Mobile claims: Are we there yet?

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ITIJ 186, July 2016
As greater numbers of customers seek to submit insurance claims online and via mobile devices, David Kernek looks into where insurers are at when it comes to meeting these evolving needs

If travellers can buy insurance cover using a mobile phone or tablet, why can’t they use the same channels when they put their policy to the ultimate test – which is when they need to submit a claim? In this age of the so-called Internet of Things, many – especially millennials – might expect to be able to make a claim using the kit employed when the provider made the sale. But applause for the widespread arrival of eClaims via mobile devices – be they phones, tablets or even wearables – might be more than somewhat premature, and that could be because selling cover is seen as a relatively swift and uncomplicated process, while managing claims can be anything but. 
 
A step in the right direction
Singapore-based Hugh Terry, a director at Insight Consulting and editor of the online Digital Insurer, points to companies such as Allianz Global Assistance, Aviva and AIG Australia that are moving ahead in the digital era. However, despite sophisticated travel apps from a number of such companies, those allowing insureds to submit claims online are the exception to the rule.
Some insurers are, however, making progress in the area of electronic claims payments. Allianz Global Assistance Canada is testing a new way for travellers to pay for medical claims while on the move with its PassportCard programme, which enables the payment of eligible outpatient medical expenses in real-time, eliminating out-of-pocket expenses for the traveller and removing ‘the typical claims process and paperwork’ that travellers are accustomed to. Customers who buy travel cover included in this limited programme get a payment card for no additional fee to take with them on their trip. If they need emergency medical help while travelling, they call Allianz Global Assistance, which will transfer funds to the card and provide a referral to the nearest medical facility, where they present the card for payment. “This solution is unlike any other offering available in North America today,” says Gino Riola, vice-president of sales and marketing at Allianz Global Assistance Canada. “Using PassportCard’s technology, we can assist travellers more effectively and efficiently, making their life easier in the process. With this solution, we’re not only setting ourselves apart in our industry as innovators and leaders in customer experience, but also increasing the value travellers place on and receive from travel insurance.”

"Mobile submissions should be adopted for the right reasons and should balance operational efficiencies with optimum customer service"

Richard Gibbons, head of claims at CEGA in the UK, explains how his company has also been a market leader in this field: “Receiving instant claims payments via mobile phone numbers is becoming increasingly popular and helps compliment other digital services. After becoming the first company to offer Barclays Pingit payments to travel insurance claimants in 2014, we’ve seen uptake rise significantly year-on-year. Once registered for the service, policyholders can receive immediate claims payments into any bank account via their mobile phone numbers, within as little as an hour of a claim being approved.” 
Another aspect of mobile devices that is moving insurers ever closer towards eClaims is their ability to photograph evidence required for the submission of a claim. This is something that is being embraced by older insured, not just millennials who have been brought up in a world of mobile technology and so expect more of mobile interactions, as Gibbons explains: “We find that travel insurance claimants of all ages like being able to submit supplementary evidence like photographs via their smartphones. The beauty of this is that they can photograph documents or other evidence and email it instantly.”
ERV in the UK has also noticed a similar trend. Although the company’s UK business isn’t looking to establish eClaims capabilities at the moment, Duncan Rice, the company’s ecommerce and marketing co-ordinator explained the company’s movements into the digital sphere: “ERV Spain has recently launched an eClaims portal for its larger clients, brokers and tour operators to use and we are monitoring it. However, the use of photographic evidence for claims and the quick (almost immediate) payment of claims are two of the things that we do have on our ‘eClaims ideas’ list.”
 
The challenges of online claims submission
CEGA – which handles claims submissions primarily by telephone and says it can assess them on the first call – looks forward to the growing use of mobile devices in the claims process, but Gibbons strikes a cautious – some would say realistic – note: “By offering policyholders the wider convenience of an accessible 24/7 claims service, mobile submissions are likely to become commonplace in the travel insurance sector. They could even extend, in the future, beyond tablets and smartphones to other mobile devices, such as wearables. But travel insurance customers will always want choice. Some will prefer to pick up the ’phone and speak to a human being, especially if they are facing an emotional situation abroad, of which there are many in the travel claims sector. Mobile submissions should be adopted for the right reasons and should balance operational efficiencies with optimum customer service, enabling policyholders to have a seamless claims journey from submission right through to final payment.”

 "some insurers might not be listening and responding to the needs of their customers"

Plus, he adds, “insurers should also be aware of the risks associated with mobile (and any online) claims submissions, not least the lack of opportunity to validate a claim with bespoke questioning. Sophisticated fraud indicators can help to mitigate, but not always alleviate, this risk.”
Where online claims submission capabilities exist, then, such questioning is key, as 
Paul Patterson, managing director of UK-based eClaims Solutions Ltd, explained to ITIJ: “With eClaims, there are several questions the answers to which could set off an alarm for claim handlers. If the claim was for a stolen wallet, it would ask how much money was stolen. How much money was taken on holiday? When did the theft happen during the holiday? You often see claims by people who’ve taken £1,000 with them, and it seems they have £900 left on the last day of the holiday! The system indicates subtly that it’s fraud. Following on from that, the system asks the claimant to say what bank cards were stolen. Do they have letters from banks confirming they were stopped at the time? Those subtle, fraud-indicator-type questions are built into the system, and if a client wanted to have more questions specifically around fraud, then they can.”
The questions are generated by the system, but depending on the answers, the claim can be picked up manually by a real person, said Patterson. “eClaims is based on its decision tree. It’s just like buying a policy online. Each answer determines the next question. If it asks if the theft was reported to the police, and the answer is yes, the next questions are ‘OK, what’s the crime reference number? Do you have a report? If the answer is no, you can set the system to say that’s going to be a decline. It’s very similar to the Healix Travel Black Box system for medical screening.”
Optimising eClaims solutions for mobile devices is the natural next step for many insurers, but is a challenge in itself. With many insurers having such a wide variety of claims forms, and with such a broad variety of information collected under different types of travel insurance claim, creating and designing user-friendly mobile claims systems and applications is probably one of the key issues facing insurers at the present time.
 
The moment of truth
The one-size-doesn’t-fit-all-claims factor confronted eClaims Solutions Ltd when it was created in 2014 to build and sell a discrete online claims submission process that’s ‘fully utilised’ with mobile devices and that replaces claim forms. “Generally,” says Patterson, who leads a team of claims and technology specialists, “the travel sector of the industry has been slow to move towards eClaims. There are hundreds of options for buying travel policies online, but travel claims have being handled in exactly the same way for as long as I’ve been in the industry. You ask for a claim form, fill it in, and send it back with the documents the insurer asks for. I appreciate eClaims aren’t for everyone. If you have an 80-year-old client who’s spent a long time on the ’phone buying a policy, and you tell him or her to submit a claim online, then that’s clearly not going to work. But if you’ve bought the cover online, and you’ve given your medical conditions online, many would at least have the expectation that they were able to claim online. I think it improves the customer journey. Considering that more than half of all personal lines customers in the UK transacted online to purchase a policy, they should be offered the option to submit their claim online too.”

"For any insurer hoping to navigate through this difficult time, understanding how customer behaviours and attitudes have changed is critical"

For more complicated claims – such as a curtailment, legal expenses or personal accident – said Patterson, you can still data capture all the information, even if you didn’t want the system to give you a result, but it cuts out some of the administration tasks. His company’s product is a separate, stand-alone piece of software: “It’s not a claims system as such. It’s an online facility that plugs into a client’s existing system. It connects to our web service, talks to the client’s system and populates a questionnaire that the customer can see. When we started off, we created the system with a set of questions, rules and results by sections, but we realised very quickly that every client has their own set of requirements; claims under a gold card service would be treated very differently from one under a really cheap policy bought via a low-cost airline. So we went back to the drawing board to make it as flexible as possible.”
And it’s proving popular. “eClaims is not a concept, it is actually working in a live environment with several providers. Claims Settlement Agencies Ltd – which acts on behalf of underwriters and insurers – were the first adopters, and have quickly modified their processes to accommodate it. They have fully embraced the new way of handling claims and the feedback from customers has been very positive.”
Despite this, eClaims Solutions, says Patterson, is in the early stages of handling claims online. “Rather than waiting for perfection at launch, we decided to get our product out into the market place and monitor feedback, adapt and refine. This has resulted in a cultural change and an interesting learning period. Ours is an innovative company that isn’t standing still, we are moving forward, dragging the travel claims market into the 21st century.”
Faced with the unprecedented challenges of troubled financial markets and economic uncertainty, he points to a risk that some insurers might not be listening and responding to the needs of their customers. “For any insurer hoping to navigate through this difficult time, understanding how customer behaviours and attitudes have changed is critical. We have raised the bar. Insurers now need to handle claims in a way that not only satisfies customers’ needs, but also differentiates them from other insurers or claims handlers.”
One company that’s doing just that is Allianz Worldwide Care (AWC). Its MyHealth app offers a ‘find a hospital’ feature and a medical term translator, but it also allows users to make claims on the go. Clients simply use the app to provide a few key details and send photographs of their invoices. Any claims information entered is stored until submitted. AWC has received over 200,000 claims through the app – more than it gets through email and the post – and says that for every 160 mobile claims submitted through the app, one day of manpower is saved. Commenting on the service, AWC’s head of market management Susan Landers said: “Our pioneering MyHealth app has exceeded all expectations and the feedback from our clients has been hugely positive. By creating a purely digital solution for the submission of medical claims, the need to complete traditional paper claim forms is completely removed. MyHealth app’s success has demonstrated a strong demand for a simplified, online claims process for day-to-day medical expenses such as visits to the GP or dentist. There have been over 120,000 downloads of our app to date. This is a clear indicator of the popularity of eClaims services and we are already working on enhancements to the MyHealth app to bring further convenience to the client experience.”
The importance for insurers of getting their claims processes right cannot be underestimated, as Aron Thompson at PA Consulting explains. “I’ve seen insurers park out their claims process – and the claims experience can often be the moment of truth – to third parties. If those third parties offer a shockingly bad customer experience say, for example, lost baggage, and the online experience has nothing in common with the way in which the product was bought, the customer is going to be feel pretty miffed. The importance of investing in the digital supply chain and the end-to-end experience the customer gets cannot be under-estimated. You’ve spent all that money acquiring the customer – trying to get them to buy your product, looking after them, hoping they don’t claim – and then they claim and you break it at the back-end. It unravels all the good work you’ve done. And the longer the claim takes to be settled, the higher the cost of managing it – it goes up rapidly. My point is that proper systems installation for a good customer experience is vital.”
Luigi van Geest, executive vice-president, international of Roundcube, a software company that specialisises in creative solutions for the insurance industry, agrees that the major companies in the sector have much work to do in the mobile claims field. “This is all about the customer experience,” he told ITIJ. “The moment of truth is the claim, and the insurance industry generally, not only the travel sector, is behind as compared with other industries. Insurers are behind the banks, especially when it comes to the customer experience. We do everything online, we can track and trace everything we buy, but when we call an insurance company, for some reason we are in limbo. They can’t tell us what the status of the claim is, or much else.”

"Insurers now need to handle claims in a way that not only satisfies customers’ needs, but also differentiates them from other insurers or claims handlers"

Technology is shaping the future of insurance, though, and progress is being made in some insurance sectors that could eventually translate to the travel sector. As van Geest said: “When it comes to the future and the Internet of Things, your car will know when it needs a service, it will also know that it’s been crashed … so why on earth should I even fill in a form? The car will notify the insurer automatically. The technology will tell the insurer the speed of the car when the crash happened, the time it happened and where, and what the road and weather conditions were. If the driver said it was snowing, one of the things the insurer can do to reduce fraud is check and combine the data and find out if it was a sunny day.” 
With the advent of wearable health tracking devices and the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, it’s easy to see how, in an ideal world, the digitalisation and technology could provide the fix needed to allow customers to submit claims – or have their claim automatically submitted – online via a mobile device. After all, customer service and meeting customers’ needs is what it’s all about, and if customers are demanding to submit claims via such devices, insurers will have little choice but to keep up.