Annuity firms face big challenges when trying to offer the best annuity UX on their websites and apps. Prospects often have no familiarity with annuities, and those that do can be wary of the products. Firms have to create an experience that overcomes ignorance at best and skepticism at worst. In addition, years of low interest rates have made the returns on annuities unappealing, forcing firms to focus on the guarantees that annuities can provide instead. With the deck stacked against annuity providers, a best-in-class digital experience becomes essential. Annuity websites have become outdated and apps are often nonexistent. Annuity firms have to bring their UX into the twenty-first century.

A turnaround for the industry might be on the way. The SECURE Act makes it easier for annuities to become a part of employer-sponsored retirement plans. Firms are trying to rebrand their products and shed the baggage of previous marketing missteps. There are big opportunities for annuity firms willing to adapt to this new world. UX for annuity firms is now more important than ever. Digital-first users increasingly expect all financial firms to offer an experience comparable to those from Apple or Google. Outdated sites no longer cut it. Annuity firms that follow modern best practices, learning from those offering the best annuity UX examples, will have a leg up on their competitors. Below we’ll show examples and discuss the digital strategies top annuity firms are using today to create the best annuity UX.

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Interactive tools enhance consumer knowledge

Annuity sales still depend on advisors, in spite of declining customer satisfaction with the advisor experience at large. This might be changing. Recent research indicates that while 75% of individual annuity accounts are still sold by advisors, direct engagement with annuity providers is on the rise. So while offering best-in-class advisor experience remains critical for firms, the best annuity UX must now also cater directly to prospects.

Our annuity research team has identified visual tools as a must-have for the best annuity experience for prospects. As detailed below, potential customers often know very little about annuities. Interactive tools and calculators can help them understand outcomes and better demonstrate the value annuities can add to a financial portfolio, particularly for more complicated annuities, like variable or buffered annuities. Charts, graphs and calculators that improve a prospect’s annuity knowledge give firms a significant advantage when it comes to converting them into customers. Prospects will feel more confident when they can easily see the potential outcomes of their investments. And a confident prospect is more likely to become a customer.

Many firms tracked by CI’s annuity research team now offer visual tools, serving as examples of this annuity UX best practice:

  • Brighthouse Financial provides interactive, product-specific demonstration tools across its public site. The step-by-step tools allow users to customize the results for different term lengths and indices. The results of these scenarios appear in a table as well as in a graph with color-coded bars.
  • Next steps are also key to these tools, so that firms can direct prospects to the next part of the sales process. Jackson makes sure to highlight next steps in its publicly available Retirement Expense & Income calculator, including an explicit annuity recommendation on the Proposed Gap Solution results screen—one of the few firms in the industry to do so. If a firm feels confident that its tool gives good recommendations, adding a next step with a suggested product can entice prospects to either contact the firm directly or find a financial advisor.
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Brighthouse Financial Shield Level Annuities Demonstration Tool

 

Mobile apps with annuity capabilities make firms an instant leader in the space

Mobile app design from annuity firms lags behind the greater financial industry. Only 59% of the annuity firms that our research team tracks provide a mobile app with annuity capabilities. This is a huge area of opportunity for annuity firms as mobile financial apps are more popular than ever. According to a recent survey, usage of personal finance mobile apps grew faster than any other type of mobile app in 2021; consumers increasingly expect all financial firms to offer one, with capabilities for all financial products. The best annuity UX includes a mobile element.

The best annuity mobile app design goes beyond displaying the account balance and actually allows users to make changes to their account. Annuity apps should include login and contact information updates, as well as fund transfers, rebalances and allocation changes. The best annuity apps also offer an intuitive navigation structure, as navigation is essential for infrequently used apps. Lesser annuity mobile apps merely provide an alternative location to view account information—a low value-add for most account owners who do not regularly need this information. With a bare bones experience, any other poor mobile UX, such as a difficult login or unclear navigation, will turn an annuity mobile app into a net negative for the firm. CI’s annuity research team has over the years identified some annuity apps that firms would have been better off not offering at all, as they combined minimal account capabilities with frustrating usability. We think all firms should have an app, but no app is better than a bad one.

Our research team does like the annuity capabilities from a few firms we track:

  • Equitable’s mobile app stands out among others for offering the widest range of account servicing capabilities, allowing account owners to change login method, contact information and allocations as well as transfer funds, rebalance and view account documents. The firm also provides a dual-navigation structure that includes a sequential menu and a bottom menu with category landing screens.
  • TIAA and USAA excel in displaying more contract information than most other firms. Other firms—such as Fidelity and MassMutual—add value in their mobile apps by incorporating additional resources, such as annuity education, contact information, news and live chatbots.

Firms should also ensure their broader apps do not cause issues specific to annuity owners. For example, some apps redirect annuity owners to the mobile version of the desktop site. Users sometimes need to log in twice—once in the app, and then again on the mobile site. To ensure mobile apps provide maximum value for users, firms should make sure the mobile app functions as an app for all users, and does not redirect annuity account owners to a different site.

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Equitable’s Range of Mobile App Capabilities

The best annuity UX leverages educational resources to direct users to products

As the public’s familiarity with annuities is low to begin with, firms can assume that few users visit their public sites with a particular annuity product already in mind. Some may not even know what an annuity is or may be doing initial research after a financial professional introduced them to annuities.

In other words: Annuity firms need to design their UX, especially on public sites, for users who don’t know much about annuities. Education is key when, as a recent study reveals, annuity knowledge is low. Only one in four consumers can score a 70% on a ten-question test of annuity information, and 40% of consumers answer “not sure” to all ten questions. Customers who demonstrated greater annuity knowledge, however, were more likely to express interest in an annuity: 63% of consumers with greater annuity knowledge viewed annuities positively, as opposed to 27% of those with less knowledge. Education is a must-have for the best annuity UX on public sites.

“…consumers who have a high level of annuity knowledge are more likely to have positive views about annuities…”

-Secure Retirement Institute

Firms do well when they provide educational resources on public sites that raise consumer knowledge and bolsters positive perception of annuity products. Firms provide a range of educational resources through public site pages, articles and calculators. The best annuity UX, however, offers an educational journey that takes users from the basics of annuities to specific products. As users explore the education sections, a clean design and intuitive navigation can direct them from overview resources to individual annuity product pages they were less likely to seek out on their own.

This image shows that a SRI survey found that consumers who know more about annuities tend to have more favorable views of annuities
Secure Retirement Institute’s Annuity Perception Survey Results

We particularly like the way a few firms structure their education sections:

  • Fidelity provides extensive and easy-to-navigate educational content. The Annuities public site page offers three intrapage tabs: Overview, Learn and Compare. All three tabs provide links to further resources and articles, and the Compare tab houses a table breaking down the differences between all of the firm’s annuity offerings, with links to individual product pages.
  • Lincoln Financial Group offers wide-ranging educational materials on its public site, including extensive product literature and variable annuity pages with recent performance information. Two annuity overview pages and several product type overview pages, findable from the main public site navigation, house links to all available individual product pages, from which users can view and compare specific product details.
This screenshot shows one of Lincoln's public site annuity pages
Lincoln Financial Group Public Site Annuities 101 Page

Account self-servicing capabilities help both users and firms

Customers hate waiting for customer service. Recent research indicates that consumers value fast response times from a firm’s customer service above any other attribute, including getting help from a live representative. And yet many firms still fall short: Related research of 1,000 companies measured the average customer service response time to be over twelve hours, with 62% of firms ignoring customer emails.

Self-service and other digital help options reduce wait times and create the best annuity UX. Top annuity firms offer a wide range of self-servicing capabilities that allow account owners to control their accounts in the 21st century, without the need for phone calls or faxed paper forms. The best annuity website design will place these capabilities in a centralized location with robust help features. This not only streamlines the account owner experience, but also serves to reduce customer service calls, therefore allowing firms to allocate resources elsewhere.

Some examples of the UX best practice from the annuity firms that we track in our subscription research service:

  • Fidelity, Nationwide, TIAA and USAA allow account owners to make their own beneficiary and profile changes. Fidelity, Nationwide and USAA provide tooltips throughout the authenticated site, a useful help option that does not distract from other elements on the page. Text instructions are also a popular help feature among top firms.
  • TIAA’s account self-servicing capabilities stand out for their location: the firm displays a static link in the main navigation that leads directly to the Actions page, where account owners can make their alterations.
This screenshot from TIAA's private site shows the range of self-service options
TIAA Account Owner Site Actions Page

Jakob’s law states that people spend most of their time on other websites and apps. This is particularly true in the annuity industry—even people who work for large annuity firms probably don’t browse annuity websites and apps in their free time. Account owners may only log into their account a few times a year. Annuity firms should employ website and app designs that take this into account—in other words, the annuity industry might not be the right place for experimental digital designs. Firms seeking the best annuity UX should instead adhere to the top usability heuristics for user interface design. Mirroring sites outside the annuity industry and providing predictable navigation structures can help ensure that users are able to complete online tasks efficiently and find all the important information that the site offers.

Best practices for annuity website design include a standard horizontal main navigation structure with flyout menus and a consistent footer. A single navigation structure is better than multiple, as differing structures throughout a single site will confuse users. Top firms group links intuitively in the main navigation, allowing different audiences to narrow their navigation choices down to resources that are relevant to them. Firms do differ when it comes to categorization schemes, with some sorting by business line, product type or content type. Furthermore, leading annuity providers follow other UX best practices with secondary navigation features, such as expandable sections, intrapage tabs and breadcrumbs, that improve usability without cluttering the page.

Some examples from the firms we cover:

  • MassMutual offers a header, standard main navigation and footer that cater to a variety of users along with breadcrumbs throughout its entire public site.
  • Nationwide offers a main navigation that includes resources for various users, including product and educational resources for prospects and account self-service links for account owners. The header offers resources for financial professionals while the footer is unique from that of other firms; it does not duplicate links from the main navigation but instead offers a separate set of resources.
This image shows MassMutual's public site navigation structure
MassMutual’s Public Site Navigation Structure

Annuity providers need to track their competitors across traditional firms and disruptors

While annuity UX may lag behind the experience of other financial service industries, firms are realizing the importance of the digital experience. Most annuity firms that we track made significant and much-needed updates to their digital UX during the pandemic, improving product information, self-servicing options, and advisor capabilities. The annuity landscape is changing rapidly. User expectations are keeping pace, especially as more digital-savvy prospects age into the annuity market. Firms do well to keep abreast of their competitors so that they can match these evolving user expectations. Our cross-industry experience has demonstrated time and time again that the best UX doesn’t necessarily come from innovators. Rather, the best user experience comes from firms that quickly adopt innovations proven to work. Firms provide the best experience when they track trends and adopt best practices from both traditional annuity UX and new innovators in the space. Firms tracking their competition will be best positioned to succeed in this changing space.

Learn more about our subscription annuity research service here, or contact us here to learn more about how our customizable research can help your organization.

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