Innovation is both the life insurance industry’s challenge and its opportunity, says Marianne Harrison, president and CEO of Manulife Canada.

“I think one of the challenges we have as an industry is that we have not necessarily been as innovative as other industries…”

Now, the life insurance industry is starting to see progress with some of the steps taken by Manulife and others, she says. Harrison adds that Manulife “is really trying to look at things differently than how we did in the past.” One example, is its customer-centric focus, which involves understanding consumers’ needs and anticipating where their needs will be in the future. “That’s not just on product design…a very big piece of that is on service as well.”

Looking ahead, it’s on the service front that a great deal of innovation will come into play, she adds. “The product is one thing, but how consumers interact with us is becoming more and more important to consumers every single day. We see it with the Internet, mobile devices – people want easier access, when and where they want it.”

Harrison says the way Manulife interacts with its customers has changed significantly over the last couple of years. “We’re really trying to lead the industry in terms of evolving approaches and practices.”

Looking at pain points

Looking at pain points from a consumer perspective – with the goal of trying to make the company easier to do business with – is part of this customer-centric approach, she explains, adding that a great example of this is underwriting. “Historically…it would take us 30 to 40 days to write a policy and you’d have customers calling in and asking  if something was wrong with them, 'Is that why it’s taking so long?'…”

A couple of years ago, Manulife started to use Big Data to come up with more innovative practices, especially with respect to simplifying the underwriting process. For example, the insurer’s underwriting advances enabled it to launch its Quick Issue Term product. About two-thirds of these policies are issued within 24 hours, she said.

Another prime example of how Manulife is using innovation to support its customer-centric approach is the recent launch of its Vitality program. “I look at that one as revolutionizing the life insurance industry. We call it `life insurance for the living.'”

The incentives-based program awards policyholders points for achieving a variety of personalized wellness goals. Points earned can be used to lower their life insurance premiums, and for rewards.

Traditionally, a client who buys an insurance policy goes through the underwriting process, is issued a policy and then has no further contact with the insurer. “Vitality is very different,” says Harrison. “It is about encouraging people to live healthy lives.”

It also gives Manulife increased interaction with its clients. “It really is interacting with them to help them live healthier lives and they get the discounts at the same time.”

What will be the result of this increased interaction? Harrison believes it will help the company to achieve its strategic goal of bringing together health and wealth and meeting the holistic needs of Canadians. “It does give us more touch points so we can understand their life events. If their life events are changing, [we can ask] 'How can we help you with other products we might have?'

But it’s not just about selling products, it’s also about encouraging healthy living and building a relationship and trust, she says.

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