Automation | Read Time: 5 Minutes

Are PDF Insurance Applications Dead?

September 3, 2018

Mike Furlong. By: Mike Furlong

If you believe you’re embracing technology by using PDF insurance forms, think again. Your customers definitely don’t agree. The Portable Document Format (PDF) has been around since the early 1990s, and while it’s a step up from filling out applications with a pen, it doesn’t provide the level of interactivity — and automation — that customers increasingly demand.

From personality tests to online applications, today’s consumers are used to online, digital forms that work with them and provide a strong degree of interactivity. Because the PDF was invented before the rise of the internet, it just wasn’t designed for today’s uber-connected world. The good news is that there is an alternative that will meet your customers’ new standards for interactivity.

PDFs aren’t really digital documents

The PDF was invented to make it easy to move documents from one system to another (i.e., from Windows to Mac) without destroying the document’s format. As Adobe puts it, the creative minds behind PDF were trying to find a way around “the inability to exchange information between machines, between systems, between users in a way that ensured that the file would look the same everywhere it went.”

The PDF was indeed a success for its intended purpose, but as times changed, the internet emerged as a better tool for sharing content between multiple users and devices. As the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service explains, PDFs really aren’t suitable for online use, although the insurance industry still uses them that way out of sheer habit:

“Compared with HTML content, information published in a PDF is harder to find, use and maintain. More importantly, unless created with sufficient care PDFs can often be bad for accessibility and rarely comply with open standards.”

We no longer need a rigid format to retain document structure; we can use web pages to present content across multiple platforms while also giving users tremendous flexibility and interactivity. Web pages also have far better accessibility, particularly on mobile devices. In short, PDFs have been superseded for web content purposes by true digital solutions such as Indio.

Why your customers don’t like PDF insurance applications

PDF Insurance Applications

PDF insurance applications can be cumbersome to fill out.

The qualities that make PDFs superb for document publishing can become drawbacks when this format is used for collecting data.

  • PDFs aren’t easily read on a screen: Because PDF was intended as publishing software, its documents are designed for the printed page rather than for a monitor. That can make PDFs a pain to read on a computer. They also don’t have the responsiveness of, say, a modern web page.
  • PDFs are not easily edited: Scanned PDFs are treated by the computer as an image rather than a document, so they can’t be edited the way that, say, a Word document can. PDFs converted from Word or similar programs are easier to edit but still not terribly flexible. A properly designed PDF allows customers to fill out form fields on the computer, but that’s about it.
  • Customers are often confused by PDFs: Insurance applications are rife with confusing questions, and just sending a PDF to a customer and expecting him or her to figure it out can cause huge frustration. But PDF documents don’t allow you to add explanations of what a particular question means, or whether it applies to that customer.
  • Customers might not even get the PDF: Because PDF spam has become popular in the last few years, emailed PDFs often end up being captured by spam filters. This can cause delays and hassles in an already complex application/renewal environment.
  • Customers have to repeat information across documents: If you have multiple PDF insurance applications with the same questions, the customer has to fill them all out in turn. There’s no way to have the answers from one document automatically transfer into others.

Automation is the new digital

Indio Insurance Application

Compare a PDF to an insurance-application platform that’s designed with automation and interaction in mind.

As you can see in the above image, with a system like Indio, your customers can answer questions with the click of a radio button and can see only the relevant questions. Switching to a system that is truly interactive resolves the previously mentioned PDF-related issues and makes filling out insurance forms a lot more pleasant for your customers.

  • Format: Modern insurance-application systems are designed to be viewed on a computer screen and are much more readable in that environment than PDFs are. For example, you can zoom in on documents to read fine print easily without getting the distortions that happen if you zoom in on a PDF.
  • Edits not required: Systems like Indio already have thousands of insurance forms built in and ready to use. The platform has already formatted the documents perfectly for you, so there’s no need for editing.
  • Highly interactive: Questions are clearly explained, and required questions are flagged as such (and the system won’t allow customers to proceed until they fill out all required fields, reducing the need for them to come back and re-complete the forms).
  • No more email delivery: Systems like Indio are cloud-based, so customers can log in directly from anywhere to access forms. That makes forms far more mobile-friendly than PDFs, too — which is extremely important when you consider that over half of total web traffic worldwide is now mobile-based.
  • Database-driven: Data is shared across forms, so answering a question in one place automatically populates the same question on other forms. That saves time, and the process is a lot less frustrating.

Insurance customers are becoming used to smart, interactive solutions, which they’re familiar with in other aspects of their lives, both for business and personal needs. PDFs and paper insurance applications are dead; it’s time to provide them with a better system and experience.

Mike Furlong.

Mike Furlong

Mike Furlong is the CEO of Indio Technologies. Mike started Indio with the vision of modernizing and digitizing the insurance application process for insurance brokers and their customers. The vision stemmed from his own painful and confusing experiences of applying for commercial insurance in the past. While many insurtech companies set out to displace the broker or reinvent the existing value chain, Indio became committed to empowering the existing channel with software. Today, Indio has grown into the leading customer engagement platform utilized by insurance brokers.