Don’t be surprised if in the not-too-distant future on a television commercial you see Flo, adorned in her white apron, drop her price scanner and pick up a smartphone, on which she takes a picture of a driver’s license and a VIN number on a car and gets a quote for auto insurance.
Yeah, Progressive Corp.’s got an app for that. The app, or application, is called Mobile Photo Quoting. It was launched for the iPhone in February, and the company is set to roll out a version for Droid-based phones in the next few months.
“Ultimately it makes the process of quoting auto insurance easier,” said Matt Lehman, the mobile business leader at the Mayfield Village, Ohio-based insurer.
Mobile quoting has been around for nearly two years, but it’s been an arduous adventure, in which users have had to manually type in loads of information to get a quote.
“Getting all that data in though a small device can be laborious,” Lehman said.
That’s were San Diego, Calif.-based Mitek Systems Inc. comes in. Mitek is the firm that introduced the software that enables users to deposit checks into their bank accounts by photographing them with their smartphones. Some of Mitek’s clients include Chase Corp., Bank of America and PayPal.
Together with Progressive, Mitek created an app that enables users to take a picture of their driver’s license, and their vehicle identification number (VIN), and the app then fills several pieces of information into a form on the way to generating an auto insurance quote.
The VIN scan prefills the year, make and model, and even sub model, of the car. A scan of the driver’s license fills in the first and last name, address, gender and license number of the licensee.
“A couple more screens and they’re provided with the rate, and they can buy that rate on the device if they so choose as well,” Lehman said.
Just how much time the app saves its users depends on them.
“We’ve seen some people who can literally get though it in just a couple of minutes,” he said.
Aside from mobile quoting, Mitek, under its Systems Insurance Solutions division, is offering apps such as:
Mobile Photo Payment enables enrollment in electronic payment through checking accounts or direct deposit for a claim reimbursement transfer by allowing users to take a photo of a blank check; Mobile Photo Claims streamlines the claims process by enabling customers and agents to take photos of a customer’s driver’s license, insurance card and license plate; and Mobile Document Capture & Send allows policyholders and agents to take a photo of a document and send it as a PDF to an email address or fax number.
The latest app is something that Progressive is out in front with now, but other auto insurers, and other property-casualty insurers, may be hot on their trail.
“We do know that all the major carriers have mobile strategies,” said James B. DeBello, president and CEO of Mitek. “We know that because we’re talking with them.”
He wouldn’t offer details on who Mitek is in talks with, nor would he discuss details of what type of insurance-related apps are in development.
“We’re changing the consumer paradigm,” DeBello said. “We’re making it easier for the consumer to engage with the carrier, and we’re making it easier for the carrier to engage with the consumer. So it’s a win-win.”
He added, “As these big insurance companies continue to grow their business, they are working on engaging the next generation of consumer. We’re enabling that to be done more efficiently.”
Such apps are likely to continue to shape how the insurance industry markets itself, said Ellen Carney, a senior analyst for eBusiness and channel strategy at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. The group has been tracking an upswing in insurance-related apps, and sees significant growth in that area.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while,” Carney said. “When you think about the future of mobile, of insurance, this is really the direction we see it going.”
Carney first saw this sort of app developed for a U.K. insurance aggregator, and that app allowed users to take a picture of their license plates and have some information filled in. However, there was still a great deal of typing to do first, and that particular app never took off, she said.
According to DeBello, what apps like Mobile Photo Quoting provide for the insurer is beyond just the convenience they can pass along to their potential customers. Such apps provide a “brand halo,” he said.
“Consumers today want convenience, they want speed and they want service,” he added. “The brand halo provides those capabilities as part of your brand offer. And we do it in a way that conforms to the lifestyle of this new consumer habit.”
To cater to this new lifestyle and consumer habit, Progressive’s Lehman said the insurer spent a great deal of time, money and resources on developing Progressive’s mobile offerings.
“We have made a significant IT investment around mobile,” he said. “We think it’s a very significant channel for us going forward.”
He declined to state how many have downloaded the app, only that “we’re happy with the number of people who have used it and downloaded it on iPhone.” He also declined to state how much Progressive spent on developing the app, or how much the company is laying out going forward for apps and other mobile technologies.
Lehman equates being ahead of the game with Mobile Photo Quoting as something akin to being the first person to have the wheel.
“Being first to market with image capture is in the same vein as being the first to market with a website…it’s a pretty serious commitment on our part,” Lehman said. “We think it’s such a crucial part of our future that every business area, every IT area, is incorporating this as part of their mobile strategy.”
Some of these new developments include app offerings for independent agents themselves.
Progressive recently launched the ability for agents to provide a quote, or do claims-related activities though the iPad in a for-agents-only portable platform. The FAO app started in 2011, and Progressive recently launched a quote-and-buy capability in January. It will be available for Android tablets later in March.
Lehman said Progressive’s goal in creating the Mobile Photo Quoting app was not to replace independent agents.
“Our goal is making it easier for the customer to work with us, and that includes giving independent agents mobile technology to work with the customer,” he said. “We’ve got 35,000 independent agents that work with us, and we think that we’re going to continue to support them with technology.”
Other Progressive apps are mainly entertainment related, including Superstore Shuffle, a game where players process customers though a super store to help them by insurance, and Route-Rageous, a strategy game in which players route their vehicles through different paths. There’s even an app for the Progressive art collection.
And of course, there’s Flo-isims, an app that plays on notable lines from Flo, the star of Progressive’s commercials.