Selling insurance? It's 'just like Victoria's Secret,' says Susan Sachatello

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After 20-plus years running digital advertising and e-commerce for prominent U.S. retail brands, Susan Sachatello’s arrival at CUNA Mutual Group was nothing short of an accident. “A recruiter asked me to suggest some people to meet with CUNA Mutual,” she says. “But they ended up wanting to meet me instead.”

Sachatello quickly recognized insurance was ripe for a direct–to-consumer business model, similar to those she helped execute as chief marketing officer of both Lands’ End and Victoria’s Secret.

“I couldn’t wrap my head around how Zappos could have a left and right shoe in a box and to you in 24 hours, yet it took 21 days to get a policy in customers’ hands,” she says. “My lack of understanding enabled me to ask questions in a manner a typical insurance company would not have thought of.”

Sachatello joined the company in 2011, and by 2012 had led the launch of TruStage, CUNA Mutual’s consumer retail brand, which she manages as senior vice president. The omni-channel platform is designed to serve middle-market consumers’ — families with annual household incomes ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 — life, health, auto and home insurance needs.

Every product in CUNA Mutual’s portfolio has been reworked using language that is more consumer-oriented, Sachatello explains. The company also expanded its marketing strategy beyond direct mail to include national commercials and online ads. Under Sachatello’s leadership, TruStage’s business has grown from $705 million in revenue in 2012 to $1.1 billion at the end of 2016. The brand currently insures 18 million customers.

When asked which of her accomplishments she is most proud of from her time at CUNA Mutual, Sachatello quickly replies, “The strength of the team.” She is an executive sponsor of CUNA Mutual’s PRISM Employee Resource Group, a segment in the insurer’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. She also lunches with staff members and summer interns to discuss career goals and development opportunities.

Since launch, Sachatello and her team of incumbent staff and recruited talent from Google and Lands’ End have completely rebuilt CUNA Mutual’s customer experience strategy in efforts to remain relevant to consumers. It’s a task she considers her greatest challenge.

“No great consumer brand will tell you, ‘Yep, I’m there,’” she says.

CUNA Mutual expects more growth going forward, as Sachatello and her team of 300 will continue to expand TruStage’s media footprint and leverage consumer data to better understand customers.

Sachatello does not solely depend on traditional market research to gain market insight. Instead, she relies on personal home visits and listening to customer calls to understand prospective client needs. CUNA Mutual also runs an annual consumer insights research project called “What Matters Now” to learn of design or customer experience tweaks customers recommend.

“One of our recent topics was millennials’ relationship with e-commerce,” she says. “I like to learn about other consumer brands customers admire.”

Thanks to heavy investments in its website and call center, the carrier was able to roll out its simplified issue term life product in June 2016, which leverages automated underwriting to sell policies in 11 minutes. The new business line delivered $500 million in coverage over its first year, adding to profits from CUNA Mutual’s accidental death and whole life products. All of TruStage’s offerings are available online, via mobile device or telephone using e-signature.

Data Driven

CUNA Mutual also sports a growing database of market data from 80 million consumer households, which it appends with third-party information. The compiled list details customer behavioral trends, detailing anything from commonly read magazines in a home to the cars consumers drive. Google Keyword searches for life insurance, as an example, are also recorded.

“I am still in retail,” she asserts, explaining that the company’s investments in data and automation tools have greatly benefited internal workflow and the consumer, much like other companies. “Selling insurance is exactly like Victoria’s Secret.”

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Digital distribution Retail industry Life insurance Customer-centricity Customer data CUNA Women in Insurance Leadership