Consultants' Corner

Insurers Raise Their Voices on Mobile Tech

Pat Speer
Insurance Experts' Forum, May 28, 2013

The good news is that Siri has some, if rather limited, competition. Still to be determined is how voice recognition technology will affect the insurance customer’s experience.

Customer demand can’t be underestimated, even if it means establishing an entirely new platform to accommodate that demand. Such is the case with interactive voice assistant (IVA) technology, and a couple of notable insurers are leading the way.

When Geico, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. company, discovered that two in five of its existing customers already had voice recognition technology resident on their smartphones, it moved quickly to establish a way for those customers to use their own IVA-fueled app to pay their insurance bills or get answers to questions about their policies.

Geico’s mobile app now features Lily, an interactive voice assistant that’s a byproduct of Nuance Communications’ Nina virtual assistant platform, which combines Nuance’s speech recognition, text-to-speech, voice biometrics, and natural language-understanding technology. Lily is designed to make the insurance transaction experience fun: When asked, she provides her opinion on the Geico Gecko, among other things, and according to a company spokesperson, Lily was created with a calming demeanor to soothe even the most stressed customers. Lily is available on the iOS version of the Geico app, and the insurer says Android capability is expected later this year.

USAA, which offers insurance, banking, and retirement products to more than 9 million U.S. military members and their families, has also set the pace for its competitors; its beefy reputation for technology innovation has earned the company a series of awards from trade press and technology solution providers alike. Like Geico, USAA, responding to the discovery that its banking-related iPhone app was downloaded more than 2.25 million times before the end of 2012, has added IVA technology to this app, with a full rollout to all members last month.

The Siri-like feature, called Virtual Mobile Assistant, is designed to enhance the ways in which members can communicate their desired goals through the mobile banking app. USAA’s voice technology also comes from a deal with Nuance Communication Inc. This first-generation voice assistance will support more than 200 navigational commands, enabling members to do such tasks as speak or type queries related to fund transfers, pay their bills, or obtain answers to questions such as “What’s my balance?” It’s clear that USAA’s latest iPhone app enhancement is a response to its assumption that customers will continue to seek its mobile channel, which it has predicted publicly will outpace website penetration in the next three to five years.

Mobile innovation is big — very big. And for those of you who doubt that one of the most hotly contested spaces within the mobile world is IVA technology, think again. Granted, the long-term effects of this type of investment remain to be seen. And although there is always risk in being the early adopter, it’s clear that leading insurers aren’t just guessing at this — they have solid plans in place based on existing customer preference, and they are already rethinking further feature/functionality of their mobile channels.

This blog has been reprinted with permission from Aite Group.

Pat Speer is an analyst in Aite Group’s insurance practice.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Pat Speer using the “Add Your Comments” box below. She also can be reached at pspeer@aitgroup.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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