The evolution of apps – use case for insurance?

0 May 19, 2014 at 5:05 am by

Last week, I ran across an article on Techcrunch about the new Foursquare app, Swarm[1]. If you don’t know what Swarm is, don’t worry; the part that caught my eye is this section:

There’s a fundamental shift in the way that we use apps underway, and the symptoms are all over the map. From a deeper, more thoughtful approach to push notifications to the breaking apart of large, unwieldy apps into smaller more focused components.

The shift we’re seeing will be the third strata of user interaction since the iPhone popularized the mobile app in a major way. The initial offerings for the iPhone and then Android devices adhered fairly closely to the ‘information appliance’ model. Using software, you transformed your phone into a mostly mono-purpose device just like it said on the tin. Now it’s a phone. Now it’s a calculator. Now it’s a messaging tool.

The second phase is the ‘home screen’ era, where every app fought hard to be your home base. The prevailing wisdom was that you had to cram everything your service offered into mobile, using a form of design-driven gavage to stuff your app until it was positively groaning with tabs and gutters and drawers.

Now, we’re entering the age of apps as service layers. These are apps you have on your phone but only open when you know they explicitly have something to say to you. They aren’t for ‘idle browsing’, they’re purpose built and informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors, location, history of use and predictive computation.

These ‘invisible apps’ are less about the way they look or how many features they cram in and more about maximizing their usefulness to you without monopolizing your attention.

About a year ago, I wrote an opinion on mobile in insurance, and since we published “Digital Reinvention” in January, I’ve had more discussions discussions on the use of mobile in the age of digital than ever. My view always used to be that the most compelling use for mobile/apps for insurance is currently in the support of advisors, agents, brokers and other intermediaries, i.e. not for end customers at all. After all, in the realm of insurance, what do customers actually want to do with mobile and especially apps, except the obvious choice of first notice of loss? (And do customers really want that, or is that more the insurers that want customers to do it?) Then there is the whole new field of usage-based auto insurance using the mobile phone, which seems to work better than with the built in black box (even thought the latter is less prone to fraud), which is a a case for mobile but not really for apps, as it simply uses the instrumentation functions of a device that are there anyway for an extra purpose. Kind of like a wearable for cars.

‘The third strata’, as Techcrunch calls it, has got me reconsidering. Insurance is something you have, but don’t think about. When you have an loss, calling the insurance company is not really on top of your mind. But what if your app took care of that for you? What if the app knew what action to do next? If the fridge can call the store when the milk is empty, it should be able to call the electrician when it’s broken, and check for coverage along the way, right? Mine isn’t connected today, but with internet of things this isn’t far off. The fridge likely wouldn’t be running iOS, orchestration would be through the third strata app on your phone. Invisible until you need it, like your insurance.

This might sound Big Brotherly, and the usual privacy versus convenience considerations apply. But I think here is where becoming digital and mobile as an insurer can provide real value to customers.

Hat-Tip: My colleague Christine Haeberlin for some thoughts in the discussion.


[1] The full article here.

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