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Upward Mobility

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Daniel J. Wendol wasn’t always a sales wizard waving a magic stylus.

Before he was able to conjure up illustrations, policy quotes and appointments with the tap of his device, he was a mere mortal calling up his secretary to straighten out his jumbled calendar and telephoning his telemarketer to get the latest leads. He had to leave a sales process to get more information for clients, especially after hours.

Daniel Wendol and his Samsung Galaxy Not II

Now, as his colleagues flip their phones and scribble into their Day-Timers, Wendol is on the road tethered by nothing but his Samsung Galaxy Note II to connect him with  everything he needs. He’s not a wired tech geek with gadgets spilling out of his pockets. He has just his Note, which is bigger than a typical phone but too small to be a tablet. It’s in a class of phones with screens exceeding 5 inches, but smaller than 7 inches, that have been dubbed phablets.

Phablets are the latest electronic devices easing the leap into mobile technology. People putting down their regular old cell phones to look for something smarter that they can use for business might be torn between a phone and a tablet. Now, they don’t have to choose.

Wendol knew he wanted the bigger screen, but he didn’t envision all the value he would get out of his Note.

“It wasn’t until I got it that I realized what I can do with it,” said Wendol, who is an independent insurance producer in Florida. “I still have people laughing at me when I put this big phone up to my head to make a call. But when people see what I am doing with it, they say, ‘OK, I get it.’ ”

What they get is Wendol is getting business. But some advisors who responded to an online survey from InsuranceNewsNet said they were resisting mobile technology because they wanted more selling time.

“It keeps the competition busy while I’m selling to clients,” said one. “I find that nothing beats face to face,” said another.

Wendol agreed with that second point, but he said it is all the more reason to leverage mobile technology.

“I can’t do my face to face as effectively without technology,” Wendol said. “For instance, I do Social Security timing, that’s the hot thing. But I don’t have time to do every Social Security report, so I just upload the data and someone else does it for me. Just like there’s no way I have time to cold-call people, so I have a telemarketer do that and send me the information. I can’t keep track of every insurance company’s changing rates. I have to have online software to help me out with that. So all these things are designed so that I can spend more time in front of clients.”

It makes sense that only a few of those who responded to a poll asking about their use of mobile technology would say they actually do not use it. But those non-users make up a large percentage of the insurance producer population in general.

A LIMRA survey taken in March found that 38 percent of retail insurance and financial professionals don’t use a smartphone for business. These were professionals selling “retail” products to individuals, rather than group products.

The number of retail professionals not using tablets for business was even higher: 79 percent.

This is at a time when more than half of all Americans, 56 percent, have a smartphone, and a third of all Americans have a tablet, according to a Pew Research poll taken in April. Prospects and clients clearly have adopted tablets at a far higher rate, with 56 percent of households earning at least $75,000 annually and 49 percent of college graduates owning  a tablet.

So, why the lag for insurance professionals? The answer is as old as the chicken and the egg conundrum. Insurance and financial professionals are looking to companies for direction on what to use, while companies are holding off making a substantial investment until producers adopt and decide on a mobile technology.

“Technology is changing so rapidly that it’s hard for companies to know where to allocate their human and financial resources,” said LIMRA researcher Mary Art. “And then you are dealing with all the different devices. A lot of financial professionals have iPhones and Android phones but those keep changing. So companies start working on the iPhone 4 and then all of a sudden we have an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 5 and then an iPhone 5S.  So I think that’s been a real challenge to keep up with the various devices and operating systems and platforms.”

But the wait might be paying off for companies, because insurers are learning that if they recraft their websites to be mobile-friendly, they are starting to answer the question of which operating system producers should pick, Art said.

 “Responsive web design is becoming very popular among companies because they can see that even though it takes a while to build them, it makes it much easier to adapt to all the new tablets and iPhones and whatever that come onto their site,” Art said.

LIMRA 2013 Mobile Tech Survey

So, Android, iPhone or Windows? Whatever you prefer. Websites and apps are becoming more agnostic about operating systems. That would seem to be a sensible route for insurers because producers are split on what system they use.

In the LIMRA survey of retail professionals, 23 percent had an iPhone and 24 percent had an Android. That is about the average among American cell owners, with 28 percent owning an Android and 25 percent having an iPhone, according to Pew. The surprise in the LIMRA group was that 14 percent own a Blackberry vs. 4 percent of Americans overall, according to Pew.

Although more companies are offering options such as apps for producers, the percentage of companies who offer them is still not enormous. A LIMRA survey last year showed that 30 percent of companies have a mobile initiative for producers with another 30 percent planning to introduce something in the following 12 months.

A study by Celent found very few of the top 100  life insurance companies have apps for their producers. Earlier this year, they found 27 percent of the companies had a mobile app for their producers. Although that is more than double the 12 percent they found two years earlier, it is still only about a quarter of companies that offer mobile apps for their producers.

Celent researcher Karen Monks said the pace of growth was good but it was still a low number of companies offering apps.

“Seventy-three percent haven’t done anything yet,” Monks said. “In today’s world, everybody has some type of a mobile phone or a smart phone, and you’re going to want to access something related to your work.”

Carriers have to be careful because although companies can demand that their captive agents adopt practices such as online applications, independent agents can walk if they don’t like the talk from a company or distributor.

“For the most part with the captives, it was usually the insurance company pushing to them versus producers asking for it,” Monks said, adding that captives and independents are now asking for more.  “It makes sense that there would be more demand because they were given eApps first. Now they want the illustrations. They already had their marketing materials on the iPad and now the eApps, but not illustrations. So, producers said, ‘Well, give us the whole book.’ John Hancock did that. Everything’s on their iPad now in what they call a briefcase.”

Insurance companies have been slow to adopt these kinds of processes in the United States, but some American insurers already have experience in mobile and online efficiency from their overseas operations in Europe and Asia.

“With MetLife Asia in Hong Kong,” Monks said, “when you apply for insurance, it’s a whole application on an iPad. It has the illustrations, flows into the application and when it gets to medical information, the agent takes a picture of their medical records, attaches it to an email and sends it in along with the eApp.”

Monks said that process would face considerable hurdles in the U.S., with security concerns in particular. But companies are getting comfortable with practices such as eSignatures.

“It took a very long time for eSignatures to be looked at as a viable law,” Monks said. “It’s taken life insurers forever to finally say if we get sued we will be protected. What we’re hearing from insurance companies is that the insurance departments in most of the states themselves aren’t automated. So they have paper apps and wet signatures. New technologies are moving much faster than insurance departments can actually handle. And you can’t put out a new application without department approval.”

Amonth Top 100 Insurers, 27 Offer Mobile Apps to Agents and Producers

Going Boldly

Successful producers are not waiting for companies and the government to tell them what they can and cannot do. They are taking what they have and pushing forward.

Wendol said he is using his Note for Google spreadsheets, taking pictures of documents and uploading them along with many other processes. Even though at 37, he is a relatively young producer, it took a while for him to adopt mobile technology. But finally, it became a no-brainer to accept.

“I used a Google calendar for personal use but it was not connected to the CRM at work and so in order for my secretary or telemarketing team to see what I was up to they had to call me,” Wendol said. “So I had to write out my calendar every week. It made no sense. So I said there’s no way I’m going to deal with the constant calls. There has to be a better way.”

The better way came from his field marketing organization (FMO).

“They had a proprietary framework that they offered  for free so I committed to do it,” he said. “It has storage where I upload documents, like my fact-finders, and the CFP and others review them to help me come up with a proposal. It also had a calendar function in there that was web-based so I said, ‘Why not?’ ”

That “why not?” allowed Wendol to make the leap of discovery. Now he is more effective and ready for business. He changed his target demographic from retirees who are 65 and up to those who are just approaching retirement. So, he is

doing more evening meetings with clients who are still working.

But insurance companies are not working during  those hours, so his usual calling up the company for information wouldn’t work in front of clients. And the last thing he wanted to do was leave the sales process half-done.

“I found a program that allows me to quote the major carriers on products, including guaranteed universal life, which is a big part of my tool kit,” Wendol said. “I use indexed annuities a lot, so income riders are often useful. So, I have an income rider tool where I can run a quick scenario. I can talk to them in that meeting and say, ‘Well, if you wanted $35,000 a year in income in three years, here’s how much you will need to put in now.’ ”

His phablet also allows him to keep track of things for himself, such as getting paid on cases. But what he doesn’t do is share his Galaxy Note with clients. The screen is not big enough for that. This is becoming more important as his clients sign up for Medicare, requiring an online application. So, Wendol is looking at what tablet he might get and how to incorporate it into his practice.

Many companies are introducing apps for producers to share with clients on tablets. Benefits are a key area where tablets are particularly useful.

Art of LIMRA said she knew of a producer who used iPads very effectively to review benefits with high-end business clients. Instead of passing around a half-dozen binders to prospects and clients, he hands them iPads.

“So, he can control the presentation,” Art said. “It was one presentation communicated out to the tablets. So, they’re not flipping through their binders while he’s talking. They were on the same page of the presentation as he went through it because he controlled it.”

Side-By-Side

Not only does a producer get to control the process in a tablet presentation but also, at this point, it looks much more impressive to come into a meeting handing out tablets rather than paper.

Size Companrison of Samrtphones and Tablets

Older producers might not be so quick to pick up tablets, but they should keep in mind what kind of image they are projecting to younger prospects, said Monks, the Celent researcher.

“You are probably not selling to as many 70-year-olds,” Monks said. “You might be selling to 30- to 40-year-olds, and if they look at you filling out a paper process, they’ll say, ‘Ooh, it’s going to take me a long time to get this, isn’t it?’ ”

The better scenario is clicking a button and submitting the data. “Then here comes an email telling you it’s submitted and you’re going to hear back from this company. I’ve already set up those appointments for blood work and it’s all done for you. They’re going to look at it like ‘this guy’s on top of my policy’ versus sending a paper into the void.”

Tablets are also part of a changing perspective between producer and client.

“It’s side-by-side instead of across the table,” Monks said.

More tablet programs help build those relationships, such as Ready-2-Retire, which LIMRA helped to develop. It allows clients to click through a questionnaire to help them understand what they want out of retirement. Not only does it engage the client, it helps the buyer and seller work together toward the goal.

So, if these tools are available, why are only 21 percent of insurance and financial professionals using tablets for business?

A big part is knowing when to take the leap. Millennials and those who are younger might have grown up with technology, but boomers and those who are older remember the costly evolution of electronics.

That’s what has Hal Hughes on the fence about what to buy. The Oregon insurance producer has a Nokia Windows phone and he admits he is not the most technologically sophisticated guy, even though he knows he has to get with it as he reinvigorates his business.

But, as a 67-year-old, he remembers and mourns the many dollars spent on soon-to-be obsolescent technology.

“How many 8-tracks do you have now?” Hughes asked.  “I am reluctant to grab onto something that may be wonderful now and may not even be here in 18 months. I’d hate to spend thousands of dollars and find, well, close but no cigar.”

Like Wendol and many other colleagues in the business, the ability to access his calendar on the road was what introduced him to the value of mobile technology professionally. But now he has fully embraced it and is ready for a broader jump.

“I went kicking and screaming into the 20th century to find out that we’re in the 21st,” Hughes joked.

He ran smack into the limitations of his phone when he got PDFs.

“It’s great I get my email on my cell phone,” Hughes said. “But I got a quote for disability coverage and I went to pull it up and saw that it was going to take four and a half days to download this. So I went back to my own computer and pulled it up in two seconds and saw, ‘Oh yeah, it’ll be $1,600 extra a year to cover that.’ If I were with a client during that, it would have been an egg-on-my-face moment.”

He realized he needed a tablet. He wants something simple to use but he has what might be an extreme disadvantage because of iPad’s domination of the segment.

“All my life I’ve had an aversion to Apple products as strong as the affinity some people have for them because what I’ve seen was that so much of the business community is PC-driven,” Hughes said. “It has not been compatible with PC applications, which illustrations have been in, so I was reluctant.”

But the researchers and others are saying that applications are not based on operating systems as much as they once were. Producers are unlikely to be limited in apps if they are choosing between an iPad and Android products. In fact, if anything, iPads would have the lead in apps written for it. 

IPads also offer a couple of sizes. The full size version with its 9.7-inch diagonal screen is still more portable and handy than a larger, heavier and bulkier laptops. And the 7.9-inch mini is an even easier carry but might be too small for presentations and documents.

Compliance departments might also prefer the iPad because they do not have a USB port and are a little more secure as a result. But if you live and die by loading up from a thumb drive, this is a point to consider.

Another consideration is the cycle of development. As we go to press, Apple has unveiled a new lighter-weight iPad, dubbed the iPad Air, and two iPad Mini models, one of which has a high-resolution Retina display. If you wanted a comparative bargain, now is a good time to buy an older model now that the iPad Air and new Mini were introduced and early adopters toss their formerly beloved devices for the latest and greatest.

Even used, they still will not be cheap. Apple products are on the luxury side of the spectrum, something else that bugs Hughes.

“If they jack up the prices because they think they’re so good, well, guess what, my dollars are walking,” Hughes said, adding that he might have to swallow his pride and get an iPad if that’s the right choice.

How will he make the right choice? First, he’ll be looking for some direction from his main carriers. His main company is Principal, and Hughes said the carrier is just getting to eApps. In fact, he has had a heck of a time just doing some rudimentary things on social media because of compliance. It’s only recently that his carriers lifted the gate on LinkedIn, which some say is indispensable to business these days.

The other is seeking advice from younger producers in the business. “It’s native to young people,” he said. “They were born into it. We’re from a foreign country.”

He looks at it as a fair trade. They can teach him technology and he can show them the ropes.

“Some of the most successful people in this business are those who have a mentor,” Hughes said. “If we can help them be a survivor in this industry, maybe they can help us be survivors in the electronic world.”

He knows many of his colleagues closer to his age are still resisting change, figuring they’ve been successful so far. But Hughes said he knows obsolescence is just as true for people as it is for technology.

“Anybody who says I don’t want to change, I’ve learned it all, well, go back to buggy whips,” Hughes advised. “There were people who were totally functional when we needed buggy whips. And we really don’t need many of those anymore.”

Monks of Celent said she understands that older advisors might think they are not missing out on much by sitting out the rush to technology. But time is running out.

“My first question would be, how long do you want to stay in this job? Because if someone was planning on retiring very soon, then I would say just continue on your way,” Monks said.

But, she added, if retirement time is more than two years from now, there is a bandwagon that you need to hop on. Paper applications will not be available and prospects, even older clients, will expect to do things electronically.

Experts and tech users alike say, “Just say yes.” Go find what is comfortable and the tech will catch up. That’s what Hughes is learning.

“I may be a Johnny-come-lately but it’s not like I’m not changing at all,” Hughes said. “I’m at the point, ‘OK, I’m here. Now, what do I do?’ But I realize we’re all in this electronic stew together. And we’ll all figure this out together.” 

Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Steve may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNSteveM. [email protected].


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