a native app can employ." The vendor released a set of standards called Jarus Mobile API at ACORD LOMA that aim to make it easier to deploy native apps across several platforms.

Vallinayagam says insurers should aim to encourage app adoption rather than just settling for a mobile web experience so they can take advantage of the robust feature set when it's most needed.

"When a customer installs an application, that is when they need a transaction," he says. "We need to create features that have to be used."

The largest insurers are creating advertising around their mobile apps, Vallinayagam adds, so it's clear that there is a segment of the industry trying to create that need.

But Ray Shah, director of insurance for Synechron, maintains that the mobile web offers the most flexibility for insurance companies. The company has developed a robust mobile web experience that incorporates image capture and e-signature capabilities through the mobile browser.

"Native apps are how mobile got started in insurance, but there's not much e-commerce going on there," Shah says. "We are talking to our clients about the best way to approach getting agents and brokers to submit new business using the mobile framework."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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