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“Wearables are probably at a tipping point. Consumers are using it frequently” - Blake Hill, Manulife

Recognizing the unprecedented opportunity life insurers have to connect with their policyholders through wearable technology, Manulife and its U.S. unit, John Hancock, rolled out the Vitality program last year. With two different brands and two different markets to fulfill, the implementations weren’t exactly identical.

The Vitality Group, based in South Africa with offices in Chicago, provides a framework, including white-labeled customer portals, for individually tailored wellness programs. Manulife and John Hancock policyholders who opt in for Vitality can use a range of wearable devices, from FitBits to Apple Watches, to report data on their health habits. Customers are provided initial 10% premium discounts, which increase or decrease based on how well they meet certain health-related targets, like exercise and healthy eating.

All data, right down to number of steps and screening results, is then captured by Vitality. Manulife only receives the total amount of cumulative points earned by participants to determine premium savings. However, there are other benefits as well. Life insurance is generally viewed as “sold, not bought,” meaning that few consumers set out to acquire the product and the case has to be made by the company that it’s the right decision. LIMRA’s last Insurance Barometer study found that more than half of millennials – a target customer for life insurers – and about a third of consumers overall are willing to wear an activity tracker and share the results with a life insurance company in return for financial rewards for healthy behaviors. That translates to a more regular relationship between policyholder and insurance carrier and greater brand affinity.

“The Vitality app is used by some customers multiple times a day,” says Blake Hill, head of Vitality Canada for Manulife. “We can communicate with them through a news feed as well.”

Hill’s team debuted Vitality Canada late last fall. He believes that Vitality offers Manulife the opportunity to reduce claims as people live longer and build relationships with customers outside of providing financial protection.

“We brought this to Canada with what we call the minimum viable product, to get this to Canadians as fast as possible,” he says. “We didn’t want to hold back and wait for perfection.”

Garmin VivoFit 3
Garmin VivoFit 3 Newscom

Manulife brought Vitality to market with two rewards partners: the health club chain Good Life Energy Cardio and wearables manufacturer Garmin. Good Life offers participants discounted rates while Garmin fits new members with comped Vivo Fit 3 devices.

The company’s latest partnership with ExamOne, providing optional annual health screenings, was announced in November. Even more partnerships are coming, Hill notes.

“We look for companies [with] interests in improving the life and health of Canadians,” he said. “While I can’t mention companies or future directions, if you look at Vitality in other markets, there’s a variety of different rewards and incentives that they use from movies to travel, to food and others.”

Refining the strategy

Vitality and similar existing programs fit right in-line with the company’s tech strategy, Hill concludes, which is to leverage newer technologies.

“Our acceptance of technology is growing,” he said. “Vitality allows us to have an engaging process with our customers [while] leveraging wearable technology. Wearables are probably at that tipping point right now. Consumers are using it frequently.”

There are a number of differences between the Vitality programs in Canada and in the U.S, according to Hill. Tweaks were made in determining appropriate dietary limits per day, to meet Canadian standards, and in calculating policyholders’ mortality age.

The more notable changes surround alterations in how clients are enrolled into the program. Manulife uses customers’ email addresses, captured during the underwriting process for a policy, to send instructions on how to finish registering for Vitality once the standard policy is issued.

“John Hancock doesn’t require email addresses, which became a bit of an opportunity for us to improve the program,” said Hill. Manulife customers aren’t “starting from scratch” in having to fill out a secondary application for Vitality.

“In doing so, it allows us to start the communication with the member the moment that we issue the policy,” Hill adds.

Hill declined comment on Manulife’s next steps to improve Vitality Canada, and would not speculate on potential markets Manulife will look to launch a rewards program in the future. The company already has a comparable program in Asia called ManulifeMove, which it rolled out independently in Hong Kong last year. Manulife’s competitor, AIA, has partnered with Vitality across Asia since 2013.