Life insurance, disrupted

Posted by Mike Walsh

3/30/17 5:56 PM

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The old adage goes that life insurance is sold, not bought. The digital revolution has not only flipped that idea on its head, it now also challenges the way insurance products are designed and priced. The real action is yet to come. Insurance companies have always been data-driven, but in a new era of consumer genomics, that is no longer an easy path to tread.

 

Life insurance is a curious beast. The products are complex, the application and purchase process is time consuming and full of paperwork, and even once a policy is bought, it can live on a mainframe for 30 years with very little interaction between the insurer and the customer. Unfortunately for insurers, today's customers are conditioned to expect a very different level of service, even from them.

Think about it. If every aspect of your life, from shopping to entertainment, banking to travel, is seamlessly orchestrated and personalized for you based on your data and preferences, why would you bother with a complex product that relies on antiquated, paper-based forms and human agents twice your age?

No wonder that many consumers no longer really understand how life insurance works, or even how it should be prioritized among their other investments.

In fairness, transformation has not been easy for insurers. Government regulation, legacy technology platforms and decentralized, agent-based distribution channels have made controlling, let alone, changing the customer experience, a tricky proposition.

Haven Life is an interesting exception. They took a complex purchase process, which can take between 4-6 weeks, and made that happen entirely online in 20 minutes, without a medical exam. To achieve this, they worked with a traditional insurer, MassMutual, and designed the process from the ground up specifically for digital purchase and a direct distribution channel.

Haven Life is an impressive success story, but in some ways, the real story here is how traditional giants like MassMutual, saddled with legacy systems and regulatory oversight, can still find ways to innovate and experiment in their ecosystem.

A big part of creating a culture of experimentation, is openness to failure and adaption. One of MassMutual's most publicized projects was 'Society Of Grownups', an experience center designed in collaboration with IDEO, with the aim of providing a cool environment for Millennials to learn financial literacy. The storefront was eventually closed down, and plans to open ten more of them shelved, after leadership decided that digital channels were a more effective way to engage with that group.

Redesigning customer engagement channels is one challenge, but when it comes to data, probably the greatest disruption of all, won’t be just interfaces, but how the life insurance industry handles the rise of consumer genomics. Full genome sequencing has finally become affordable, falling from $10m ten years ago, to now $1000, and in the future, potentially as low as $100.

As a result, consumers face a troubling paradox. Do you provide your data to ensure more personal, relevant products, or do you now need to worry about providing too much information when, in the case of genetic predisposition to serious illness, it might open you up to the risk of discrimination and potentially being uninsurable?

Like many industries, 21st century life insurance companies need to reinvent themselves as algorithmic, data-driven platforms. Unlike most, however, they will need to do so, steadied by a strong moral compass, otherwise they may face entirely new kinds of unwelcome, regulatory disruption.

Topics: Innovation

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