Insurance advisors work hard while they’re on the road visiting their clients. And these advisors expect their mobile technology to work just as hard by delivering robust functionality and a positive client experience.

The growing importance of mobile technology for insurance advisors is evident in the overall average importance rating of 8.5 they gave to the “support for mobile technology and the mobile advisor” category, a significant increase from 6.9 in 2015.

“[Mobile technology] is important because I have clients everywhere,” says an advisor on the Prairies with Kitchener, Ont.-based Financial Horizons Inc.

However, advisors gave their firms an overall average performance rating of only 7.4 in the category. That’s about level with the 7.3 performance rating given last year, but the difference – or “satisfaction gap” – of 1.1 points between the overall average performance and importance ratings this year reveals that some firms are not delivering what advisors need.

Winnipeg-based Great-West Life Assurance Co. (GWL) is one firm in which advisors believe the support for mobile technology needs improvement. The company received the lowest performance rating (6.0) and tied for the second-highest satisfaction gap (1.1) in the survey. Specifically, GWL advisors said the firm’s offerings in this area for individual client services are not of the same quality or functionality as those for groups.

“They’re good on the group [insurance] side, but not on the other product lines,” says a GWL advisor in British Columbia.

Adds a colleague in Alberta: “They just don’t have enough. They do on the group side, but not on the individual side.”

Many advisors with Waterloo, Ont.-based Sun Life Financial (Canada) Inc. also were displeased with their firm’s mobile offerings. Consequently, the firm’s performance rating dropped substantially to 7.0 from 7.8 year-over-year.

Sun Life advisors’ most common criticism was directed at the fact that they must pay for their mobile technology on their own.

“I don’t have access to email or [the client management system (CMS)] on my cellphone. I have this on my laptop, but Sun Life wants to charge me $50 to have access to this on my smartphone,” says a Sun Life advisor in B.C.

The firm’s main reason for charging advisors for this access is to protect clients’ interests, says Vicken Kazazian, senior vice president and chief operating officer, individual insurance and wealth, with Sun Life.

“[The fee is] to make sure our client information is secure,” he explains. “In this world of privacy, it’s important that the security infrastructure is built and that costs money. We probably have one of the lowest fees [and] our advisors get [other] stuff for free.”

One firm that has managed to keep its performance rating stable in the mobility category is London, Ont.-based Freedom 55 Financial, which received a rating of 7.1 for the third year in a row. Many Freedom 55 advisors said the firm has developed a good mobile technology program and provides access to email and other web-based applications.

“Everything has gone web-based. I can pull up [what I need] anywhere. [The information] is very easy to access,” says a Freedom 55 advisor in Ontario.

But the fact that Freedom 55 advisors rated the importance of mobile technology at 9.1 – which results in the largest satisfaction gap (2.0 points) in the survey – indicates that the firm’s advisors still are looking for improvement.

One area that could be improved is more reliable access to those mobile tools when advisors are on the road, says a Freedom 55 advisor in Ontario: “A lot of [advisors] use [the virtual private network]. It doesn’t work as well as we would like.”

The firm is focusing on improving its technological network’s capacity, which will increase its speed, says Mike Cunneen, senior vice president of Freedom 55’s wealth and estate planning group.

“[These improvements] become the foundation for us to build up more web-based tools,” he says, “and web-based tools are the key for us in supporting mobility.”

Those tools include new financial planning software, which has been rolled out, as well as a new CMS and social media management program, both of which are in a pilot phase at the firm. These tools are designed to be fully responsive on all mobile devices.

One firm that has already found the right formula for mobile technology is Mississauga, Ont.-based RBC Life Insurance Co. The firm received the top rating (8.7) in the category for the third consecutive year.

Specifically, RBC Life advisors heaped praise on the firm’s information-technology (IT) team’s ability to help advisors quickly when their mobile technology doesn’t function as it should.

“Whenever I need any kind of support, I just pick up the phone and someone instantly helps me,” says an RBC Life advisor in Alberta. “I work remotely 80% of the time.”

RBC Life advisors have constant access to a “knowledgeable” IT team, says Mike Hamilton, senior vice president, sales and distribution, with RBC Life.

“There’s an empathetic nature to our IT group. They understand if an agent’s technology is down, [that agent is] unable to take care of their clients and, in [turn], make money,” he says. “[The IT team] gets on that, and [fixing problems] tends to be top priority at all times.”

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