Manulife looks to add Vitality program to group offering

By Kate McCaffery | July 06 2017 07:00AM

Photo: Freepik

Manulife Financial is targeting employers in its latest effort to increase the number of interactions it has with clients.

At a recent Economic Club presentation in Toronto, Manulife Canada president and CEO, Marianne Harrison said Canadians need education about how health and wellness is affected by a person’s financial well-being. Employers, she says, have an important role to play in fostering employee wellness – physically, mentally and financially.

To encourage those employers, Manulife released research which found only 34 per cent and 26 per cent of those surveyed say they are financially well, or feeling financially ok.

“At least 40 per cent were not comfortable about their finances. And of those 40 per cent, half said it impacts their productivity at work on a day-to-day basis,” Harrison told the group gathered.

According to that research, Canadians who are ‘financially well’ are more likely to be successful at managing their health, while those with low levels of financial wellness were almost five times more likely to avoid healthy activities.

Those who say they are doing well financially are more likely to say their health is good or excellent. They eat more fruits and vegetables (79 per cent, compared to 64 per cent who report feeling financially unwell), and exercise more than their financially unwell counterparts. (68 per cent say they exercise regularly compared to 45 per cent of those who say they are financially unwell.)

Struggling financially

Overall, only 51 per cent of the financially unwell said they are in good physical health. Nearly half of the financially unwell said they felt distracted at work due to money-related issues.

“We actually saw that people who were struggling financially take 25 per cent more sick days than those who don’t. It has a direct impact on productivity. We’re trying to educate employers so they can, in turn, educate their employees.

To that end, Harrison says the company is looking for ways to expand its Vitality program – where those enrolled are given a fitness tracker and different ways to earn points (exercise, annual physical) towards possible future premium discounts. Currently a retail product feature, Manulife hopes to add Vitality to its group benefits offering.”

“It’s challenging because employers are struggling with the costs associated with the benefits programs they’re dealing with. How do you add something else that employers need to pay for? We’re trying to find some creative ways of getting into the employer market because, to be honest, that’s the fastest way to get things out there.”

She says advisors who are able to sell the retail product are also in a position to effect change: “With the addition of our Manulife Vitality program, there is more opportunity to have a discussion about healthy lifestyles. In the future, we believe that data analytics improvements will let us help advisors better anticipate their clients’ needs and help them engage the client with useful information at exactly the right time.”

While the presentation focused primarily on employer-employee engagement, Harrison was also able to briefly discuss updates, including (Ontario) government coverage of drugs for those under 25 years of age, and the effect Canada’s new genetic non-discrimination law could have on premiums.

Genetic tests

“If the consumer has information we don’t have, that really changes the playing field,” Harrison told the group. “On the life side we think it might not be too bad. It gets more challenging with things like critical illness, to be honest. That’s a tricky one. We may have to increase premiums. We may find that we don’t even want to sell it in certain spots. It does create a playing field that isn’t level, and I think it needs to be rethought.” Editor's note: for more on this issue, see Industry falls in line with Genetic Non-Discrimation Act, page 24.

As for recent changes in Ontario pharmaceutical coverage, she says clients need to consider what will actually be covered.

“I think it’s great that we’re being able to help people who don’t actually have drug care, but you do need to be careful. When you look at the government’s formulary, I’ll call it, the prescription drugs they offer, it’s about 4,400 drugs that they cover.

“If you look at Manulife and others in the insurance industry, our formulary covers 11,000 drugs. You have to be careful that you don’t think it’s a replacement automatically for what’s available through private plans.”