Life insurance sales are declining, and companies are increasingly trying to attract customers with new perks. Now, a promising new frontier in insurance experience personalization is emerging from the world of after-life planning services. This growing genre of startups offers platforms, apps and other tools that allow customers concerned about the ends of their lives to secure their “digital legacies” by recording and disseminating videos and messages to their loved ones. As insurance companies grow more concerned with offering customers personalized experiences, they are turning to after-life planning companies to add a personal touch to life insurance ownership.
Recent innovations by financial services companies demonstrate the importance of experience personalization for insurance sales. John Hancock’s Vitality program, which rewards account owners for staying healthy, distinguishes the firm from its competitors by delivering its customers a personalized insurance experience. In early October, HR contractor Ease, which provides benefits for over 65,000 small- and medium-sized businesses, proved the importance of experience personalization by partnering with startup Ethos to offer individualized life insurance policies as part of an employer-sponsored plan. Whereas most employer-sponsored life insurance plans calculate risk based on the overall workforce, Ethos’s innovative model takes individual employees’ own life circumstances into account and provides custom rates with the potential to lower monthly premiums for a percentage of employees. After-life planning services can similarly help insurers stand out in their offerings to customers.
At least 27 companies offer after-life planning services—ranging in terms of business model from direct-to-consumer (Om Company, Fabric), to business-to-consumer (Peacefully, ByeO), to business-to-business-to-consumer (LifeSite, Trust&Will)—and most feature an app-based platform where users can save messages, videos or other documents for their loved ones to access after their death. In addition to storing and delivering messages, some companies also help with estate planning, formulating end-of-life care instructions and “digital asset planning,” which involves outlining instructions for the deceased person’s social media and online accounts. Not all after-life planning services are explicitly linked to the insurance industry, but many insurance companies (such as SafeBeyond partner Munich Re) are starting to see them as a valuable way to deliver personalized experiences to customers and help distinguish themselves from competitors.
The following examples illustrate the range of opportunities that after-life planning companies offer insurers:
- SafeBeyond – SafeBeyond began distributing its product in the U.S. in 2017. The company, which brands itself as an “Emotional Life Insurance Platform,” allows users to create messages for their friends and family as well as design personalized triggers specifying the moment when those messages are delivered to their loved ones (for example, if their child gets married or graduates from college).The product is offered as a result of a collaboration between SafeBeyond, which offers insurance-adjacent services, and Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies.
- Tomorrow Memories – Seattle-based digital will service provider Tomorrow launched Tomorrow Memories in 2018. The end–of–life planning service, which is available for subscribers to the company’s premium service Tomorrow Plus for $39.99 per month, allows users to record videos that the app passes along to loved ones. Personalized questions determined by family relationships prompt users to record one-minute video stories. The free version of Tomorrow allows users to access a limited number of free Tomorrow Memories for each member of their family, but only users who subscribe to Tomorrow Plus can record unlimited videos. Tomorrow Memories is intended as one of several features available to subscribers to Tomorrow Plus, including Family Sync and Tomorrow Trust. The former automatically syncs accounts and belongings with a spouse or partner when using the app, enabling joint decision-making regarding inheritance, while the latter uses Tomorrow’s revocable living trust to deliver funds to children over time.
- Qwill – Qwill is an estate planning app with integrated after-life planning services. Although the primary purpose of the app is to help users organize and secure their financial accounts, cryptocurrencies and other digital financial assets, Qwill also offers a platform for users to save pictures, messages and videos that will be passed on along with legal documents concerning their estate.
- Cake – Cake is a free web app that offers a variety of end-of-life planning services to users. The app gives users guidance on after-life planning (e.g., funeral expenses, inheritance, final wishes, etc.) and helps organize and communicate the user’s thoughts to their loved ones. The app also helps a user provide instructions for their end-of-life medical care and the care of their “digital assets” such as social media and other online accounts, which are rarely covered in traditional will-making.
One potential drawback of these services is that they might unnerve users. U.K.-based startup Ghost highlights this danger particularly well. The company, which offers the same applications for saving and delivering videos and messages as the other platforms, brands itself using ghostly imagery and spooky iconography. Its branding suggests that the deceased are ‘haunting’ their loved ones through the videos and messages they send, which could be off-putting. This echoes the 1950s anxiety about ‘haunted’ devices described in Haunted Media by Jeffrey Sconce, who relays a series of episodes in which people destroyed their telephones, radios and televisions after believing they had intercepted electronic messages from the dead. Companies like Ghost, by actively cultivating the narrative that our phones are possessed by dead relatives, might be limiting their reach and making their product harder to sell. After-life planning services companies would do well to minimize the inherent creepiness of their products. To maintain connections between the insured and their loved ones after death, after-life planning services ought to focus their brands on preserving legacies and memories, rather than digital spirits.
After-life planning services offer a host of applications for life insurance companies trying to create personalized experiences for their customers. Whether it is by organizing end-of-life and estate planning services, supplementing digital wills or providing a digital record of stories and memories to be passed from one generation to the next, after-life planning companies can help life insurers distinguish themselves with unique experiences adjacent to life insurance policy ownership. Although differentiating from competition is one of the biggest hurdles facing life insurance companies, after-life planning services offer a way to stand out, boasting a platform for transferring not only wealth from one generation to the next but an entire digital legacy.