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Hurricane Sandy Proved A Perfect Storm To Test Insurers' Mobile Capabilities

Wide use of mobile technologies lets insurers engage better with claimants, adjusters and others across a spectrum of communications, business continuity and claims handling activities.

Mobile communications and natural catastrophes share the quality of potentially occurring anytime, anywhere -- or at least at unexpected times and places -- so major weather events are natural laboratories for testing mobile technologies. This was especially the case with Superstorm Sandy, which featured the largest Atlantic hurricane on record colliding with the most densely populated and arguably most mobile-enabled region of the United States. The event showed the importance of both back- and front-office mobile insurance capabilities, as well as the ubiquity of public mobile communications in the era of technology consumerization.

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Within the six-day span between Oct. 27 and Nov. 1, more than 20 million Twitter tweets were composed about the storm, notes Michael Costonis, a managing director in Accenture's (New York) Property and Casualty Insurance Services. More than one-third of the Twitter traffic was information-related, including news origination, government reports and eyewitness reports, reflecting supply and demand of mobile information within a swath of territory that comprised the nation's governmental and media capitals, as well as the sheer magnitude of the population affected. Costonis sees a clear lesson: "Insurers would be wise to look at Twitter as an immediate connection point with their policyholders to help with awareness, loss mitigation and post-event recovery."

Examples of insurers that did leverage Twitter and other social media sites include Red Bank, N.J.-based Plymouth Rock Assurance New Jersey (net income of $28.7 million for 2011), which used Radian6 and Sprout software to help monitor, measure and manage Twitter traffic, and Main Street America Group (Jacksonville, Fla.; $34.2 million in Q3 2012 net income), which not only communicated with policyholders but also fed information to distributors, such as when binding authority was lifted in a certain geographical area.

Those carriers weren't alone in their focus on leveraging social media and mobile, according to Stephen Applebaum, an Aite Group analyst and P&C claims expert. Some carriers monitored social media to establish which areas needed the most claims support staff, and others used text messaging to push thousands of messages to large numbers of policyholders, including updates and information about shelters, warming centers and dedicated 800 numbers, reports Applebaum.

"Mobile claims applications got their best workout yet as major carriers reported tens of thousands of claims filed using mobile applications within a few days of the event, allowing policyholders to accelerate the claims remediation process, track their claims, set up temporary rental vehicles, arrange for inspections and sign up for updates," Applebaum says.

With or without the guidance of insurers, claimants used their smartphones to capture and transmit both still photographs and videos of property damage, which aided the documentation process, freed up adjusters for more high-value tasks and sped the claim cycle, according to Applebaum. "Of claimants filing claims directly with agents, more than 75% used self-service claim technology either online or via mobile device," he says.

Customers' increasing use of technology is driving Lincoln, R.I.-based Amica ($4.1 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, 2011) to build upon and enhance its claims mobile strategy, according to Sean Welch, senior assistant VP. "We have dedicated subject-matter experts with claims-handling expertise who identify mobile requirements for claims employees and our customers," Welch explains. "Working hand in hand with our IT team, these experts use their claims experience to design the functionality of our mobile applications. Our adjusters in the field are outfitted with the necessary technology to connect to our systems so that they can process claims from the field."

Amica's mobile app allows customers to report a claim and attach photos, videos and voice recordings, reports Lisa St. Onge, assistant VP, Amica. "Our customers can begin reporting a loss in a disconnected state, gather all the pertinent information and, once they're able to connect, submit it electronically to us," she elaborates. "Our mobile app is also integrated to our Guidewire [Foster City, Calif.] claim system, so the loss report is automatically ingested and we're able to quickly respond -- there's no rekeying of data after our customers submit a first notice of loss."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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