Pete Dinham says using mobile technology in claims processing can bring savings to insurers and improve the customer relationship

As insurance claims are on the rise in most sectors and insurance fraud hits an all time high, the need for speedy and accurate assessment has never been more critical. It is an established fact that the total amount of fraud suffered by insurers on general personal lines business alone is over £1bn per annum.

Pinpoint accuracy is crucial in evaluating any insurance claim. For example, judging to what extent a fire has damaged a claimant's house and possessions and getting that assessment right, is vital for the insurer and the claimant. And the speed by which the claim is settled has important implications for the claimant.

Therefore, the rapid dispatch of the information back to the claims handler's office and incorporation into the right process is critical, as this speeds up the claim processing time. The speed and accuracy of the claim process can also be integral in rooting out fraudulent insurance claims.

The changes in the speed and accuracy of claims assessment have undoubtedly been underpinned by technology. The internet has played a formative role in revolutionising how insurance companies have altered and updated processes, from managing customers' policies online to obtaining quotes and making adjustments on existing policies.

Mobile technology is the next big revolution in the industry. Mobile technology has been growing over the past few years with important contributions to remote working and the use of hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs) to check emails and send documents. The insurance industry is beginning to realise the benefits that mobile technology can bring.

So what are the benefits of mobile technology in helping the internal business processes of the insurance industry?

The crux of mobile technology is that it can integrate insurance assessment in the field with business back at the office. Devices like PDAs, and PDA-based applications, when combined with reliable communications such as satellite positioning, ensure that the field worker is completely up to date with his office-based colleagues and conversely that they are instantly updated with the information gathered in the field.

The mobile link to company headquarters and corporate systems means that loss adjusters have access to all the relevant information they need and can make a more accurate assessment of the situation. This is especially relevant in high value claims where adjusters may need to access a large amount of back-office information, initiate additional business processes or exchange real-time information with colleagues.

One of the biggest impacts that mobile technology has on insurance is in the dispatching process, which is usually the primary bugbear for loss adjusters and claims managers. They can often receive a number of claims at once, which can hinder their ability to schedule their workload efficiently. Prior to mobile technology they would be unaware that a claim from a location three miles away had come in and would have to return to their office desk 50 miles away to find that out.

From this viewpoint, mobile technology can assist working schedules for loss adjusters and claims handlers. Integration with GIS (geographical information systems) means that adjusters can plan their route to get from one destination to another.

They can also download background information on to their PDAs in preparation for each site assessment. Traditional claims processing requires an adjuster to obtain claims notices a day before the fieldwork. But with a PDA they can plan their routes, processing three to four claims a day.

Estimation process
A further benefit is that adjusters are able to write appraisals of the situation when they are on site. For example, in vehicle insurance assessments one delay common to almost every claim is the estimation process, which involves adjusters, the mechanics and workshops.

Accelerating this process saves time and money. With hand held devices, adjusters can download claims notices and leave a copy with the mechanic. In this case, wireless devices have a considerable impact on increased productivity and a decrease in the time taken to complete an estimation.

The convergence of previously disparate technology onto mobile devices can also have a huge impact. The availability of relatively high-quality cameras on PDAs now means that insurance evidence can be photographed and immediately sent back to the back-office processes. Interviews with claimants and witnesses can be recorded and uploaded for subsequent analysis.

Once the assessment is over, adjusters are able to send their completed form back to the office, where it is incorporated into the workflow process, allowing tight integration with back end processes. This speeds up the claims process as it cuts out any delay that may have existed when assessors would go back to the office to manually input the information from their assessment.

It also allows adjusters to access more detailed information and make better, more informed judgments in situ when necessary.

Speeding up the claims process has positive customer relationship benefits. The quicker the settlement of the claim, the higher the level of customer satisfaction and the more likely they are to remain loyal. And job satisfaction for employees should increase along with their productivity as their jobs and workloads become easier to handle.

However, companies do still worry about mobile technology. Primarily, concerns tend to be about cost, which is associated with the rapid pace of technology obsolescence in the mobile device market. Some providers are addressing this by offering a complete managed service where the devices, airtime, applications and infrastructure management are provided on a flat monthly fee basis.

Other concerns tend to centre on data security. But with the proliferation of broadband and the right security policies and applications in place insurance companies are able to toughen their defences against any threat to their mobile operation.

Through addressing their fears of mobile technology and ensuring they have the right capture, process and security technology around their mobile systems, insurance companies have much to gain from adopting mobile working practices.

From satisfied customers and more productive employees, to more reliant and compliant internal processes, it is time that insurance companies bite the mobile bullet and found out for themselves exactly what benefits it can bring. IT

' Pete Dinham is the international product director of eFIRST at BancTec