A chart showing that motivated people are likely to do things that are easy. If the people are not motivated, or things are hard to people, then people will not act. (Chart: YU Life)

All too often, the relationship between insurers and policyholders is experienced as adversarial — a dynamic that has driven down customer engagement and damaged insurers’ bottom lines. How can insurers break this stalemate and achieve a win-win structure that benefits all parties?

A big part of the answer lies in gamification.

Simply put, gamification is the application of gaming principles in other walks of life. In the workplace, for example, gamification could mean seeing assignments as challenges to be completed, enabling employees to ‘level up’ and reach the next stage. A gamified workout scheme could involve step-count competitions between friends, with a prize for the winner.

(Related: Quiz: Do You Know These Investment Tax Facts?)

According to recent research into employers’ use of gamification, almost nine in ten say gamification makes them feel more productive at work. When gamified training programs were compared with non-gamified alternatives, 83% of people who had undergone the gamified training felt motivated, whereas some 61% of their counterparts on the non-gamified track felt bored or unproductive.

The principle of gamification is enshrined in BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. Fogg’s model dictates that behavioral change is the product of three factors: people must be prompted to do something (the trigger); their motivation must be high; and their ability to complete the task must be straightforward, requiring minimal effort. The more each of these three variables is satisfied, the more likely people are to make a lasting change to their behavior.

Let’s put Fogg’s model in a practical context — keeping fit. Triggers aren’t lacking in today’s popular culture, with commercials marketing health products and exercise accessories commonplace across all media. And most people are motivated to try to keep fit thanks to a combination of health, aesthetics and self-esteem. Still, people stumble because they perceive keeping fit as something that requires inordinate effort: spending two hours at the gym every day or rigidly sticking to a monotonous diet. But if fitness were broken down into small, easy components, with progress after completing each new step, the big goal of ‘keeping fit’ would seem much more accessible, and people would be more likely to make lasting behavioral change. Running schemes like Couch to 5K have seen huge success in this way.

Games are so popular because people feel like they have control of their own destiny. When people see tangible rewards for behavioral change — that’s gamification in action, and it can help them make fundamental changes to their lifestyle.

The role of gamification in life insurance

Another reason games resonate is that they offer an outlet for people to express their creativity — as opposed to ‘boring’ activities like writing reports at work or filing tax returns. Unfortunately, life insurance fits into the category of products or experiences which people tend to consider boring. Deloitte research suggests that 31% of life insurance policyholders let their policies lapse, a finding that lays bare how many insurers are failing to engage customers on an ongoing basis.

However, the use of game mechanics could reverse this trend, creating a desirable and fun experience. Gamification is doubly impactful when combined with a clear goal and when people notice a tangible difference every time they ‘level up’. At present, people aren’t motivated to acquire life policies because the benefits of doing so seem remote and intangible — meaning that the positive behavioral change depicted in Fogg’s model is out of bounds. But if gamified life insurance products could offer benefits for developing healthy habits, then life insurance could lead to lasting change, while also becoming much more engaging and more attractive to consumers.

Easy tips for implementing a gamified life insurance program

1. Embrace gamification with a purpose.

Merely offering a gamified product, or maximizing time spent using it, is not a goal in and of itself, and gamification has little value when there is no ulterior motive. Life insurers cannot and should not be an alternative to Candy Crush or World of Warcraft. Gamification is relevant as a tool to bring about behavioral change — for instance, by offering rewards or discounts in return for measurable healthy lifestyle choices.

2. Understand your measurements of success.

I was delighted to see a law firm and YuLife partner, Fladgate LLP, win this year’s People in Law Award for the Best Health and Wellbeing Initiative. YuLife’s gamified app inspired Fladgate’s employees — 41% of app users log on daily, and the average Fladgate staff member walks 9,000 steps per day (as opposed to a UK average of 3,100). That’s the sort of tangible difference which the Fogg model prioritizes.

3. Put policyholders’ needs first.

Are we looking to roll out a fancy gamified product for the sake of it, or are we genuinely trying to encourage policyholders to live better lives? The Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, which explored some of the controversies behind social media use, offers some important insights on this front. While social media users believe that tech products are made for them, many big tech firms believe that users (along with their data) are themselves the product. Companies aggregate user data and then reduce users to an algorithm in order to profit from targeted advertising. That model cannot work for life insurers seeking to overcome those low retention rates — members are not a product, but are the very purpose of why we exist.

Gamification can help insurers put people first, overcoming some of the most damaging stigmas surrounding the insurance industry. Moreover, it’s a feature that consumers — especially the younger generation — take for granted when choosing digital products. With games being by far the most popular category for app downloads, it’s essential for insurers to capitalize on a trend that’s here to stay.

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Josh Hart (Credit: YU Life)Josh Hart is the chief technology officer and co-founder of YuLife.