John Hancock Exec on Getting More Digital, Fast, in a Socially-Distant Era

By Kaitlin Milliken |  August 24, 2020

Traditionally, getting approved for a life insurance policy involves a 20-minute-long medical exam — either in a clinic or at a person’s home. A healthcare professional may draw a candidate’s blood at the kitchen table, or wait patiently as the person runs to the bathroom to provide a urine sample.

However, lockdowns and stay-at-home advisories triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic have made conducting medical exams difficult — and in some cases impossible. Meanwhile, the demand for life insurance has increased. As the pandemic surged in the US, the team at John Hancock observed a growing number of Google searches related to life insurance. 

“Coronavirus has made us all more aware of our own mortality, and the fact that if we have loved ones who are relying on us…we need to think about what happens if something happens to us,” says Peter DeFrancesco. “People are out there looking for life insurance.” 

DeFrancesco is the Senior Vice President and Head of Digital at the financial services and life insurance company. He also leads John Hancock’s direct-to-consumer business. 

To meet the demand for life insurance while following social-distancing guidelines, DeFrancesco’s team accelerated an existing project in their digital portfolio. As of mid-April, customers can search for policies online and receive an instant decision. 

“We start by getting…a minimum set of information about your gender, your age, where you live, and we give you a high-level quote,” DeFrancesco explains. “From there, you go through more of a robust and detailed questionnaire that asks you about your smoking history…health, and wellness habits.”

During a recent conversation with InnoLead, DeFrancesco also discussed how COVID-19 has impacted the company’s financial services division. He shared how his team’s metrics have shifted, and how they stay connected with the C-Suite. 

DeFrancesco is one of the executives featured in InnoLead’s most recent research report, “CxOs and Innovation: The Changing Role of the InnoLead.” For more data and interviews on how business, health, and societal changes are impacting corporate innovation, visit the main report page

Accelerating Digital Demands in Financial Services 

In addition to life insurance, other in-person elements of John Hancock’s business shifted online in the era of coronavirus. “You couldn’t go to a financial advisor, sit in their office, and talk about your investment plan,” DeFrancesco says. 

Meanwhile, DeFrancesco says, volatility in the stock market and economy has increased consumer anxiety over their personal finances. More customers were calling for advice on saving for college and retirement, coping with job loss, and augmenting their emergency funds. “So what we needed to do was accelerate the work that was already underway [and] make sure that…interaction with John Hancock [could] be accomplished through digital and offline channels.” 

According to DeFrancesco, customer insights — from both existing and prospective customers — can inform products that create a better digital experience. Their team also frequently taps a Consumer Advisory Board made up of dozens of people who currently do not use John Hancock’s services.  

“We meet regularly through channels like Zoom or FaceTime,” DeFrancesco says. “And we understand from them how the current situation is affecting them, their personal finances, and what’s top-of-mind for them, in terms of their needs and their pain points.”  

DeFrancesco and his team also test early concepts with this group, including prototypes of mobile apps and web experiences. This allows his team to gather feedback while working remotely. 

When we do take a customer-centric approach, we can’t go wrong.

Maintaining Budget and Support

While many innovation teams are facing budget cuts or freezes in 2020, DeFrancesco says the need for digital solutions across John Hancock’s businesses has increased his team’s access to resources. “There’s actually been an increased focus in dollars [during] this short time period since…quarantine all started,” he says. 

DeFrancesco also attests to the importance of support for senior leadership. DeFrancesco reports directly to John Hancock CEO Marianne Harrison. He meets with Harrison and other members of the US leadership team regularly, even during this period of remote work. That includes half day meetings using Microsoft Teams, and informal updates in a shared instant messaging channel. 

DeFrancesco has also formalized one-on-one meetings with other key leaders. “I set up recurring touch-bases with those folks because…I don’t just run into them at the water cooler or the halls anymore,” he says. 

How Metrics Have Shifted 

According to DeFrancesco, his team’s metrics have changed in 2020, but not necessarily because of the coronavirus pandemic. He explains that as a young team, founded in 2019, his group has begun focusing on different metrics to reflect their maturity and progress.

“We’ve shifted from being the team that’s just getting off the ground and just developing its strategy, to a team that is now executing and launching initiatives and digital products into the marketplace,” DeFrancesco says.  

His team focused on “milestone-driven” metrics last year, aimed at building the right foundation for a digital program. Now his team looks at “true business metrics,” DeFrancesco says. 

“They are the metrics that you would find in any digital business in terms of traffic to our digital properties, and how we convert that traffic into business, and then how we serve our customers,” he says. Net Promoter Scores (NPS) also play an important role in providing feedback to the team about what it’s doing right, and what could be better.

“We always focus on the customer. When we do take a customer-centric approach, we can’t go wrong,” De Francesco says. “If we’re really focused on understanding our consumers, having that empathy, getting in their shoes, feeling their pain points, and then trying to build solutions that meet those…we’re going to be successful.”