‘There’s perfect alignment between our customers and us’: Fitbit, smartphones, and John Hancock’s Vitality program

In an industry not known for innovation or customer service, John Hancock’s Vitality program may be a poster child of how insurers can leverage technology.

The program allows customers to lower their premiums by engaging in healthy activities, monitored through a free Fitbit device and a smartphone app.

These types of programs offer a win-win to the insurer and customers.

“Improved technology and greater access to information provides tremendous potential,” said Brooks Tingle, senior vice president, marketing and strategy at John Hancock. “Giving customers better and real‐time insights into how they are managing their own risk helps them to take more control and change their behaviors with the goal of living longer and healthier lives. Having access to more accurate and relevant data also enables us to assess risks more accurately, which in turn could result in lower premiums for many policyholders in the long‐run.”

Auto insurers have been testing similar types of insurance, using car sensors to estimate car usage and driving style, with mixed results. Though nascent, these types of policies have the potential to transform the relationship insurers have with their policyholders: from a yearly interaction to continuous  engagement.

“For over 150 years, the life insurance industry has issued policies to customers and hoped that they lived a long healthy life,” said Tingle. “With this program, we are serving as an active partner with our clients to help achieve that outcome. There’s perfect alignment between our customers’ interests and our objectives which makes for the ultimate shared value proposition.”

Last week, the company launched a new program that aims to motivate healthy living by giving policyholders the opportunity to earn an Apple Watch when they meet physical activity targets.

In spite of the main benefits, adoption to date has been low. App analytics company SimilarWeb shows just a few thousand downloads of the Vitality app recorded for Google Play. It doesn’t have data for Apple’s App Store. Tingle also pegged the number of Vitality policyholders in ‘thousands’. Reviews and feedback from customers are generally positive.

In the auto insurance business, where usage based insurance has been around for over 10 years, adoption is stagnant.

“The slow adoption rates may have something to do with having to integrate the new technology with legacy insurance systems,” Tingle said. “We are seeing these new, data‐driven technologies, such as telematics used by car insurance companies to collect driving data, already having an impact on the P&C market to provide more accurate risk assessment as well as early warning systems that can help mitigate risks. With these developments, as well as the success we are seeing with our John Hancock Vitality program, we expect the pace of adoption will pick up in our industry.”

Insurers have the ability to affect change. When insurers included fire sprinklers as a factor in fire insurance policies, it practically changed building standards. Programs like Vitality, or UBI in auto insurance, have the potential to do the same with customer health and behavior, if it can only get that customer adoption thing.