Mark Holweger Mark Holweger (Photo: LGA)

Legal & General America, a top player in the U.S. term life market, has found a secret passage into U.S. consumers’ wallets: selfies.

The Frederick, Maryland-based arm of Legal & General PLC set up the SelfieQuote.com  website last summer. The site invites consumers to get a life insurance quote by submitting a self portrait.

Instead of hectoring visitors to the site about the need to protect their families, or showing gauzy stock photos of families created by a modeling agency, Legal & General America gives the following instructions: “Ensure your face is well lit, remove glasses, and push hair away from face.”

“Your selfie will be used to provide an estimate for life insurance based on an estimate of your age, gender and [body mass index],” the company tells the visitors.

(Related: APPcelerate Automated Underwriting Process)

Legal & General America was already the second largest provider of U.S. term life insurance through the brokerage channel, with about 1.3 million term life policies in place. The company also sells a significant amount of universal life coverage in the United States.

The company is now boosting sales with two powerful psychological forces: Consumers’ interest in their own faces, and consumers’ interest in finding out what other people (or artificial intelligence systems) see in their faces.

Mark Holweger, the U.S. unit’s executive vice president for distribution and marketing, and Stephen Robinson, the vice president for partnerships, recently talked about how they see the U.S. term life market.

Steve Robinson Steve Robinson (Photo: LGA)

Here are five points Holweger and Robinson made during the interview.

1. Selling more term life insurance is simply the right thing to do.

“There are a lot of people who are still unprotected,” Holweger said. “That doesn’t feel right.”

2. U.S. consumers may suffer, to some extent, from the lack of a tight connection between the U.S. life insurance sectors and other U.S. economic sectors.

Holweger has worked for Legal & General in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States.

In the United Kingdom, he said, mortgage brokers try to sell life insurance to just about everyone who gets a mortgage loan. As a result, about 80% of the life insurance sold in the United Kingdom is sold around the time that people get mortgage loans.

In the United States, Holweger said, mortgage lenders may encourage borrowers to get life insurance, but the mortgage broker is unlikely to be a licensed life insurance agent.

In too many cases, because the mortgage broker is not equipped to talk about life insurance, “the conversation isn’t happening,” Holweger said.

3. Insurance distributors and retailers  have to earn the right to use “big data.”

“Customers are realizing the value of the data,” Holweger said. “We must not waste the data.”

Insurers have to find ways to use the data to make the experience of buying life insurance simpler and better, and they have to make sure that customers feel comfortable with how data resources are being used, Holweger said.

4. The best path toward optimal use of data may be to use less data.

One lesson from use of big data in the life insurance sales and underwriting process is that, in most cases, only a certain amount of the information obtained is actually useful, Holweger said.

One great way to use the data already collected is to reduce the number of questions new applicants have to answer when they seek coverage, he said.

5. Life insurance agents have a future.

Robinson said he believes automated systems will supplement and extend the work of agents, not replace agents.

“There’s a need for more agents, and there’s a need for younger agents,” Robinson said.

Banks, wirehouses and property-casualty insurance agencies are helping the traditional agencies attract younger agents into the distribution force, Robinson said.

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