Sarah Bennett's agile marketing lifts Legal & General America
After making her mark in the credit card industry, Sarah Bennett began looking for another way to apply her passion for leaving something better than she found it. “I’m a naturally curious person who wants to make a difference in people’s lives,” explains the VP of marketing for Legal & General America (LGA). “Once I felt I’d grown all I could in the card industry, I decided to take what I’d learned about being customer-driven and apply it to insurance.”
In just two years Bennett has helped the Frederick, Maryland-headquartered traditional life insurer accelerate its journey to becoming a customer-centric, forward-thinking, digitally focused insurtech and view itself primarily through this new lens. Among other accomplishments, this has included retooling the traditional carrier’s direct-to-consumer (D2C) channel, accelerating the D2C business to achieve a 55 percent year-over-year growth rate.
Bennett first experienced the enormous societal potential of customer-centricity at American Express. In 2012 she led the small merchant effort for Small Business Saturday, in its first fully rolled-out year, to counter the ravages of the Great Recession and balance the growth of Cyber Monday.
By its 10th anniversary, the “Shop Small” initiative drove an estimated $19.6 billion in consumer spending at small businesses on that Saturday alone, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB).
“It was formative for demonstrating how your brand, in a fully closed loop, could drive action in the marketplace,” Bennett says. “Businesses felt accepting American Express cards delivered real value, consumers felt good about their purchases, and the company increased revenues. Most importantly, it helped society as small businesses are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy.”
Marketing: A lever for growth
Like many chief marketers at insurers today, Bennett is also helping LGA apply technology to improving the customer experience (CX). This includes transitioning marketing from its traditional role as a sales support function to a growth lever for the company.
In service of these goals, Bennett assisted with launching a new digital platform that allows for an online, customer-centric application. It cut the term life application process from about an hour to twenty minutes, or less, while also enabling exam-free approval for more than 25 percent of applicants in its initial rollout. “We aim to significantly increase this percentage as we build out the online experience,” Bennett says.
In addition to the new platform, other CX efforts have included reorganizing various internal functions to operate under the marketing umbrella, modernizing LGA’s website, streamlining infrastructure and revising advertising channels. The outcome has enabled LGA to start using analytics, A/B testing and other digital marketing best practices to rapidly introduce, assess and adjust the purchasing process, which enhances experiences and revenue growth.
For example, when branding a new purchasing path that permits eligible customers to use existing health information, Bennett tapped data science rather than the legacy practice of asking a few distribution partners for their opinion. “This led to branding the experience Lab Lift, for its capability to pull paramedical and fluid data directly from medical records,” she says.
Context drives leadership success
Beyond applying digital technologies, Bennett is also helping transform LGA’s culture by drawing on the power of inquisitiveness, which she learned growing up. “My mother was a sociologist, so it was common to hear her asking ‘why’ people behaved in a certain way,” Bennett recalls. “My father was an architect, so he was engaged in figuring out how best to design and build things by asking what his clients needed.”
“I think it’s why I love marketing,” she continues. “It’s the marriage of behavior, analytics and design.”
However, effectively wielding her innate talents requires constantly nurturing them. “I’m always reading outside my industry and function to inform my actions,” Bennett says. “For instance, I’ve recently chosen works that help provide context around DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], such as Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.”
Taking information gained externally and applying it is central to Bennett’s leadership style, which she describes as direct and transparent. “I believe you empower people by giving them context and meaning,” she explains. “Then you hold them accountable. It’s my job to provide exceptional support, which includes supplying the needed resources and removing barriers, so people can chart their own path to success.”
In addition, Bennett stays laser-focused on achieving an initiative’s desired goals. “I’m passionately outcome-driven,” she says. “There can be many potential avenues to realizing a project’s objectives, but how you get there can change quickly in today’s fast-paced environment. What’s important is knowing where you want to be and continuously steering projects to reach that end.”
Bennett also credits her mentors and role models for her leadership successes. In particular, her manager at American Express not only mentored her but modeled effective mentoring.
“As a mentee, she taught me to be brave and assumptive,” Bennett says. “It’s necessary to try things, even if they fail, because you always learn something from the effort and, sometimes, you really move the needle, such as with Small Business Saturday.”
On the mentoring side, Bennett applies her mentor’s lessons to “Skip Level Meetings” she offers at LGA. “In addition to taking my turn as a mentor, the meetings permit me to see which individuals are confident with taking ownership and being accountable,” she says. “My American Express mentor pushed us to answer questions like ‘why would you do that’ and ‘what do you think about that.’ These are valuable tools for evaluating where employees are already capable and where they need coaching.”
Looking forward, Bennett sees industry opportunities for technology and marketing stemming from the current COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. “The pandemic is an opportunity for life insurers to modernize and devise new ways to contribute to the greater good, while still retaining the vitally important human elements and interactions,” says Bennett.
As for technology, Bennett predicts a swing toward putting the marketing cart back behind the horse. “The trend in other industries has been using technology to determine your needs and sell you products based on this perception,” she says. “Instead, we should use technology to ask you to describe your needs and how we can help you with meeting them. This has, and always will be, my guiding star.”