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Report On Business Manulife seeks to trade health data for insurance premium discounts

Manulife has struck an exclusive agreement with wellness program provider Vitality Group to offer savings on life insurance premiums to customers who prove that they are taking steps to improve their health.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Manulife Financial Corp. is bringing its fitness trackers and financial incentives to the Canadian market.

The country's largest life insurer has struck an exclusive agreement with wellness program provider Vitality Group to offer savings on life insurance premiums to customers who prove that they are taking steps to improve their health, such as getting vaccinated and going for cancer screenings.

This new type of insurance launched in the United States last spring through Manulife's subsidiary, John Hancock Financial Services, and now its coming north of the border.

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Manulife aims to make insurance more fun for customers, with an app that offers encouragement and digital pats on the back, as well as a free wearable fitness tracker for signing up. Manulife is still determining which devices it will offer in Canada, but in the United States it partnered with Fitbit.

"Part of the program is helping [customers] to set goals, and then helping follow them on the goals," said Marianne Harrison, head of Manulife Canada. "Our strategy here in Canada is really around health and wealth, and trying to bring those things together."

One big draw of shaking up the life-insurance space through technology is to find new ways to connect with customers outside of the usual contact points – collecting premium payments and paying claims in the case of an injury or death.

Checking in on health goals will give financial advisers an extra opportunity to call clients, not only to talk about their progress but also to catch up on life events such as a marriage or new child. Those changes may be an opportunity to sell other Manulife products.

Ms. Harrison said the new product will promote good health, but also get customers thinking about saving by giving them discounts on things they buy. The insurer is working to secure corporate partners that will provide the discounts and small gift cards to reward good behaviour, such as getting to the gym a set number of times.

The wearable devices are only one way the insurer will collect information through the Vitality insurance program. In the United States, customers hand over medical test results and biometric data, which the company has said could influence the way policies are underwritten in the future. Canada has unique privacy rules that have to be worked through ahead of the launch.

People who sign up for life insurance with the Vitality program will automatically get a discount on their policy, compared with those who are not enrolled. After the first year, customers taking more steps to live a healthy lifestyle will get a higher level of discounts on their premiums. In the United States, the discounts range from 5 to 15 per cent.

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Manulife is still ironing out the finer points of these policies, which should be available in the coming months.

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