CEO on saving lives through gamification

Life insurance behavioural science is helping policyholders catch health issues earlier

CEO on saving lives through gamification

Life & Health

By Jen Frost

Brooks Tingle, John Hancock CEO, joined Insurance Business from Insuretech Connect in Las Vegas to discuss how the life insurer is looking to behavioural science and drawing on gamification techniques used by casinos to help policyholders lead healthier lives.

The ‘ding, ding, ding’ of slot machines, the aimless twists and turns of carpeted warrens, rowdy tables and laser-focused figures. Endless days and endless nights, with natural light a scant occurrence and clocks nowhere to be seen. Enter a Vegas casino without a watch or smart phone and you might surprise yourself when you eventually amble out the door into a blinding dawn.

For some, it’s the promise of a fun-filled holiday, free drinks as they fritter away earmarked funds, or even winning big. Others, hunched over tables and machines, might end up stuck in a miserable loop as they chain smoke through a botched attempt to recoup lost winnings, or winnings they never had at all.

There’s an old adage that rings out in Vegas and casinos elsewhere: the house always wins.

For Brooks Tingle, John Hancock CEO, there might be no better venue to discuss the life insurer’s near nine-year voyage into gamification, and how behavioural science developed to keep people glued to casinos is now being used to help individuals lead healthier lives and cement a win not just for the life insurance ‘house’, but also the players of the game.

How John Hancock is looking to Vitality to tap into behavioural science and gamification

“I don’t hang around casinos, but when I walk through them, the whole name of the game is to get you to keep playing, whether that’s a slot machine or something else, and keep doing it – the bells, the whistles, the sounds, everything, that’s really powerful,” Tingle told Insurance Business from Insuretech Connect’s annual Las Vegas convention.

“We need behavioural scientists, and it’s funny where some of the best ones come from – Las Vegas is a perfect place to have this discussion – the gaming industry.”
– Brooks Tingle, John Hancock

Building on its Vitality proposition, a global app that encourages policyholders to lead healthier lives, the more than 160-year-old insurer, which has been part of Canadian insurance giant Manulife since 2004, has looked beyond the traditional insurance talent pool as it looks to crack what it sees as a behavioural science goldmine that could keep people living better lives for longer.

“Everyone’s running around hiring data and analytics people,” Tingle said. “We need behavioural scientists, and it’s funny where some of the best ones come from – Las Vegas is a perfect place to have this discussion – the gaming industry.”

The Vitality program, a behavioural science platform with a network of global partners of which John Hancock is one, offers points when policyholders meet set criteria. That could be going for a walk, hitting the gym, or even taking a medical test.

Drawing on gamification elements also used in casinos, policyholders can spin a wheel to win rewards such as Starbucks or Amazon vouchers when they hit an activity threshold, as detected by the Apple Watch included as part of the package. They can also avail themselves of discounts. Another benefit is premium savings, with the potential to cut insurance costs, by up to 20% to 25% in the case of John Hancock.

Vitality is not about building a world of superhuman fitness enthusiasts, but it can help people live healthier lives, according to Tingle.

“You have to be realistic, we’re not going to turn all of our customers into marathon runners,” Tingle, who has used the program to help with his sleep issues, said. “I enjoy the Vitality program – I’m not running marathons, but I get a ton of benefit from it and I do things I wouldn’t have otherwise done.”

Catching cancer early – how gamification has helped some John Hancock Vitality customers get ahead of illness

It may be about helping policyholders take small steps to live longer and healthier lives (as Tingle pointed out, there are benefits for the life insurer, with longer lives and less reliance on care services in later life expected to be a financial win), but there have been examples in which Vitality and individuals’ determination to hit a points threshold may have saved lives.

“She said, ‘it works, I’m telling you, I would not have gone for that mammogram for years if I didn’t want your silly John Hancock Vitality Points’.”
– Brooks Tingle, John Hancock

“A couple of years ago, a woman wrote to me and the subject line under email said ‘Vitality saved my life’, and I thought, ‘jeez, that’s nice – It’s probably a bit hyperbolic, she probably lost 20 pounds’,” Tingle said. “Goodness knows, I’m not minimising that but it turns out, I started reading her story, and she said she had been in Vitality for years and hit platinum status her first two years, and when you hit platinum status, the third year, you got a free Amazon Prime membership.

“She said, ‘I really wanted that Amazon Prime membership but I was 300 points short of getting to platinum status again, so I looked at the menu for point earning activities’.”

The woman had maxed out on physical activity points, but there was an option to earn hundreds of points by getting a mammogram.

“She went ahead and found early-stage breast cancer, and they treated her very successfully,” Tingle said. “She said, ‘it works, I’m telling you, I would not have gone for that mammogram for years if I didn’t want your silly John Hancock Vitality Points’.”

John Hancock recently added Grail’s Galleri test, a blood test used for cancer detection, to its Vitality program.

“From a simple blood draw, that can detect the presence of over 50 types of cancer in your body,” Tingle said. “This isn’t something that says, ‘oh, geez, based on John Doe’s DNA, he’s more likely to get a certain cancer’.

“This is like, ‘does John or Jane Doe have cancer in their body right now?’”

“We’ll say, this many people took the test, this many people were confirmed to have cancer, but we don’t know who.”
– Brooks Tingle, John Hancock

Since going live with Grail a year ago, “several” Vitality John Hancock customers have had early stage cancer detected by taking the test, according to Tingle, who stressed that the life insurer does not collect granular data on individuals who have taken it.

“We subsidise that fully for many of our customers, or give a 50% discount for others, and then it’s just between them and Grail,” Tingle said. “We’ll be able to see that this many people took the test and this many people were confirmed to have cancer, but we don’t know who.”

John Hancock CEO Brooks Tingle wants the wider industry on board with behavioural science

Having seen positives from Vitality for himself and his customers, Tingle said he hoped the wider industry would follow suit with behavioural science advancements.

“I’ve been amazed the industry has been so slow,” Tingle said. “When we launched Vitality in the US in 2015, we were supposed to launch in April and my team came to me in March and said we were going have to delay and I said, ‘we must not delay, someone’s going to beat us to market, this makes too much sense’.

“And here we are, eight and a half years later, MassMutual just introduced something in the space, but really no-one’s copied it, and I wish they would to be honest with you – I think it’s good for the whole industry.”

What are your views on how John Hancock and international life insurers are tapping into behavioural science and gaming expertise through initiatives like the Vitality program? Share a comment below.

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