Over the last several months, I posted some thoughts on the state of Personal Auto Insurance apps. Interestingly, the buzz around these apps is reaching a fever pitch as several of the largest national carriers tout their Mobile offerings in prime-time advertising using traditional media. I'm looking forward to the cage match between Flo and the Pig.

This month, I'm handing over my blog space to Valeska Toro. Valeska recently joined Paragon, bringing with her some significant experience in deploying Mobile technology in a global retail setting. I asked her to give us some perspectives on the current state of Mobile offerings targeted at the Homeowners market. Over to Valeska:

While many Tier 1 and 2 Insurance companies provide mobile app users with auto insurance features, only 40% of the 15 insurance companies we surveyed provide their users with homeowner insurance features on their mobile apps. These applications allow users to submit a home claim directly from their phones with pictures and notes. Users are also able to review their home claim history, access their home insurance information, pay bills, request a quote, and some even provided a complimentary “flashlight” in case of an emergency.

As we’ve seen with recent events such as superstorm Sandy, Mobile technology has the potential to play a critical role in catastrophic events related to a Homeowners policy. Mobile apps can help expedite the claim process directly from a user’s phone, especially during a time when a user’s ability to access a computer or a land line may be very limited and access to paper policy information is impossible.

Beyond policy management and claims, many insurance companies have taken a marketing approach to assisting home owners by developing home inventory apps that are open for anyone to use. The home inventory apps allow users to store their inventory information; upload photos directly from their phone; enter purchasing information; export their data to a PDF; and back up their inventory to the cloud.

We tested the applications and reviewed user experience ratings and comments on iTunes and Google Play for each app. We found that the following components were crucial to developing a successful homeowner’s insurance mobile app:

  1. Utility: Apps that generated the highest satisfaction provided users with a utility component such as bill pay. Bill pay expedites the process anywhere the user is. It also allows users to interact with the application on a more frequent basis than other features such as reporting a claim.
  2. Ease of use: Applications that pre-populated a user’s information and reduced the manual process in form submission received the highest ratings. Less manual data input allowed users to quickly submit a claim and increased their satisfaction with the app.
  3. Reliable storage: Users should be at ease knowing that they can access their information from multiple sources. Imagine taking inventory of all your possessions with notes and photos, only to lose the information once your smartphone stopped working. To avoid this mishap, apps should allow users to export their information to a separate location or sync it to the cloud. Apps that failed to store users’ information in a safe environment received low ratings and negative reviews.
  4. Security: Information security is a legitimate concern for application users. Home inventory items that are captured and stored on a phone app must require a password to access the information. In the event that the phone is stolen, the user can be confident that their personal collection will not be accessed by the public.
  5. Compatibility with System Upgrades: Mobile apps that exist in multiple platforms must be constantly upgraded to meet the system requirements issued for the device. For example, Apple recently issued a major upgrade to iOS 6, to meet the requirements of the iPhone 5. Applications we reviewed that were not yet compatible with the iPhone 5 received the lowest ratings, as users were frustrated downloading apps only to find out they couldn't use them.

In the end, users expect apps that really work. If you are thinking about developing your own Homeowner’s Insurance app, first begin by deciding what features are most important to your business and your users. Whether you decide to implement one feature or 20, make sure that your app is fully tested and integrated into your processes. Unlike game or social apps, homeowners will want an accurate tool that makes their lives easier and delivers value when they need it. They will be extremely intolerant of inconsistent or frustrating user experience. These apps need to be serious tool, not a shortcut to social media marketing or a quick fix to a customer service problem.

Thanks for the insights, Valeska.

Download Paragon's Report on Carrier Mobile Capabilities in Personal Lines Auto Business