Manulife/John Hancock on How COVID Accelerated Digitization

August 6, 2020

In this episode of One Quick Thing, Amit Bhatia discusses how a company can effectively communicate with customers, and encourage communication between regional labs to spark ideas internally. Bhatia is the Head of Manulife/John Hancock Innovation Labs. Manulife is an international financial services and life insurance company that primarily operates as John Hancock in the United States and as Manulife elsewhere. Three takeaways from the conversation follow. 

Customer Engagement Should Be a Two-Way Street

In order to build long-lasting relationships with your customers, it’s important to create an open dialogue with them and use insights in order to anticipate needs. For example, Bhatia’s team realized that there was an opportunity to bring wearables into the life insurance space, taking cues from similar technology used by automobile insurance companies. 

“The old version of insurance is: A customer would pay you on a monthly basis their premium, and when they would pass away, we would give the policy value back to the customer’s family. It was just an antiquated business model, and we felt that there was no true connection [with] the customer,” Bhatia says. “Using the wearable device, you get incentives to be more active… Over time, we’re providing more tips and tricks on how to eat healthier, how to make healthier choices for life. The whole premise around it is, instead of having a one-way relationship where the customer will pay a premium on a monthly basis, now we can interact with our customer more.”

Ideas Should Come From A Variety of Places — Internally and Externally 

As a large international company, Manulife/John Hancock has innovation labs in a number of cities: Toronto, Boston, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The Toronto and Boston offices typically work together to service North America and the Hong Kong and Singapore offices hold down the fort in Asia, Bhatia says. However, team members also help each other on projects across the globe. “We can have someone based out of Boston get some really great insight around how Hong Kong customers act and how they’re different. And that opens up their eyes into new possibilities and bringing that back to North America,” he says. 

“There’s three main areas where ideas come from, and they always get tested by customers. … The first area is through our businesses — our businesses create a divisional strategy in a country. For example, John Hancock will have a US-specific strategy and each of the businesses will say, ‘These are the areas where we want to go into the future.’ … The second area is through our…Net Promoter Score, which is a survey that customers give us on an ongoing basis, and they give us feedback on how well we’re doing. … The third area is market trends. In order to be more forward looking, we look at market trends and where customers are going.”

Embrace the Digitization of Your Industry

According to Bhatia, Manulife/John Hancock was “far, far, far behind” where they needed to be in terms of digital capabilities before the pandemic. Despite a few successful initiatives to improve processes, “on a scale of one to one through five — I’m going to be harsh here — we were probably out of two out of five,” he says.  

The onset of the pandemic has not only forced the company to look at potential changes that are more immediate, but it’s also encouraged digitization within the industry. Because COVID-19 requires physical distancing and emphasizes the importance of online experiences, “it’s easier to have these conversations and to get approval to try something different that would have otherwise been more difficult a year ago.”  

“If you talked to a lot of the wealth and asset management agencies a year ago, they would say, ‘[You] cannot be digital, you cannot be on Zoom. You can’t have the same type of relationship,'” Bhatia says. “Now they’ve had no choice but to deal with it. It’s either zero business or work through digital. They’ve realized that it’s not as bad as they thought it would be, as long as you have the right needs. It’s not just having a Zoom conversation, but you need to have the right digital tools to give customers the insights that they need on how to manage their product.”