So, I was intending to start moving away from the consumer-facing aspects of Mobile Insurance offerings to focus on agents/brokers, but some of the responses to my last couple of blogs as well as recent discussions with carriers were worth summarizing and debating. If nothing else, it seems that the Mobile space engenders some passionate opinions, so here goes.

It’s all just hype.

A fair number of people who commented on my blog, emailed me, or discussed the topic with me in person fall into this camp. Some of the comments that support this view include:

  • Most people only interact with their Property and Casualty carrier one or two times a year, unless they have a claim. They’re not going to download an App to pay their insurance bill - it’s not the same as Mobile Banking.
  • I’m not going to conduct a complex transaction such as a claim over a device with a form-factor (phone or small tablet) that makes it really difficult to do things like enter text. Plus, I really want to talk to someone.
  • Our experience shows that we get almost no submissions from our Mobile claims offering (from a CIO at a major P&C carrier).
  • Nobody in their right mind is going to shop for insurance on their phone (an analyst friend of mine who was one of the first to document the increasing consumerization of insurance in the late 1990s thanks to the Internet).

My view is that all of the above are legitimate comments/concerns. It’s pretty clear that the Mobile space for consumer-facing Insurance Apps isn’t all that mature… yet. However, we found some interesting data points in digging a little deeper:

  • Overall, access to the Web is moving onto mobile devices. Studies by Google and Cisco suggest that more people will “get online” via their mobile devices than via desktops/laptops sometime this year. Sure, a lot of that is checking the latest Facebook posts from your friends or catching up on the news headlines. But it’s clear that the smartphone is changing the way people think about information access.
  • We already know that more and more people (studies show anywhere from 60% to over 80%) use online resources to research insurance purchases. What’s really interesting is that some of the online insurance comparative rating portals are seeing a rapid increase coming from smartphones and tablets. The insurance shopping site CoverHound reported that Mobile quotes increased from about 5% of their business in the Summer of 2012 to nearly 20% by Christmas.
  • It’s a generational thing. While I consider myself reasonably tech-savvy as a guy from GenX, I’m positively astounded at the way Millenials and the under-20 folks are moving toward smart phones and tablets. Along with this comes a comfort (actually a preference) for the newer devices despite some of the obvious compromises in usability (at least, my view of usability).
  • The download numbers from App Stores (particularly Google Play) are fairly impressive for some carriers. We’re still crunching the numbers to do a sanity check, but our initial estimate is that upwards of 30% of policy holders have downloaded Apps from those few carriers that really promote their Mobile capabilities.

So, to summarize - while those of us who grew up with the first PCs may not be ready to abandon our laptops just yet, it’s clear that the next generation is heading in that direction. Carriers still have a way to go in terms of figuring out how to handle this trend. While we can’t say for sure just when the tipping point will be reached (if it ever will), it’s clear that carriers have to address the mobile space now as a defensive measure at a minimum. Along the way, there’s significant investment involved, not only in the Apps themselves, but in the technology, usability design, process, and governance infrastructure that goes along with it.

Oh, and my final thought for the day: This Internet thing is gonna be big.