What Can Insurance Learn from Amazon, Facebook, and Google? Charles Plath, UX Design Director | Jan 26, 2017

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Much noise is being made in the insurance industry lately about paying more attention to the “customer experience”. A customer’s online interaction with an insurer is a critical component of this experience, yet “a new study out of the University of Potsdam finds that only about 7% of financial and insurance industry firms are actively encouraging design thinking, versus close to 20% of leading industry groups in sectors such as IT, communications and education.” 1

You only need to look to Amazon, Facebook and Google to see how people prefer to interact with software and the web. J.D Power noted that “customer expectations of their insurer’s website are set based on their experiences on other sites, including non-insurance sites.”We expect search fields to work like Google, transactions to work like Amazon, and social networking to feel like Facebook. 

In a keynote at INN’s Dig-In 2016 conference, USAA’s SVP of Strategy and Innovation, Michael Marwarth, said, “it’s important to make a member’s next experience as great as their last one, but the thing is, our members don’t compare us to our actual competitors. They compare us to experiences they’ve had with Amazon, which delivers packages the same day.” 3

The concept reminds me of some recent user interviews we did. A customer remarked that our policy system “feels like” a web application. I liked this characterization a lot because it validated the notion that her expectations surrounding the interface—the whole experience – were tightly coupled to her experiences on the web. She didn't feel like she was having to relearn everything, any more than she would moving from one web app to another.

The sense that enterprise software should be informed by the web will only continue to grow as more and more users turn to the web and mobile for everyday communication and commerce. Consider these recent facts and forecasts:

  • A new user is added to LinkedIn every two seconds, and the app now has over 467 million total users.4
  • 56% of total email opens occurred on a mobile phone or tablet in Q4 2015, compared to 54% in Q3 2015.5
  • Mobile digital-media consumption passed desktop media consumption … back in 2014. And “79% of smartphone owners use apps nearly every day, saying they use them at least 26 days per month, versus 52% for tablet users.”
  • Mobile e-commerce is now 30% of all U.S. e-commerce7, up from only 16% in 2015. A BI Intelligence report predicts that by 2020, it will make up 45 percent of the $632 billion in total e-commerce sales.”8,9

These trends should only push us harder to create a user experience in all our software that mirrors the web paradigm that has become natural for most of the population. As Sam Yen, SAP's recently installed chief of design, said, "effective user experience design is now table stakes in the enterprise—it's not optional. No matter how strong your business case is [for a certain software system], you can't just count on employee adoption.”10

This is exactly why we work hard to continue simplifying our products, to deliver solutions that aren’t just aesthetically cool, but that solve users’ problems in a way that looks familiar to them. Every day we research ways to make our applications stronger. We argue over clicks and cutting split seconds off time, about reorganizing layouts and flows so they make more sense to a user. We are beginning to reach out to our customers to learn more about their needs, their frustrations, and their ideas. We know that no one ever says “we can’t wait to use our insurance policy system!” What they actually say is “I need to get this work done and this product does that for me.” 

Whether we like it or not, the way a customer feels about enterprise software, an agency portal, or an online insurance application, has a great influence over their choice to do business with you. The days of the green screen are long gone, and the web experience now rules.


1 McKendrick, Joe. Design Thinking Comes to Insurance. Insurance Networking News, 7 Dec 2015.
2 Many Auto Insurance Websites Dissapoint Consumers: J.D. Power. Carrier Management, 20 May 2016.
3 Santana, Danni, Inside USAA's Digital Innovation Philosophy. Insurance Networking News, 3 May 2016.
4 Numbers of LinkedIn members from 1st quarter 2009 to 3rd quarter 2016 (in millions). Statista.
5 van Rijn, Jordie. The ultimate mobile email statistics overview. Email Monday,
6 Perez, Sarah. Majority of Digital Media Consumption Now Takes Place in Mobile Apps. TechCrunch, 21 Aug 2014.

7 Brohan, Mark. Mobile commerce is now 30% of all U.S. e-commerce. InternetRetailer, 18 Aug 2015.
8 Martin, Chuck. Mobile Commerce Heading To $284 Billion, 45% of Online Spending. MediaPost, 23 Dec 2015.
9 Toplin, Jamie. How retailers and tech giants are pushing consumers to do more of their spending on smartphones. Business Insider, 18 Feb 2016.
10 Pavlus, John. Design Thinking Shakes UP The Beige World of Enterprise Software. FastCoDesign, 3 March 2016.

Charles Plath is the Director of User Experience Design for Instec. He has 17+ years of experience ranging from front-end visual and interaction design to managing usability and experience design. Clients he has done work for consist of Pfizer, Caterpillar, Crains Communications, Conde Naste, Wiley Publications, Guthy-Renker, Consumer Guide, Sprint and many more.