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Insurers Arm Agents With iPad Apps

Apple's sleek tablet has changed technology users' expectations forever, and insurance agents and producers increasingly are using their iPads to close the deal.

In less than one year, Apple's iPad has changed the technology user's experience -- and expectations -- forever. The concept of a portable device with touchscreen isn't new, of course -- "pocket PCs" and PDAs have been around for a number of years. But the iPad's screen size, stylus-free interaction and, of course, Apple-fueled hype put 2 million of the tablets in consumers' hands in just two months after its April 3, 2010, launch.

And in what has become a familiar refrain in the digital age, what began as a curiosity for consumers is driving enterprise technology strategies, including those at many insurance carriers. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple's CFO, Peter Oppenheimer, said in the company's Jan. 18 earnings call that "over 80 percent of the Fortune 100 are already deploying or piloting iPad." The faster, dual camera-equipped iPad 2, released in March, is expected to sell at least as well -- to consumers and businesses -- as the original.

Bringing Sales to Life

There's no shortage of ideas for how insurers can use the iPad. John Hancock (nearly $6 billion in 2010 premium income) is among the carriers that have launched distribution-focused initiatives that take advantage of the lightweight, full-color device. The Boston-based life and annuities insurer released an app, i-Illustrate, that allows producers to adjust illustrations of their life insurance products in real time while they're presenting options to consumers.

Previously, distribution partners had to create the illustration and print it in advance, explains Daragh O'Sullivan, VP of life product development for John Hancock. Unless they had an Internet-connected laptop with them at the point of presentation, there was no way to adjust the illustration; providing agents with that capability, he says, is a win for both the carrier and the consumer.

"Concrete illustrations of how the product actually works have a high value to everyone in the distribution chain, including the end buyer," O'Sullivan insists. "There are a lot of moving parts, and for buyers to truly understand what they're buying -- it's critical."

John Hancock connected the app to its existing web illustration system and built in a login process to authenticate access, relates Peter Neville, director of illustration systems for the carrier. The company had considered a similar idea for Research in Motion's BlackBerry but decided that the small screen size made it undesirable, he adds.

"A few years ago we experimented with doing a quote via a BlackBerry device, but we found that the interface was a little bit limiting -- we couldn't provide full functionality," Neville says. "Once the iPhone and iPad got to the marketplace, it provided the ability to provide that rich interface and allowed us to display what would be printed output on a device so that the agent and broker could scroll through it."

Aflac also created an iPad app to help its agents improve the customer experience and maximize the sales process. The Columbus, Ga.-based supplemental health insurance carrier's Launchpad puts the company's sales presentation -- including video and savings calculators -- on the iPad.

"What's so great about this tablet technology is that it's so intuitive," says Michael Zuna, chief marketing officer of Aflac (approximately $18 billion in 2010 premium income). "We purposely designed the presentations in those apps that are most important to agents with their input and guidance along the way, so by the time we rolled it out, there wasn't a need for training nor was there a big learning curve."

Aflac gave 150 New York-area agents iPads loaded with the app in January, leading to an 18 percent increase in sales by mid-February, the company reports. Staying on the leading edge of emerging technology and supporting functionality, CIO Gerald Shields adds, helps Aflac not only support current agents, but recruit new ones as well.

"Our associates have technology and tools that attract other top agents to come here, because they would see that our products, services and support for our field force far exceeds that of our competitors'," Shields contends. "A segment of our current workforce might not want to use the iPad app, but people coming up see that and think it's cool -- they want to be an agent for us when they might not have thought of that before."

An End to the Paper Chase

Before iPad versions were available, printed versions of John Hancock illustrations could run up to 12 pages, the carrier's Neville notes. Similarly, Aflac had to distribute a 46-page sales presentation to its agents. This speaks to another advantage of the iPad, says Ruth Fisk, worldwide managing director of the insurance solutions group for Cleveland-based vendor Hyland: It is another mechanism for cutting down the paper in the insurance enterprise.

"A tablet PC allows you to expose a portfolio of all the marketing materials required to the producer," Fisk says. "That's added value overall to the industry, because there's much lower cost than maintaining that hard copy."

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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