Amid a proliferation of new apps for Amazon’s voice-powered assistant, Safeco has released an “Insurance Advisor” that will explain insurance’s often confounding terminology.
Nobody wants to talk about insurance. But Safeco Insurance is betting that doing so through Alexa, Amazon’s voice-powered artificial intelligence concierge, will make the conversation smoother.
Seattle-based Safeco has released a new Alexa app dubbed the “Insurance Advisor.” It won’t talk you through a roof replacement or any other crisis, but it can explain insurance’s often jargony terms, or find a local independent agent for those interested in specific kinds of policies.
“We know insurance is a complicated, confusing space,” said Samuel Affolter, who heads Safeco’s research and innovation efforts. “This provides an easy way for consumers to get that type of information about insurance.”
Safeco’s arrival on the Echo, the voice-powered Amazon speaker that uses Alexa, illustrates how Amazon’s decision to make Alexa an open platform for third-party developers is paying off in the rapid proliferation of apps.
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This past week Amazon.com reported that the number of Alexa apps, or “skills,” has tripled to about 3,000 since June. New apps being launched include a Twitter reader, and a GE appliances “skill” to control kitchen appliances.
“Today there are tens of thousands of developers building Alexa skills,” the company said in a press release.
“The fact that they open-sourced their (software development kit) is the reason we were able to do what we’ve done with Alexa,” Affolter said in an interview. “It they hadn’t done that, it’d be the same as Google Now or Siri,” platforms that also interact with the human voice but until recently were tightly controlled. (Apple in June said it would allow third-party developers to tap into Siri’s voice abilities, something Google did in March, according to press reports.)
Safeco’s app, which took about three months to develop, also showcases both the promise and the limitations of the Alexa platform, which animates the Echo speaker and other devices, including a recently launched tablet.
The interface — the human voice — is naturally inviting; Liberty Mutual, Safeco’s parent company, makes much of a Gartner study that predicts that 30 percent of interactions between users and computers will be through the voice by 2018.
But actions initiated by voice commands remain in the realm of the relatively straightforward: hail an Uber, order a pizza, play some music, query information.
In the case of Safeco’s app, the voice interaction replaces the act of pulling a phone out of a pocket and typing an insurance question into a web browser.
The high-stake matters of opening a claim or selling an insurance product seem at this point to be well beyond Alexa’s skills.
“Those independent agents can do a lot for them, probably better than anything we can do within the virtual assistant,” Affolter said.
Liberty Mutual, based in Boston, is also working on its Alexa app, which it promises to release in the fall. It is expected to give what Liberty calls “actionable advice” on typical home and auto concerns, and take the complexity up a notch by providing a car insurance estimate.
Affolter said Safeco is already working on finding new Alexa-borne solutions not only for general insurance inquiries, but for more specific questions from its customers.
“I think there’s a ton of opportunity there,” he said.