Strategies for Survival in an App-First World

By Patrick Wraight | January 21, 2019

The traveling salesperson has returned. Oh, they no longer carry around a suitcase with samples of what they are selling, and they no longer come a calling. No, we aren’t looking for Professor Harold Hill to get off the train, pitching the think method to build a boy’s band.

The traveling salesperson today is more likely the email you just passed, the text that you glanced at or the ad you sat through on your game. This traveling salesperson doesn’t come knocking at your door, it comes right into your living room, bedroom or any other place you use your mobile phone. This traveling salesperson is selling anything from another app to a new homeowners’ policy. This traveling salesperson is an insurance selling app. And your customers are paying attention.

Search in your app store for insurance and you will find no end of options available to you. All of the major carriers have their own apps, which helps when your customers have a claim. They aren’t the only insurance apps out there. Root, Lemonade, Go and Cover all provide some form of click, quote and pay insurance options. Thousands try each of these options every day, looking for cheap, fast and easy.

Don’t follow them into cheap, fast and easy.

The problem with buying anything that is cheap, fast and easy is that when it stops being cheap, fast or easy, the customer runs to find something else that is cheaper, faster or easier. That means that if you want those customers, you will have to find ways to be cheaper, faster and easier to keep with everyone else’s cheap, fast and easy.

Relax and Be Patient

You will lose some business. You’re going to need to just let some business go. Let them follow the trail of cheaper, faster and easier to where it leads them. They’ll be bouncing around every year or two when they feel like the rates are too high or when they think it’s not as easy as it should be. If there is a claim issue, they’ll move. If they think that they can save a few dollars, they’ll move. They are not concerned about coverage. They are not concerned about value. They are concerned about cheaper, faster and easier.

Be patient. Some of that business will be back soon enough.

After a while, if you avoid the temptation to chase every customer who tries to go away, some will come back. They’ll become disillusioned with the app-based agency. The claim process was harder than they said it would be. They didn’t pay the claim like they said they would. The price was really low the first year but went up drastically the second year.

They discover that behind the apps there are still people who make mistakes. The company behind the app started to run low on venture capital, so they had to make up for underwriting losses by raising rates. It turns out that the customer likes to talk to a person, rather than chatting with a bot sometimes.

Specialize and Replace Certain Business

The app-only agency and carrier are trying to get their feet in the door. They are working to build market share. Even they realize the most basic of insurance concepts — spreading of risk. They understand that viability comes from a large number of risks, spread out so that one big event can’t exhaust all of their policyholders’ surplus.

They are looking for the low hanging fruit among insurance customers. Since that’s the case, leave it to them. You’ve likely been at this long enough and have enough of a network of friends, associates and business contacts that you really should go after some harder to get fruit.

It’s time to specialize. Maybe focus on the high net worth personal lines crowd. These customers are looking for a different level of coverage and service than many others. They have custom homes and they have different coverage needs than the average home in your city. They have the “toys” that come along with a high net worth. They need asset protection in different ways than other customers do.

What about specializing in a small number of specific types of businesses? You likely have ideas floating around within your office. Think about the people that you have on your team. Some may have close ties to a particular community, such as a church or other non-profit. Some may have family members that are involved in a particular type of business. Someone may have an interest in a certain type of policy (cyber, cannabis).

By finding out about what the team is already passionate about, you might be able to find that new direction to build your business and create a brand and reputation for your team that makes it so that you really never miss the low-hanging fruit that gets picked by cheaper, faster and easier.


Keep business by being in their business. This might be where the real work kicks in. It’s not just about learning enough about your specialty to attract the business. It’s not just about learning enough even to understand their coverage needs. Although those are important pieces in the puzzle. It’s about building the long-term relationships with the customers and that doesn’t happen when you bind coverage and quote renewals.

Cheaper, faster and easier are always in front of your customers’ eyes. It’s no longer just the commercials that appear twice during a 30-minute sitcom or the two-page spread in a magazine. It’s the banner ads on every news site they visit. It’s the ads embedded in the free apps they use every day on their phones. It’s the inline ads that look like everything else on their social media.

Rather than taking the same tactic as they do, you have the ability to do more. You don’t have to create advertising campaigns even, at least not in the traditional sense. You can create more value by simply finding great content that your customers already want and making sure that they get it. You already spend time reading the news for yourself. You just have to make sure that you are spending some of that time reading for your customers.

Once you find the great content that will help them, you have to get it to them. Since the content that you’re going to send already lives digitally, it only makes sense that you use a few simple digital strategies to get the content out.

  • Send regular emails. You probably already communicate with your customers by email so use email to give them the content that they’re looking for. You don’t have to create a huge newsletter or online magazine. Start by telling them you found something you thought might be interesting to them.
  • Send text messages. You’ve got customers today that you can’t get on the phone; they never answer email. You can only reach them by text message. So, reach them by text.

Send something similar to the email, except a lot shorter, by text.

The app-only agency will only get better at what they do over time. Waiting for them to fail is not a good strategy. The next generation of app-only insurers and agencies will fix what the first generation doesn’t figure out.

Wraight is the director of Insurance Journal’s Academy of Insurance. Email: Website:

About Patrick Wraight

Patrick Wraight, CIC, CRM, AU, is director of Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance. He can be reached at

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