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CEO Harrison: Insurance Can—And Must—Transform

In the age of disruption, no company is safe from a scrappy startup with a new idea. CEO Marianne Harrison talked with CE about John Hancock's strategy for success in the new digital age.

When you took over as CEO in 2017, you’d had almost a decade at the company—what did you see as being the biggest challenge at that time?

Harrison: Insurance, and financial services more broadly, still evokes words like “slow,” “complicated,” “confusing,” “impersonal”—and at the same time, technology has been moving forward quickly and consumers are looking for us to find ways to make it easier do business with our industry. As a result, I knew we needed to pivot.

When I first arrived back in 2017, my team and I began an intensive strategy review to define our business model of the future and help meet a new promise we’ve made for our customers: decisions made easier, lives made better. To do that, we boldly outlined our ambition to become a digital, customer-centric leader and use technology to change the customer experience.

We see our strategy as two engines. The first will help us focus our business to become more efficient, faster and competitive. This includes: 1) using technology to transform our protection business; 2) improving retirement retention rates by engaging retirement plan participants digitally and earning their loyalty across all our products; and aggressively growing our wealth and asset management business by building on our already successful “Manager of Managers” model.

As that engine works to keep our momentum on track, our second engine will bring us into the future and focus on making bold moves to transform John Hancock: 1) creating a dedicated focus on behavioral insurance; and 2) leading the market in creating a holistic advice offering across wealth and protection.

I’m happy to say that in the past year we have made significant progress toward these goals across our businesses.

What are some examples of that progress?

Harrison: A year ago, we announced that all John Hancock life insurance offerings will now have Vitality, a tech-enabled wellness program that provides rewards and savings to customers for adopting healthy behaviors that lead to a long and healthy life. This is a new way to think about life insurance.

Also, in October, we took Vitality to the next level with the launch of John Hancock Aspire, the first and only life insurance designed for the more than 30 million Americans living with diabetes. The solution combines the protection of life insurance with a tech-enabled program that provides coaching, clinical support, education, incentives and rewards designed to help people manage their diabetes and improve their health. We believe that by leading the way and offering this new solution, we will change the way people think about life insurance and how insurers offer unique, personalized solutions to consumers.

We’re also doing exciting things like leveraging robotics to simplify our processes and we recently launched an express claims program, offering beneficiaries with a lower dollar death benefit the option to file their claim and receive payment with no forms. Who would have ever thought that would be possible in the insurance industry? And within our retirement plan business, we are fundamentally changing how we engage with plan participants. Our new Alexa skill allows participants to access personalized information, including frequently asked account questions, through their Alexa-enabled devices.

Every company is having to fend off or at least be aware of digital disruption. How will John Hancock avoid becoming a target? Do you have a digital transformation project in the works?

Harrison: Historically, the industry has not prioritized customer-centricity, so the disruptive pressures we see are around understanding who our customers are and what motivates them. In the next few years, according to Bain & Co. research, eight out of 10 customers expect to use a digital channel for insurance interactions, like buying a policy or submitting a claim. Additionally, two thirds of customers surveyed are open to receiving virtual financial advice and one third prefer to conduct the entire quote-to-buy process online—those stats are from McKinsey.

Standing still in the face of these changes isn’t an option. We have rolled out numerous initiatives to deliver personalized experiences for customers anytime, anywhere. Some examples include:

• Creating a streamlined, simple and digital-first claims experience for our customers through Express Claims, a paperless experience eliminating three steps in the process for beneficiaries and improving the time to settle a claim by 90%

• Creating a seamless, digital experience for our customers on, optimizing the application and claims process, and enhancing the policyholder experience with John Hancock Vitality that will be launched shortly

• Aiming to increase our total company NPS score by 30 points by introducing the voice of the customer into our daily work

• Using Human Centered Design to improve products and processes with the customer top of mind

• Launching two pilot products, Twine and Coin, to understand how goals-based and conscious investing delivered digitally could serve the needs of the next generation of consumers

We also recently hired a senior executive to roll out our digital, direct-to-consumer strategy, which will further help us digitally transform our organization and product lines.

Earlier in your tenure at the firm, you had to steer a troubled LTC business through a recession and other issues. What did you learn from that period?

Harrison: I learned that in difficult times you have to rally your team and be able to pivot quickly and adjust your strategy accordingly. Setting new objectives and ensuring the team knows what success looks like and why the approach makes sense is critical to gaining buy in and support. Once you have that support, it is all about execution.

You’ve said that, during that time, you tried to get your sales team more in touch with customers by putting them on the phones. What did they learn and what did you hear from them at the time? Is that something you still do from time to time?

Harrison: During that time, I did ask my sales team to take customer calls for a period of about a month.  I felt it was important for the sales team to understand what our customers thought of our product and what was most important to our customers.  It was a great experience for the sales team, they learned that what was most important was simplicity.  Customers don’t want things to be overly complicated, having all the bells and whistles doesn’t make it a great product.

As a result of that experience, we feel it is important to engage with our customers more frequently and hear their voice. We’re committed to bringing our customers closer to everything we do. We know that creating personal connections with customers is imperative for achieving our goals, and we are providing employees across the organization with regular opportunities to sit in the call centers and to hear customer feedback first-hand.

We’ve recently implemented a practice we call Listen-Learn-Act to engage our people in our transformation to becoming a digital, customer-centric company. We apply this practice on an individual, one-to-one basis, and we are also adapting it to create change within our organization.  After key interactions, we give customers the opportunity to provide feedback about their experience.  When a customer has an issue, a sales associate or customer service specialist reaches out to learn what went wrong and how we can make it better.  In addition to closing the loop with individual customers, we have employees and leaders huddle up, share their learnings, and take immediate action to improve the process going forward.  By identifying and fixing a wide range of irritants, we are incrementally making it easier to do business with us.


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