Agents Warm Up (Slowly) To Mobile Technology

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Adding mobile technology to laptops and other electronic devices allows insurance agents to improve their efficiency significantly, agents and executives in the industry say.

“If Im in a brokers office and we had a complex case, we used to have to return to the office and get back to him later, or else ask the broker to come up to our office to work out the figures,” says Doug Mishkin, president, Algren Associates Inc., based in New York.

Now, with a laptop and a cell phone modem, the same agent can extract the needed information from his companys database right in the brokers office, he says.

“Mobile technology allows them to provide quotes on the spot rather than meeting with the broker, compiling information, going back to the office, going to different carriers for quotes, then e-mailing the information to the broker or going out to see him again,” says Mishkin.

“Using a laptop, a complex case might take an agent five minutes, including getting quotes from different carriers,” says Mishkin, who uses a Dell laptop.

Mishkin often uses a wireless modem to connect his laptop to the Internet when with a broker.

Also, he notes, “some brokers use a wireless modem to pull up insurance quotes from our Web site.”

However, not every agent shares his enthusiasm about mobile technology, he adds.

“I dont think too many of our agents are using it as much as they should be,” he says, noting that his agency has approximately 200 independent agents.

As for personal digital assistants, Mishkin finds their usefulness limited mostly to scheduling appointments.

“Theres not a lot of insurance-related software for PDAs,” Mishkin says.

He adds that he has been resisting tying his Palm Pilot to a cellular modem.

“Its enough to have people calling me on my cell phone all day,” he says. “I dont know if I want my e-mail attached to my hip.”

But he foresees being forced to do so eventually, as more brokers and agents use mobile devices.

Charles Burnham, CEO of Burnham Insurance Group, Battle Creek, Mich., also reports that many of his agencys producers find they can live without mobile technology, even though they travel extensively.

Still, a growing corps of his companys agents find they can do their jobs more effectively by connecting their company-supplied laptops with a wireless modem.

“Primarily, they are using it to access our office system, so they can get specific customer information or premium quotes,” he says.

Burnham says mobile technology is well worth its cost because it provides remote access to e-mail and instant access to customer information.

“Plus its a great way to communicate as managers to pull our people together for meetings,” he notes. “Its much easier to broadcast e-mails to agents, to let them know developments in the business or any number of management issues we want to cover with them.”

For agents who work for Burnham in remote or home offices, laptops with mobile technology are almost de rigueur, he adds.

“Its a way to make sure everyone can access information efficiently, especially when you have multiple offices. Its just a much more effective way to do business and provide service to customers.”

Burnham provides its producers with Dell laptops but leaves it up to them to them to buy their own PDAs. Burnham himself uses a Palm Pilot.

Ed Higgins, president of the Thousand Islands Agency, Clayton, N.Y., says some of his agents have bought PDAs equipped with digital cameras to take photographs to facilitate property risk underwriting or to help expedite clients accident claims.

Although wireless connections are not yet available in his area, his agents use Dell notebooks equipped with universal serial bus (USB) connections so they can plug in their Dell scanners to copy documents and store them for later transmission to the agency. He expects to soon upgrade his agency to faster IBM notebooks or newer Dell models.

Some of Higgins agents complete clients insurance applications with their notebooks and e-mail them to underwriters to speed up processing time, he adds.

“Every time you can take an application and start processing it on your notebook, you save input and conversion time when you get back to the office,” Higgins says. “Its all about saving time and decreasing errors because you only put in the data once at the point of information gathering. Youre not handing it off to someone else who might make a mistake. But it also makes you more accountable because if something goes wrong, you cant shift the blame.”

Higgins uses his own notebook to download his agencys daily transaction log when hes out of town.

“I can be as far away as Hawaii and retrieve the log, to see everything that happened in the office that day,” he says. “Its a great way to maintain control.”

Susan C. Bianco, owner, Benefit Enrollment Services Inc., Cleveland, says some of her agents use their Dell laptops with mobile technology for worksite sales to sign up clients employees for various voluntary benefits.

“Laptops with mobile technology certainly free up a lot of time,” Bianco says.

Erin L. Tegnerud, a Farmers Insurance agent in Burlingame, Calif., says mobile technology allows her to use her IBM ThinkPad to get business done right in clients homes or offices.

Using a wireless Internet connection, she can log on to her carriers mainframe to obtain instant quotes and help clients see the impact of proposed policy changes.

The biggest benefit of mobile technology is increased sales, Tegnerud says, because with direct access to her carrier, she doesnt have to guess the answers to customers questions.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, July 14, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.