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Life in the fast lane: life insurers use new tech tools to find customers and to leverage their existing client base.


Donald "Butch" Britton has described his company's online education-based sales technology tool as a "term vending machine."

The tool's actual name is ING for Life, which speeds the process of selling life insurance, provides leads to distributors and allows thousands of middle-market uninsureds, who are not called on by traditional agents, to get educated and buy much-needed life insurance.

"It's on 100% of the time, and it does the job if you get it into the right place," said Britton, the chief executive officer of ING's U.S. Insurance division.

Insurers, distributors and consultants are increasingly looking for ways to use websites and the many other tech tools available--smartphones, tablet computers, laptops, email, social media, texting and tweeting, for example--and consultants say that optimizing those resources requires some planning and coordination between insurers and distributors.

Britton seems sold on the value of ING for Life--so much so that in late January, the company launched a Spanish-language version. But like many of the industry's attempts to use technology, it was not an immediate success. One big challenge has been attracting prospects to the site. Another is that ING's established distributors focus on the affluent market rather than on the broader market that technology can help access.

ING for Life uses attractive streaming videos and lots of interactivity to teach visitors about the kinds of life insurance and why they might need a product. As visitors explore potential solutions to their risks by entering information about themselves, they also provide data an insurer will require in an application. Thus, they help to streamline the sales process if they choose to buy.

Britton said ING's original vision was to embed its sales technology tool not only into its own website, but also into the websites of its tens of thousands of independent distribution partners.

"The problem is, we found that simply putting it onto a website doesn't work," he said. "You have to find a way to drive traffic to it. So, along with our producers, we've been finding new ways to do that." One is placing a banner ad within a website that directs a visitor to it. Another is buying a list of email addresses and then "blasting" a message to everyone on the list, he said.

One distributor apparently has found a proven way.

"We have one ace in our strategic distribution channel that's been keeping his technique quiet because he doesn't want anybody to copy it," said Britton. "He's got a young agent working it who's writing about eight policies a week with an average premium of about $600."

Leveraging to Cross-Sell

In February, USAA Life Insurance Co. implemented a system integrated with USAA's property/ casualty and banking companies to cross-sell life insurance whenever a member is approved for a mortgage or buys homeowners insurance for their primary residence.

Using information about the member, the system generates a simplified-issue life insurance offer and notifies the member online. The online offer requires the member to answer about 15 health questions, but does not require medical testing, said Greg Blake, executive director at USAA Life.

"In a matter of minutes, the member can have up to $500,000 of life insurance," Blake said. "We are targeting members ages 20 through 50. The technology prescreens those eligible for a coverage amount, and we leverage that technology to make the presentment to them. They can go through the process and have the product in place in 10 minutes."

USAA's member service representatives were scheduled to help fill applications on the phone beginning April 16, he said.

The company has also created a sweepstakes drawing to encourage policyholders to use social media to refer friends and family to USAA Life. "We have the best lapse rate in the business, so we're asking members to leverage technology to engage that word-of-mouth capability and get friends and family familiar with USAA life insurance," Blake said.

The sweepstakes will offer a cruise for up to 20 family members. Referring members and respondents who start the life insurance quoting process will be entered into the contest.

One consulting firm that promotes cross-selling and up-selling is GMC Software Technology, based in Switzerland.

Its customer communications management technology enables an insurer to incorporate targeted marketing messages on transactional documents like bills and account statements.

"Transactional documents get more eye- and brain-time than any other document," said Douglas Cox, director of North America Business Enterprise.


"One study showed a bill or a statement gets a minimum of two to three minutes of study on average, and 80% retain the documents, so there is a repeat exposure."

A well-targeted message leads to enhanced participation, but a poorly targeted message produces a negative effect, he said.

The communication channel doesn't matter, so long as it is the channel the client prefers. Cox said print mail is still the dominant channel, but digital technologies offer opportunities for an immediate response.

While email is commonly used, Cox said text messaging, mobile applications and social media are less about delivering transactional data and more about alerts and nontransactional target messaging.

Finding Clients Holistically

Finding new customers is a greater challenge than cross-selling or up-selling. Accenture, a consulting, technology and outsourcing firm, has come up with a strategy to prospect.

It says in a white paper that five new "disruptive technologies" (see box, above) enable insurers "to transform distribution and significantly grow sales."

Kevin J. Kraft, managing director in Accenture's Life Insurance Practice, said 58% of Americans perform online research before they buy a product, and 90% prefer multichannel options for interacting with a business.

Along with Steve Diamond, Kraft is co-author of the white paper Holism: Enabling High Performance Insurance Distribution. Consumer expectations already have been shaped for the better by other industries, he said.


Social media is an online place where people tell their stories. "We call them NARBS, short for narrative bits," said Kraft. Insurers can take advantage of this information by setting up what Kraft described as listening posts.

"People are telling you this information all day," said Kraft. "In the past, insurers relied on agents to ferret out this information. A high-performing carrier will need to determine which life events they want to plug into, how best to listen in, and connect to the ones that matter for their market strategies."


Agents can use social media to set up a presence, much like a storefront in a community, he said. He calls that the "crawl stage" of using social media.

In the "walk" stage, agents ask their customers to recommend them to friends. "This allows an agent to build a community much faster than he did in the past," he said. "And new agents will expect a carrier to have these technologies in place for them to build a referral book."

In the "run" stage, the network is working for the agent.

"You, the agent, are sitting in the middle," Kraft said. "The network runs for me and is managing my book. It's viral. It's developing new sources of business for me."

Gathering with Games

Digital marketing and gaming, another new technology, encourages prospects to use online tools or games to test their ability to make financial-planning decisions. Information they enter can tell an insurer a lot about their goals and problems and can shorten the sales process.

"Companies and agents have already gotten the benefit of knowing the context of what that person has searched for, and they can immediately focus on their needs," Kraft said.

New York Life Insurance Co. has incorporated its own spin on utilizing a game familiar to consumers by partnering with game company Hasbro to offer a modified physical version of Hasbro's Game of Life.

"The old Game of Life marches very well to the same lessons we regularly try to impress upon our clients: the importance of saving, of having protection in place," said Mark Pfaff, executive vice president, U.S. Life and Agency.

"So we thought it was a good fit, and everything we knew about Hasbro was that it's another old, well-established company with good values."

Pfaff said the game is not an integral part of the company's selling process, "but another tool we make available to help agents enhance their relationship with clients."

The game was initially available for a limited time through the New York Life website, and today agents can offer it directly to customers and prospects during sales calls.

New York Life's individual life insurance sales were up 38% in 2010, well above the industry's 4% increase.

Key points

* The Trend: Advances in information technology offer new ways for life insurers to connect with prospects.

* The Significance: Experience in other industries shows that people shop for products online and make recommendations to friends.

* Watch For: Whether life insurers can find ways to reach prospective customers using new technologies.

Five 'Disruptive' Technologies

These technologies enable insurers to transform distribution and grow sales, according to Accenture.

(1) Mobile technologies and platforms

(2) Analytical capabilities

(3) Social media

(4) Collaborative technologies

(5) Digital marketing and gaming

Learn More

ING Life Insurance and Annuity Co.

A.M. Best Company # 06895

Distribution: Independent and career agents, banks, broker-dealers

USAA Life Insurance Co.

A.M. Best Company # 07146

Distribution: Direct, salaried service representatives

New York Life Insurance Co.

A.M. Best Company # 06820

Distribution: Career and independent agents and brokers

For ratings and other financial strength information visit
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Title Annotation:Life: Technology
Author:Panko, Ron
Publication:Best's Review
Date:May 1, 2011
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