How John Hancock Life Insurance gamifies wearables to bolster longevity

John Hancock Life Insurance is happy to practically give you a Fitbit, Amazon Halo or Apple Watch to help you live longer. CEO Brooks Tingle explains how longevity, gamification, data, actuarial tables and economics create a new customer experience.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

When Apple launched its latest Apple Watch, John Hancock Life Insurance was one of the enterprise headliners as a partner with its Vitality program.

The Vitality program includes an app, incentives for healthy behavior, discounts and an Apple Watch that can be had for as little as $25. In other words, you can earn your Apple Watch with healthy activities and behavior. 

I caught up with John Hancock Life Insurance CEO Brooks Tingle to talk about the company's partnerships with Fitbit, Apple Watch and Amazon Halo to connect customer experience, actuarial data and technology.

Why life insurance and wearable device data? Tingle said wearable data allows John Hancock to connect with customers more often and have more touch points. Tingle said:

One's life insurer should care an awful lot about someone living a long, healthy life. Among other than immediate friends and family, who really cares more about you living a long, healthy life other than your life insurance company, right? If for no other reason, self-interest. But we think it's a wonderful opportunity as a life insurer to connect with our customers and provide them with education, support, and incentives and rewards to live a longer, healthier life.

Economics. Tingle said John Hancock doesn't shy away from the economic benefits of having life insurance customers live a long life. Tingle said:

It's a really sort of virtuous cycle. If our customers take steps to live a longer, healthier life, that unquestionably creates value for us, and we don't shy away from that acknowledgement. People live longer, we make more money. The difference is we take a huge percentage of that value that's created and offer it back to the customers for participating, and that comes in a couple forms: substantial premium discounts, up to 25% off their annual life insurance premium for engaging in the program, significant discounts from a range of retailers. Our customers can enjoy 25% off healthy food purchases at over 17,000 grocery stores nationwide, a complimentary wearable device. Our most engaged customers can earn a free subscription to Amazon Prime, so on and so forth.

John Hancock

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John Hancock's Vitality program. Tingle noted that Vitality is part game and part frequent flyer program. "You get points for doing things that correlate with a longer, healthier life: physical activity, good nutrition, seeing your doctor, good sleep, things like that," said Tingle. "When we launched the program in 2015, we thought about the major pillars of living a longer, healthier life: physical activity, nutrition, preventative screenings."

Wearable device choice. Vitality started in 2015 with Fitbit, which was a pioneer of corporate wellness programs. Today John Hancock supports Apple Watch as well as Amazon Halo in addition to Fitbit. Tingle said:

Fitbit has served us and our customers well. It is still a choice among our customers. When a new policyholder comes in, they're given the choice of a complimentary Fitbit to this day, five and a half years later, but there have been other options added along the way, starting with the Apple Watch. We have a really creative program with Apple Watch. We added in the fall of 2016 and continue to enhance. We recently announced a relationship with Amazon and their Halo device, which is now also available as a complimentary device. So, we believe in choice for our customers as it relates to wearables.

Best feature. Tingle said some of the best app features for Vitality came as a surprise. The Vitality Wheel is a feature where a customer spins for a wheel every 10th workout completed.

You get a message saying you've earned it, now spin it, and you go to your mobile device and there's a wheel, looks sort of like the Wheel of Fortune or something, and you spin it, and frankly, the rewards are modest. I mean, you might get $5 at Starbucks, $10 at Amazon, but the most consistently positive feedback we get from customers isn't, "Oh, I saved $1,000 on my premium, that's great," or, "I saved $600 over the course of the year at the grocery store," it's, "I love that wheel."

Datasets and how it varies by device. Tingle said:

The data we're most interested in, the activity we're most interested in is what correlates most closely to longevity. Now, there's a bit of an algorithm there that correlates most closely with longevity and can be accurately recorded and shared. Physical activity was easy to start with because it was easy to record and share physical activity. Sleep is really interesting. The science would say it's relevant since you're wearing a Halo. The scientists would say sleep, and a good night's sleep, correlates very strongly with longevity and overall health.

We've wanted to make sleep a pillar of the program for a while, but there had been plenty of sort of sleep apps and different technologies, but not as evolved as you would find on the physical activity front. It has to be easy to use, simple, integrated with the wearable. Some wearables people don't want to wear overnight, or they need to charge them or what have you. One of the interesting things about Halo is that the sleep component of Halo has been one of the more popular pieces of it.

Nutrition tracking. Tingle said nutrition has historically been a tough thing to track given that it isn't a data set for wearables. Nutrition tracking is typically based on self reporting. As a result, Vitality tries to encourage healthy eating with discounts and education. "We are triangulating around the medical science, the actuarial science, behavioral science, which is what are people actually going to do," said Tingle.

Mental wellness. Tingle said data tracking on mental wellness involves multiple components. He said:

Mental health is a complicated space and we wanted to put that pillar in the program, so we launched Healthy Mind about two years ago. Through Healthy Mind all of our customers get a free subscription to Headspace, a meditation app that you mentioned. They can earn points for meditating. That's also where we added the sleep component in Healthy Mind. It's a tricky area because there's a lot within the realm of mental wellness, a whole lot of stuff going on. Technology is tricky, but it is an important pillar. We put a stake in the ground saying it's important. A lot of our educational content speaks to it, stress management, things like that. Right now in terms of points the components are really taking online courses about it that we offer. Meditating you get points for, and a good night's sleep you get points for. That all sort of correlates with good mental health.

Vitality and digital transformation. Tingle said that the Vitality experience has influenced John Hancock's approach to life insurance overall. Tingle noted that there's more work to do with digital transformation in throughout the buying process.

We're really proud of what we've done to the life insurance ownership experience, but the buying process is still horrible. So, there's a lot of investments being made in digital as it relates to the buying process to streamline that and make it easier. So, I would say for us it really started with this program, but since that time we've really accelerated other digital investments.


The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.


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