Smartphones and tablets from technology behemoths like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung are transforming communication and information like never before. For life insurance and financial service professionals, the devices’ convenience, ease of use, technology capabilities and mind-boggling array of apps have been pivotal to realizing sales and efficiency targets, cutting overhead and enhancing advisor-client engagements.
Testimonials to these gains abound from software vendors that are developing mobile device-compatible apps. Witness the double-digit increases in prospect-to-client conversion rates and the dramatic decline in sales cycle times and business costs enjoyed by advisors who are using mobile-friendly lead generation software and electronic processing apps for new policies.
But market-watchers say the new mobile capabilities come with caveats. In some cases, for example, smartphone and tablet-ready apps do not match the functionality of their desktop or laptop counterparts. Also a significant issue for technology vendors is ensuring the security of confidential financial information on customers. The challenge has gained prominence this year, due in part to the recent headline-grabbing news of hackers, both foreign and domestic, breaking into supposedly secure government and corporate databases.
In the financial services space, say experts, mobile security concerns are especially high. Among the reasons: potential thefts of data resulting from lost or stolen mobile devices; and the challenge of protecting data carried through Wi-Fi or cellular networks.
“Putting confidential data — credit card numbers, investments and other personal information — onto a smartphone or tablet engenders reputational risk for the technology vendor and advisor, as well as financial risk for the client,” says John Sarich, vice president of strategy at Vue Software. “The industry is still grappling with security and privacy issues.”
An exploding market
Such concerns are likely to become more prominent as the adoption of smartphones and tablets increases. Market research outfit Gartner Inc. projects that tablet makers will ship 197 million units this year, an almost 70 percent increase on 2012 shipments of 116 million units. By 2017, Gartner pegs tablet sales at 468 million units, surpassing that of desktop PCs and “ultra-mobiles” (hybrid tablets/laptops like Microsoft’s Surface).
By year-end 2017, Gartner expects sales of mobile phones to reach 3 billion units, up from 2.4 billion this year. Worldwide shipments by operating system will grow to 1.5 billion (Android), 570.9 million (Windows) and 504.1 million (Apple iOS/MacOS) devices in 2017. That’s up from 860.9 million, 354.4 million and 293.4 million units, respectively, in 2013.
As the devices become more widespread, they’re also increasing in functionality for advisors, embracing all aspects of the sales cycle, from producers’ communications with vendors to servicing clients. Typical of the turnkey packages is Vue Software’s product suite, which offers distribution management, billing, incentive compensation, sales and marketing automation apps.
The last of these boasts customer relationship management (CRM) software that provides access to customer information online; a customer service app featuring a “360-degree view” of customer records; plus a new business and renewal solution that helps insurers gain and sustain a growing customer base.
Underpinning the drive for customer-interfacing mobile solutions, say experts, are changing demographics. Members of Generation Y — those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s — increasingly want to do business online. And when they’re ready to proceed to a transaction, they want fast and easy access to a nearby agent or broker. Hence the advent of geo-location software that can deduce the whereabouts of a caller using (among other methods) the caller’s IP address.
“If you’re a GenYer, you don’t want to see online contacts for five agents who can handle a product purchase, you want the agent,” says Sarich. “With geo-location services, you can automatically connect a customer prospect to the nearest producer.”
Conversely, geo-location services can identify client prospects within an area producers are servicing (a capability that OptiFiNow will integrate into its lead management app in 2014); provide a policy quote based on the agent’s location (provided by iPipeline, this capability is useful for producers whose territory crosses state boundaries); generate location-based e-signatures for policy forms (also from iPipeline); and schedule an appointment with a paramedical professional (also courtesy of iPipeline).
Another signature element of new mobile solutions is the method of content delivery. Many of the new tablet and smartphone apps are accessed via “the cloud” (i.e., a vendor-managed server to which users connect through a web browser). This, say experts, is a must for multi-megabyte programs that, owing to technical, pricing or other reasons, aren’t suitable as a native app residing on a smartphone or tablet.
Hosted “software as a service” (SaaS) can offer an additional cost advantage since it’s often less expensive to install and maintain relative to enterprise-based solutions. Savings can be achieved, for example, by eliminating IT staffers who would otherwise be needed to manage the hardware and software at the customer site. Cloud solutions also enable easy software upgrades and the ability to seamlessly integrate with existing business productivity solutions.
For example, OptiFiNow offers advisors cloud-based apps that handle sales process automation, lead management and marketing-on-demand tasks. The functionality extends also to analytics, reporting, social collaboration, content management and social media publishing.
OptiFiNow CEO John McGee says the tablet’s size lends itself to the capabilities available on a desktop PC or laptop. Features are necessarily more limited in smartphones, he notes, due to the devices’ smaller form factor.
“When you’re on the iPad or laptop or workstation, you can see in one snapshot all of the information you have about a contact in our lead management software,” says McGee. “But to run the software on an iPhone, we’ve had to reduce the amount of information per screen. You may have to flip through several screens to find what you need.”
Making advisors more efficient
Also fueling the rise of smartphone and tablet-based solutions is the ability to be more responsive in all facets of practice management. Because of the devices’ convenience and its ability to stay Internet-connected through a cellular or Wi-Fi network, advisors can manage client interactions more efficiently.
“Sending a thank you card after you’ve just met with a client now requires only a few clicks on a phone app,” says McGee. “Our software will personalize the card for the sales agent, address the envelope, apply postage and drop it in the mail, all while the agent is preparing to get to his or her next prospect. Producers can be much more responsive with a mobile-enabled app.”