What features make a great insurance app

Emmet Pierce

great insurance appsConvenient and simple to use, smartphone insurance applications or "apps" make the lives of policyholders easier, whether they're updating their policies or filing claims.

Tully Lehman, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California, notes that it's now possible to use smartphone apps to file claims directly from the scenes of car accidents.

Numerous car insurance companies have created apps for smartphones. Following a car accident, they typically can walk policyholders through the process of:

  • Determining the accident's location.
  • Reporting how the accident occurred.
  • Gathering statements from witnesses.
  • Photographing the crash site.
  • Submitting an insurance claim.

Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, says consumers are increasingly comfortable with computer technology. Smartphone apps are convenient for policyholders who are accustomed to going online.

Based on responses from 16,758 people, research group J.D. Power and Associates reported in April 2013 that about 67 percent of U.S. vehicle owners have smartphones. Creating great smartphone apps is one of the ways insurance companies are can compete for business.

5 ways insurance policyholders can use smartphone apps to make their lives easier.

1. Using apps to track insurance claims.

After you file a claim, an insurance app typically will allow you to monitor how it is being processed. For example, Liberty Mutual has an app that will allow you to:

  • View your claim information online.
  • Contact your agent.
  • Send additional photos and documents.
  • Update your contact information.

Some insurance apps allow you to communicate directly with the repair shop that is working on your car, Lehman says. "They can show you pictures of the repair process, when parts are removed, rebuilt and repainted."

A free mobile app offered by Esurance, an Allstate company, allows you to:

  • Receive daily photo updates from the repair shop.
  • Contact the repair shop directly with questions.
  • Find out when your car will be ready to pick up.

The ability to track your claims is an important app feature, says Brad Ulrich, a computer scientist, engineer and technology consultant based in Nashville, Tenn. The most useful apps allow you to check on your claim's status at any time and communicate directly with your agent, he adds.

2. Pick an insurance app that's easy to use.

A good app should be very easy to use, Ulrich says. After the shock of having a car accident, the last thing you want to do is struggle to figure out how to use a complicated app while filing your claim.

An app shouldn't be complicated, he adds. If there are too many options to choose from, users can become confused. If an on-screen menu is hard to understand, it won't be much help when you need to communicate with your insurer.

3. Feature an electronic insurance card.

In addition to being simple, apps should have practical features. For example, the mobile apps that allow you to use your smartphone to display your proof of insurance are becoming commonplace.

In 2011, no states allowed drivers to use their smartphones to show proof of insurance, according to the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America. On March 4, 2014, South Carolina became the 31st state to allow drivers to show proof of insurance with smartphones. This number is expected to grow as more states allow e-cards.

Lehman says having an electronic proof of insurance is a matter of convenience for consumers. "You don't have to keep that paperwork in your glove box."

4. Manage your insurance policy.

To attract and retain customers, insurers have enabled customers to manage their policies with their smartphones.

For example, Geico offers an app that has a "virtual assistant" named Lily. You can chat with Lily as she assists you in making payments, understanding terms of your coverage, viewing claims information and answering frequently asked questions.

State Farm Insurance's Pocket Agent app allows you to have face-to-face meetings with your insurance agent, says company spokesman Jordi Ortega. The app "makes it very easy to contact your agent," he adds.

5. Create a home insurance inventory.

In addition to helping you with car insurance issues, insurance apps are useful when creating home insurance inventories. The idea is to create an inventory that enables you to quickly tell your insurance company what was lost following mishaps such as fires, floods and burglaries.

Taking the time to create an inventory will enable you to document how much you paid for damaged or missing items. The Farmers Insurance Group's iClaims App helps policyholders create a detailed list of possessions that includes written descriptions, photographs, serial numbers for electronics and purchase dates.

See how much you could save today on your car insurance. Get your free auto insurance quotes today!