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The 6 most innovative industry products of 2015

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The insurance industry has long been considered by some as archaic and lacking in modernization. But things are changing, and they have been for some time. The insurance industry, whether deservedly recognized or not, is an innovation juggernaut. From long-term care products to agent websites to original ideas in critical illness, there is evidence all around us that the landscape of insurance is changing. 

The following is our second annual list of the year’s most innovative products and services that are helping drive the industry towards a bright future. 

To see last year’s winners, click here

Category: Life Insurance

The life insurance industry is filled with various products and policies offering certain special benefits (cash value, exclusive riders, accelerated benefits), but never has a life insurance product been so specific to fit such an important, modern need of half of the world’s demographic.

Promise Plus, a whole life product, has a cancer waiver of premium rider designed to waive premium payments in the event of a diagnosis of three specific types of cancer. The product, engineered by Royal Neighbors of America, was brought about because Royal Neighbors, one of the first and largest women-led life insurance organizations in the U.S., was looking for yet another way to enhance the quality of life for women and those they care about.

Here’s how it works: If a policyholder age 59 or younger is diagnosed with Stage II or greater breast, cervical or ovarian cancer, Royal Neighbors will waive life insurance premium payments for two years. The benefits kick into effect again should another type of covered cancer be found. The coverage is the first of its kind in the nation, according to Royal Neighbors.

“For over a century, our mission has been to empower women, whether it was earning the right to vote in the past or supporting the fight against female cancers in the present,” said Cynthia Tidwell, president and CEO of Royal Neighbors. “We anticipate Promise Plus will be a huge success, and will allow those receiving a cancer diagnosis to focus on getting well and spending time with loved ones rather than worry about their insurance premiums.”

The product was rolled out in February and with affordable rates. For example, a 35-year-old female with standard non-tobacco underwriting would pay $95.44 monthly to age 121 for $100,000 in whole life coverage. Adding the cancer rider increases this payment by only $0.76 to $96.20.

Promise Plus is Essential Whole Life Insurance (Form Series 1314) + Cancer Waiver of Premium Rider (Form Series 2084). Certificate and riders are not available in all states. Contractual provisions and limitations may vary by state. Subject to reinsurance and underwriting requirements. 

Category: Annuities

In just over 10 years, income riders have taken the annuities world by storm, offering a solution to today’s ever-present longevity risk by providing a lifetime income stream.

Now, State Life Insurance Company, a OneAmerica company, is looking to trump that benefit by offering the first fixed-indexed annuity with a long-term care rider. Indexed Annuity Care offers built-in leverage for qualifying LTC expenses such as assisted living, home care, adult day care, respite, hospice and nursing home care. In addition, optional lifetime LTC insurance rider benefits can be added to the contract with premiums that are guaranteed never to increase.

The benefits continue. Indexed Annuity Care owners can also enjoy income tax-free withdrawals and benefits for qualifying LTC expenses thanks to provisions of the Pension Protection Act (if funded from after-tax premium sources, of course). One of the most innovative features, however, is that the product can provide benefits to two spouses from a single policy, making it attractive to the large number of current pre- and post-retirees.

“We work hard to prepare for retirement,” said Chris Coudret, executive vice president of State Life, adding that products such as this can help protect individuals’ quality of life and “remove the worry for how to pay for long-term care” — a rising worry indeed. “In the low interest rate environment, the indexed features are appealing. In addition, for producers that have focused primarily on indexed products, Indexed Annuity Care creates an opportunity for them to learn more about how to leverage the power of asset-based long term care products as part of their clients’ financial plans.”

Category: Employee Benefits

Some believe effective communication has always been an issue for technical-toned insurers. But as of March, Guardian Life Insurance Company of American showed it is out to change that.

The New York-based company announced the launch of Guardian Enrollment Maker (GEM), which offers resources to assist brokers in assessing their clients’ current enrollment method and provides strategies to transition them to online enrollment. GEM’s online resource center includes tools that help brokers better understand benefit communications strategies, which can drive employee participation, not to mention awareness and understanding.

“GEM is a unique site that offers brokers a one-stop shop for benefit communications,” said Beata Rogala, second vice president, enrollment and e-business at Guardian. “Brokers can also access customized educational resources, as well as an intuitive set of online tools to help achieve enrollment success and meet their clients’ expectation.”

Guardian, considering the continuing uncertainties surrounding the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), along with expanded employee-paid benefit plan offerings, launched GEM to address the need to strategically leverage benefit communications, education and decision support tools. And that’s a good thing. According to a recent workplace benefits study, only 22 percent of employers said they felt “well prepared” to discuss the changing benefits environment with their employees. Clearly, there is a need for brokers and carriers to play an even stronger role in the benefits communications process. And that’s where the innovative GEM comes into play.

Category: Technology

Some may say insurers are not known for their innovative advances in technology. But that way of thinking is becoming more and more outdated, especially with the introduction of AgentReview.net.

The website provides guidance and education for consumers and agents alike, offering non-biased advice for consumers looking for information on insurance products, while offering local insurance agents the opportunity of working with them.

“For the first time, consumers will have the opportunity to work with agents whose credentials have been independently verified,” said Harley Gordon, co-founder and president of Agent Review, who also happens to be an attorney and founder of the Certified in Long Term Care (CLTC) designation.

“The restaurant industry has Yelp, the Dental industry has 1-800-Dentist and the list goes on and on for many industries, but there was no dedicated, nationally marketed platform for insurance agents until Agent Review,” said Jonas Roeser, co-founder and CEO, whom some may know as the founder of the 3in4 Association, a retirement planning awareness organization. “In today’s digital world, performance reviews, peer ratings and client testimonials can make or break an agent,” Roeser added.

Considering that 80 percent of consumers looking for information about insurance or agents do so online and that social media influences 93 percent of their decisions (according to IMB Institute), Agent Review is meeting an unfulfilled need. And it does so in a non-biased way, verifying the authenticity of both an agent’s credentials and user reviews.

Category: Disability Insurance

Traditionally, group disability insurance caps at a maximum amount set by either the carrier or the employer – with caps often around the $10,000 range. Many times, individual disability insurance is then added as a second tier to bring the maximum benefit up to a higher amount, but it too will have a max limit of around $25,000.

That may be fine for some, but consider the high net worth of, say, Virginia M. Rometty, chairwoman and president of IBM, an example Petersen gives. In 2013, Rometty’s pay was $13,203,889. Breaking it down, that’s $1.5 million of income and $11,703,889 in stock options. So, based upon traditional disability underwriting, the maximum disability protection would be $81,250 per month in benefits.

That sounds great, except when you realize that number equals only 7 percent of her total income, making Rometty grossly underinsured for the amount of money she earns. In the disability insurance space, high-income individuals are often left with a shortfall.

Petersen International Underwriters is out to change that with its innovative Stock Option Disability Insurance Plan, a program that focuses on providing stock option income protection for corporate executives of publicly traded companies. “This progressive endeavor and one-of-a-kind program offers ‘own occupation’ lump sum benefits to help alleviate the risk of permanent disablement and the potential loss of regular stock option compensation,” said James Petersen, marketing director at Petersen International. “Product sales have been phenomenal.  It’s definitely apparent there is a need for this type of disability insurance for corporations and high-net worth clientele.” Petersen International, a coverholder at Lloyd’s, launched the product in February and offers individual policies and group coverage with multi-life discounts.

Category: Critical Illness

Trustmark takes the cake not only for introducing an innovative product to the marketplace, but also for showing remarkable attention to what consumers really value. The insurance and benefits management company used three years of extensive consumer research before launching a new, patent-pending critical illness insurance product called Trustmark Critical LifeEvents. In fact, the product was developed 100 percent from consumer feedback.

“From day one we started with the customer experience,” said Julie Pohjola, Assistant Vice President, Product Management. “We asked consumers’ first-hand what problems they experienced, which led us to new solutions we would never have discovered otherwise. The feedback we have received so far is very positive. Trustmark Critical LifeEvents is seen as a new, fresh way to look at critical illness insurance and many of our brokers are excited to share it with their clients.”

Trustmark Critical LifeEvents allows for more benefits for early identification and early state diagnosis of a disease; pays multiple benefits as a disease progresses; helps eliminate consumer confusion over what triggers a benefit and how they are paid, including offering a replenishing annual benefit and eliminating separation periods between illnesses; allows policyholders to use their policies to pay for caregiver benefits and preventative benefits, which encourage clients to stay healthy; waives premiums during a critical illness without requiring a disability; and delivers protection from other conditions not typically covered in traditional CI policies, such as complications from diabetes and central nervous infections.

With this, Trustmark has created a product that consumers can use throughout their lifetime, not just when seriously illness strikes.