The year 2009 may not have been a big year for insurance product innovation, but it was a pretty active year for tools.
That is, "tools" designed to help insurance agents, distributors and consumers manage their insurance and financial selection and service activities.
Most of the new tools involved online functions, but others were guides and value-added services. Here is a sampling.
Online. ING North America Insurance Corp., Minneapolis, started offering ING Mobile--a way for agents to get term insurance quotes from ING on their handheld internet-enabled cell phones.
ING also unveiled a system that enables advisors to show clients premium financing scenarios using historical London Interbank Offered Rates (LIBOR). The "premium financing concept illustration is a tool to model various financing options and costs for the client," says the company.
Standard Life and Accident Insurance Company, League City, Texas, looked to online for total application turnaround. The result was an all-online Medicare supplement application submission process that enables agents to submit applications for senior clients directly to underwriting. The insurer then calls the client for voice signature. In 48 hours, the company says, the agent can view the decision online.
Now, according to Standard, "agents no longer have to make house calls to generate a sale, nor do they need to wait to receive applications by mail."
Fee-based advisors got an online tool from Curian Capital L.L.C., a Denver unit of Prudential P.L.C., London. Called the Curian Custom Wealth Platform system, it helps advisors help clients review and analyze all their Curian holdings.
Companies offered new online tools for participants in retirement plans, too. For instance, Standard Retirement Services, a unit of StanCorp Financial Group Inc., Portland, Ore., added a defined benefit calculator to its website. The Pension Estimator tool can help plan participants compare pension income assumptions by comparing scenarios by retirement dates, interest rates, salary increase assumptions and annuitization options, Standard says.
Some carriers brought out online tools for employers, as well. One example is MetLife, New York, which introduced a "benefits benchmarking tool" for employers to use to customize their benefits offerings. It provides up-to-date segmented data on benefits and workplace trends, the insurer says, so users can "compare and contrast data through customized queries along more than 80 dimensions across both employer and employee demographics."
Third-party firms are taking advantage of the industry's growing interest in online tools. Near year-end, for instance, Brainshark, Waltham, Mass., rolled out Brainshark Insurance Network for life insurers. This software system enables companies to create, post and update online, multimedia presentations--on products or training, for instance--that distributors can then access on demand.
Guides. Pacific Life Insurance Company, Newport Beach, Calif., offered a sales kit for producers who want to help wealthy clients with estate planning. It includes case studies and a pocket planning guide and identifies ways to use life insurance in wealth transfer strategies.
EmblemHealth Inc., a New York health carrier, published a guide for doctors and other providers and organizations. The 230-page tool aims to help providers understand the effects of religious and cultural beliefs on patients' health care decisions, says the company. Included are health-related traditions associated with Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Shinto, traditional Chinese culture, American Indian and Alaska Native cultures, and Afro-Caribbean cultures.
Services. Many health insurers and employers unveiled more wellness and disease management programs during 2009. The purpose was to help employees achieve and maintain better health, thereby improving productivity.
For instance, late in the year, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, St. Louis, Mo., debuted a newborn and parenting resource service with all new and in-force short term disability plans. The goals, says the Blues plan, is "to help new mothers adjust to their newborn baby and return to work after maternity leave."
Likewise, WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis, announced it is building new-mom adjustment benefits into group short-term disability plans. It will to provide coaching for new mothers on baby care and also return to work.
Of employers who offered wellness programs, 66% also used incentives, according to a study done for the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, by Health2 Resources, Vienna, Va.
Insurance premium reductions were the most common incentive found, followed by merchandise and tokens and gift cards.
The spending involved was not just $5 here or there, says Katherine H. Capps, president of Health2 Resources. "We are talking about serious investment into productivity, made by employers with as few as 200 employees, for as much as $1,400 a year per employee."