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Progressive Goes Wireless with WAP Technology

Today most consumers do not turn on their cell phones when they want to find a local insurance agent, but Progressive Insurance (Mayfield Village, OH, $9.7 billion in assets) is preparing for the day when a consumer's firstchoice will be to pick up their wireless device.

Progressive is the first insurance company to give policyholders access to company and account information through wireless application protocol (WAP) technology. Customers can also access direct sales staff, claims representatives and customer service support through a WAP-enabled device.

"We are letting people do business on their terms," says Fred Khoury, wireless Internet manager for Progressive. "Some policyholders will obviously wait until they go home, but some may want to contact Progressive instantly. WAP enables Progressive to get onto every cell phone with a Web browser. By 2005, 111 million customers will access the mobile Internet at least monthly."

However, Khoury admits, WAP is only one of many global standards available for wireless Internet devices. "The prediction now is access will be through WAP phones," he says. "WAP is the standard now, but it remains to be seen if WAP remains the standard." Transactions made with Progressive's WAP offering are secured by WTLS, or the Wireless Transport Layer Security protocol—a security protocol based on the wireless industry standard Transport Layer Security Protocol.

Khoury also acknowledges insurance usually doesn't usually carry the urgency of other financial transactions, such as trading securities. "We can't really predict what the traffic is going to be like," he says. "We want people to be able to access the insurance company on their terms and we want Progressive to be ready for them when they do."

According to Khoury, another problem facing Web-enabled cell phones is the "lack of real estate" for displaying information. "Basically we have taken some of the Web content and changed it from what you would display on a PC's screen and made it available for a WAP phone," he says.

"For instance, when you are on the Web site, when you want to find an agent you can enter the address, city, state and ZIP code. We are rewriting the application for WAP phones and making it so you could just enter the ZIP code. You can't just take the Web content and transfer it to a cell phone. You have to take the form factors into account."

In the future, customers will be able to file claims, make real-time changes to their policies, pay bills, locate an agent with a ZIP code and get direct access to a customer service representative. "We will also roll out features for Palm (Santa Clara, CA) Pilots and other PDAs," says Khoury. "The idea is to let people access whenever and however they want." Currently, Khoury says, the wireless Palm VII does not use WAP.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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