“When you have a strong, emotional or values-oriented alignment with what you’re trying to do ,  burnout isn’t really an issue”

With Brooks Tingle, President and CEO of John Hancock Insurance

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When you have a strong, emotional or values-oriented alignment with what you’re trying to do ,  burnout isn’t really an issue. It’s exciting every moment you spend driving toward those outcomes, and what more noble an outcome than the type of shared value proposition we’re working on to help Americans live longer, healthier lives — it’s good for our customers, good for our shareholders and good for society in general.

I had the distinct pleasure to interview Brooks Tingle, President and CEO of John Hancock Insurance

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I didn’t consciously set out to have a career in the insurance industry. But I realized quickly in the early part of my career that it’s a special industry and plays a tremendously important role in people’s lives.

I saw this while signing off on 9–11 claims that came through our company — seeing the personal stories. Though we can’t bring people back, we can see how our financial products help their loved ones in an impactful way.

I remember speaking at a college career event and a university student came up and thanked me and my company. His father had been approached to buy insurance by an agent who was persistent. Finally, after a time, the parents agreed and purchased a policy. About three months later, the father was killed in a car accident on his way to work. The young man told me how grateful he was to have the insurance so he and his brother could finish school and his mother wouldn’t have to worry about finances.

Not only do the personal stories underscore the meaningfulness of the industry — it’s also special in terms of the long relationships we have with our customers compared to other industries. The average is about 20 years, but we’ve had clients for as long as 99 years. Few industries these days enjoy potentially lifelong relationships with their customers. We have that and greatly value it.

Can you share a story about the “funniest” mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While I’m certain I’ve made many mistakes, I can’t recall one that has been particularly funny. One, which happens far less now, pertains to not having a strong enough lens on the customer. When I look back, I think we sometimes tended to make decisions too analytically and lost the personal input and touch of our customers. The new features or plan designs would have looked quite good on paper but may not have served a need being felt closely by customers. For the last several years, and even more so now, the company has been on an all-out mission to be truly customer obsessed — we start by listening to them at the beginning and test throughout.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people choose insurance?

We’re on a mission to transform what it means to own life insurance. We’re well along on that journey having launched Vitality, a technology-enabled wellness platform that rewards customers for the everyday steps they take to live longer, healthier lives. Through this program, customers can save up to 15 percent on their premiums and can enjoy a range of other valuable discounts and rewards. We introduced the concept of incentivizing small steps customers can take to be healthier — exercising, eating well, seeing a doctor and practicing mindfulness — as an optional benefit in 2015.

We found policies with the benefit were vastly preferred to traditional policies without it. The benefit worked well to reward healthy behavior, and it created a closer relationship between John Hancock and the customer. For example, our policyholders take nearly twice as many steps as the average American, have logged more than three million healthy activities and engage with the program approximately 40 times per month compared to customers with traditional insurance, who engage with their life insurance company only one or two times per year on average.

In September, we went all in announcing that we will sell nothing but life insurance policies that come with Vitality, because we fundamentally believe that our company — and all life insurance companies — should help customers live longer, healthier lives.

At the same time, we’re looking to make life insurance a lot easier to buy. I’m excited to be continuing to evolve and further extend the Vitality proposition but also undertaking a large effort to make our products and services much easier for consumers to access. We know there are very few products in the modern economy that are more difficult to buy than life insurance and we need to change that as an industry. We intend to lead that change at John Hancock.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?

I experienced a tipping point in my career when I was able to take a step back and challenge the status quo, rather than focus on executing an existing, more traditional strategy.

My early career was built on being able to execute very well against a defined strategy.

But I really started to enjoy greater success and enjoy what I do even more when I thought a lot more about disruption and innovation — not just working with a traditional strategy but creating a boldly different strategy.

There’s no better example of that than our decision four years ago to fundamentally change the role life insurance plays in people’s lives, making it not just about being there upon their death — but very much helping them while they’re alive — with the launch of our Vitality program.

What advice would you give to other people in the insurance field to thrive and avoid burnout?

Find things to work on that truly energize you, not just things that feel like “work.”

When you have a strong, emotional or values-oriented alignment with what you’re trying to do — like the way we do with Vitality — burnout isn’t really an issue. It’s exciting every moment you spend driving toward those outcomes, and what more noble an outcome than the type of shared value proposition we’re working on to help Americans live longer, healthier lives — it’s good for our customers, good for our shareholders and good for society in general.

People aren’t inclined to burn out when their work is built around an important and exciting mission like that — so make sure you’re working on things that truly align with your values and your passions.

As an “insurance insider,” you know much more about insurance than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to buy a policy from another person, which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing to a policy? Can you give an example or story for each?

1. Get the insurance

So many Americans have an insurance need, but not a policy. The most pressing issue is helping them understand the value of having it. I’ve seen too many times in my career that someone means to get the coverage but doesn’t. If you know someone who’s passed away without adequate coverage to support their family or their business, then you know the importance of having that protection in place.

2. Understand your need

Many people sign up for their employer’s benefit of, say, 1x salary and think they’re covered. They really need to think a bit more about the amount their family would need to adjust to a reality without them.

3. Understand the insurance

There are a number of considerations when deciding what type of insurance is most appropriate. Think about the nature of the need, and what duration would be most appropriate — should the insurance cover a period of time, or is it a long-term need? Would you like to use it to leave a legacy for heirs or a charitable organization? These days you can also think about whether you’d like to get something out of your life policy while you’re alive — through accelerated benefits to cover chronic illnesses or long-term care; and whether you’d like it to encourage and reward you for taking steps to live a healthier life like Vitality does.

4. Get professional advice

I’m the CEO of a large life insurance organization and I work with an advisor to get advice and perspective. Independent advisors are in the know about new developments in coverage as well as offerings from an array of carriers. They’re in tune with their clients’ needs, risk appetite, and finances and can make custom recommendations. Knowing that not all consumers want to or can meet with an advisor, good advice can also be found online through digital tools and comparison sites.

5. Commit to the insurance process

Right now, insurance is not the easiest product to buy — but the whole industry is working on making it easier and it can now be easier than you might think. Commit to the process. I’ve seen too many times that someone has decided that they want the coverage, but because the application process can be spread out with tasks along the way, it somehow falls off the radar and is never completed.

Insurance agencies or companies are often known to be very creative and innovative marketers. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

When you think of an agency or advisor — the advantage they have is they’re engaging with the customer in very personal way, a way in which they can understand well the needs and preferences of the individual.

We do that in a macro way as a carrier and then respond with solutions that are relevant in today’s economy. If you had told me five years ago we would be offering life insurance that’s interwoven with offerings from Apple, Amazon, over 15,000 grocery stores, and others, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. It’s gratifying to see our solutions achieving the relevance they deserve in today’s digital economy.

Is there a particular person, or industry mentor, who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful to, and have learned something from, every single person I’ve worked for and with. I’ve had many wonderful leaders throughout my career — but also learned from leaders I didn’t necessarily think very much of in the moment. I would encourage people to pay attention to everyone, always be listening and learning — and don’t disengage from people you don’t agree with. Study what they’re saying and why you disagree. There’s learning to be had from everyone.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? 

We believe John Hancock Vitality, which provides customers with the support, education, incentives and rewards to live longer, healthier lives, exemplifies a “shared value” approach to business, helping customers and their communities be better off. Life insurance is no stranger to the idea of providing consumers security and helping ensure their prosperity, but we’ve reached the time to think bigger than individuals and families and extend that notion to whole communities and society at large. It’s time for insurance to realize its potential as the ultimate “shared value” industry. By helping to improve health, extend life and reverse chronic diseases, we have the ability to generate economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing current health challenges. I’d love to see every insurer play an active role in the well-being of their customers and society overall.

About the Author:

Matt Schmidt is the founder of which specializes in helping people with diabetes find affordable life insurance. Matt founded the company after his father was diagnosed with diabetes in 2010. He is also founded to provide helpful information for those living with diabetes. Matt is also pre-diabetic.

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