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Home insurance tech initiatives seek more up-close engagement for different aims

Companies that offer home insurance are ramping up the use of technology to increase and deepen their customer interactions, with Travelers Cos. Inc. and Allstate Corp. recently announcing in-home experience initiatives for sharply different reasons.

Travelers has entered a partnership with Inc. to offer smart home kits with which the insurer hopes to integrate security devices it hopes will keep losses down and knock some of the cost off customers' home insurance.

While home insurance is not as technologically developed as car insurtech, the information gathering applied to things like vehicle telematics will be easier to apply to homes because they are static, said Greg Donaldson, an analyst at Aite Group. Devices that can monitor security, access, fire or things such as carbon monoxide hazards make an underwriting difference, Donaldson said in an interview.

"As more and more of those types of devices get incorporated into packages for the home, I think you'll start to see carriers incorporate them," Donaldson said.

Travelers sees it as an extension to older underwriting standards that provide discounts for devices that prevent the biggest losses to homes outside of catastrophes: fire, water and theft, said Michael Klein, president of personal insurance.

"Given that these types of devices help customers more proactively manage their risk, we'll gain more experience with them, and we'll get more devices installed in more homes," Klein said in an interview.

As usage increases, Travelers hopes to get a better idea of how much of a premium discount these smart home devices are worth, Klein said.

The smart home kits will be available in select states and accessible from the Amazon storefront, and Travelers will offer free Amazon Echo Dots to eligible customers. The retail giant is building out its service teams to help with smart home kit installations, which Travelers will be able to verify in order to apply the premium discounts, Klein said.

Allstate recently rolled out a mobile application that allows customers to map escape routes through their homes in case of fire using augmented reality, which allows you to "see" through a smartphone camera graphics that are overlaid on live video.

While Allstate Mobile's Escape Route is expected to save lives in an emergency, Allstate does not plan insurance-related use out of the app, said Michael Antognoli, the company's director of mobility.

One of the benefits insurers hope to get out of technology is a means to increase its interactions with customers between purchasing or renewing a policy and filing a claim, Antognoli said. That infrequent contact has made insurance companies "low engagement" businesses, and Allstate hopes to change that by getting customers to use the app, Antognoli said.

"As a consumer brand, we don't want to be in that low engagement category; we want more digital touch points, customer loyalty and customer interactions," Antognoli said.

The company has been able to achieve some of that engagement through their technology channels. If Escape Route does not contribute to saving a life, the company just hopes its customers have fun with it, Antognoli said.