The Pulse of the Industry: COVID-19 Responses

by Kasey Gammons, Senior Analyst

This historic year has presented the life insurance industry with unique challenges due to the onset of the new coronavirus pandemic. The initial shock reverberated throughout the Life Insurance industry similar to the rest of the financial markets. But we now sit six months into the pandemic, and signs of growth are clear. This month we wanted to present some experiences from our partners during this time that have encouraged innovation in the industry by leaning on technology and efficiency. Perhaps the most common thread is how these difficult circumstances have brought out the best for our industry with a renewed sense of cooperation towards the same goal.

Marc Verbos, Executive Vice President & Mike English, Sales Ops and Implementation Manager (AIMCOR)

“The pandemic could have shut down the life insurance industry and has made it near impossible to process business as we had been. But instead, we’ve seen an industry come together for the nobility of our cause – to figure out how to do right by the customers seeking the protection our products deliver arguably in a time when they need it the most.” – Marc Verbos

We had the opportunity to talk with Marc and Mike to get their take on the response. AIMCOR has always centered around the key concept of “transforming the life insurance industry.” They have frequently sought out strategic partners (such as LifeTrends) and emphasized forward-facing and technology-focused solutions (like their eApp submission platform, Tick!t) so they can better create a “culture of readiness” within their member firms. Marc feels the members were well prepared and have done a really good job adapting to the new pandemic challenge, still using their human capital and valuing point of sale while quickly incorporating the technology needed to deploy these resources virtually. AIMCOR’s day-to-day activities were relatively unaffected; they even saw improvement in efficiency with members able to leverage technology to schedule more meetings using computers and virtual meetings as opposed to resting heavily on in-person face to face engagement. Thus far, this has proven effective especially in their institutional business which was predicated on the foundation of in-person point-of-sale but is up year over year amidst the pandemic and shut-downs. At the start of the pandemic, AIMCOR leadership created the “Corporate Impact Response Coalition” to summarize the proliferation of information bombarding their agencies. This largely kept their focus on the main points and not be distracted by every new piece of news from a thousand sources.

AIMCOR has been impressed with how swiftly carriers were able to adapt and come together in this new digital frontier, specifically citing John Hancock and Principal as leaders in this regard. In addition, their new partnership with Human API and existing partnerships have all helped them stay on top of the quick shifting nature of the situation. There has been a good amount of progress on every front to respond to the unprecedented situation – and the industry has met the challenge splendidly – but it is not enough yet. They expect this is just the beginning of some shifts within the field, and that while things may come back soon like point of sale in person meetups, the many changes that have occurred as a result have shown positive results and will ultimately be difficult for everyone to fall back into the old way of doing business after we exit this season. As Mike English said it, “Now, the question is – can life insurance catch-up to other industries? We have proven we can step up to the challenge and evolve, so we need to continue the positive momentum.”

Marty Johnson, Vice President, Individual Underwriting (Mutual of Omaha)

From our discussion with Marty Johnson, it was clear that Mutual of Omaha was well positioned for the pandemic, having already set up comprehensive disaster recovery systems which emphasized remote work. So, when the order to close the physical doors came through from the company in mid-March, around 90% of employees were up and running on remote systems by noon. One of the challenges they had to overcome (and did so quickly) was eliminating paper and expanding or developing solutions at the point of sale such as e-applications and electronic policy delivery. On the underwriting side, some changes centered on clients in more vulnerable groups in regard to COVID-19, while also instituting a variety of waiting periods for issuing policies on common COVID-19 questions centered around travel, exposure, and contraction.

There were some key positive highlights in Mutual of Omaha’s case. Perhaps most surprising was how smooth it was for medical exam completion and acquiring attending physician statements. They saw next to no difference pre and post pandemic to existing processes. They also found no need to make any sort of limitation to either face amounts or premiums, and their accelerated underwriting program saw some improvements. Marty’s expectations for the future are optimistic. They will continue to pursue technology solutions while keeping an eye on potentially lifting restrictions given some time.

Phil Bouvier, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Individual Life – (Symetra)

“Certainly, for Symetra, and likely for the industry, 2020 will not just be recognized as a year of challenges but also as a tipping point for a long-awaited change in the fundamental way life insurance is bought and sold. At the start of 2020, Symetra had what we thought was a pretty aggressive timeline to push ourselves from ‘e-nothing’ to ‘e-something.’ Little did we know that in the span of eight weeks we would be ‘e-most things,’ and by the end of the year almost ‘e-everything.’ In that time, we will have introduced a robust Accelerated Underwriting program, e-signature, e-delivery, Human API, IGO submit platform, and online in force illustrations. There are more changes to come—and those companies willing and able to shift with those changes will be rewarded.” -Phil Bouvier

Lisa Sharp, Assistant Vice President, Product and Market Research – (Protective)

“Protective was well positioned with a robust suite of digital capabilities coming into Covid 19. Our customers and distribution partners have taken advantage of these capabilities, and we have seen significant increases in electronic application submissions, e-signature, voice signature and electronic policy delivery adoption. We have added text reminders and real time scheduling to our TeleLife process and are currently evaluating the results of our recent EHR pilot. We continue to expand the self-serve capabilities for our customers with our beneficiaries being able to start the claims process and track the status online.” – Lisa Sharp

Life insurance has had some strong positive momentum in the last few months. The pandemic has helped catalyze our industry, and we have largely stepped up to these new and substantial challenges. Technology solutions and partnerships have played a pivotal role in all of this. As businesses have moved towards “electronic everything” solutions, it has readied them to connect and continue to serve clients.