Digital devices give us access to more information than ever as we shop.

In speaking to insurance agents at a recent conference, two distinct opinions emerged from the discussions on technology and the workplace.

Many reminisced about the days of “personal relationships” and “human interaction.”

A common description was of the “road warrior,” constantly visiting offices of group benefits client and prospects as well as visiting the homes of individual clients and prospects. The other group constantly interacted with personal electronic devices and spoke keenly of the benefits of mobile technology and social commerce to interact with as many clients and prospects as possible.

At question was the ability of mobile technology to eliminate the need for face-to-face interaction and the ever-present issue of technology’s ability to possibly “cut out the middleman.”

Certainly, data on adoption and use of mobile technology point to a change in the dynamics of health insurance purchase behavior and administration. Two-thirds of the world’s population already has mobile phones. In the U.S., over 45 million smart phone customers use either a mobile application or a browser. Amazingly, analysts estimate that over 30 million mobile applications are downloaded per day across Apple, Android and RIM.

A quick search on Google for “insurance agent mobile applications” yielded 105 million results! The combination of computing power, mobility (including location awareness,) and availability of information (such as consumer experiences, product data, medical data and reviews,) is fundamentally reshaping all businesses, including that of the agent.

Yet, people remain fundamentally “analog” – we first interact with our world physically. Therefore, health insurance customers will still remain receptive to well thought-out and helpful in-person experiences. However, our digital devices give us access to more information than ever as we shop.

As the use of location-based services and smart phones increases around the world, the digital experience will increasingly augment in-person agent-driven advice. Google has coined a new term for this and related phenomena, the so-called “zero moment of truth.” It’s a new decision-making moment that takes place a hundred million times a day on mobile phones, laptops and wired devices. It’s a moment where marketing happens, where information happens, and where consumers make choices that affect the success and failure of nearly every agent interaction.

Would it surprise you to know that a full 70% of Americans now say they look at product reviews before making a purchase? Or that 79% of consumers now say they use a smart phone to help with shopping? According to some studies, insurance buyers use an average of 11.7 sources to learn about products and 94% are influenced by that research! The evolution of mobile technology is presently expanding from information-based to transactional. According to analysts, the number one mobility investment for health insurers in 2012 is distribution – specifically enrollment and payment.

In addition to impacting health insurance acquisition and administration, mobile technology promises to be equally valuable in optimizing an agent’s daily activities. For instance, social media offers low-cost marketing while also bringing the human experience back into the online purchasing process.

Social media is proving to be a cost- and time-effective way for insurance companies to communicate with their agents. More and more companies are providing content for agents to share with clients and prospects via Facebook, Twitter and others.

Another important technology moving to mobile is eSignature. Vendors such as DocuSign are extending their eSignature solutions to support mobile devices. The technology increases the efficiency of various health insurance agent processes. Expanding on eSignature, mobile sales force automation solutions are now mature and vital for agents to consider as use of mobile devices becomes more and more ubiquitous. The solutions range from larger, broad-based vendors such as salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics to smaller, niche players such as Endeavor.

As you review your current approach, to mobile eSignatures, it is important to assess what sort of verifications you usually seek out from your clients. Once you have a clear understanding of that, identify each of your major carriers’ eSignature requirements for mobile verifications.

If yours is a small, independent practice, this will guide you as you seek out an eSignature solution. A bundled solution will help you overcome all of the disjointed integration challenges you might face if the carriers you work with have significantly different requirements.

Mobile adoption of more sophisticated health insurance agent applications include contact management of lifecycle opportunities, leads, contact history, meeting notes, scheduling, real time email, smartphone videoconferencing, and social media integration. New business functions can help agents handle all the sales tools necessary to break into new accounts with product information, application and form management, structure, quote, enrollment, and on-screen signatures. Administration and billing platforms can expedite status updates, claims, and compensation and commissions management.

As a leader, try to understand everyone’s maturity in terms of acceptance of mobility. To encourage adoption, seek out more “mobile-conversant” team members to “mentor” less tech savvy team members on integrating mobile-enabled CRM systems into their day-to-day activities. You may find that some of each group’s working strengths start to rub off on each other. You may also want to develop some system in which to incent adoption.

Mobility is part of a technology-led change for the health insurance agent’s business model.

Although keeping abreast of mobile technology advances may seem “Herculean,” the investment in time and resources promise to provide big advantages to any agent with the accelerating compensation divergence between the average agent and performers in the top quartile.

As mobile devices experience a quantum improvement in computing power while data costs are reduced, the expansion of social media is bringing the human element back into insurance transactions, so that both agent opinions on the impact of these developments can peacefully co-exist.