Can an insurance company do banking better? Manulife Financial Corp. is upping its game

PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNIST

Two words you never thought you’d say in imagining a brighter future for chequing and savings accounts: Manulife Bank.

A non-factor for years, the banking division of insurance giant Manulife Financial Corp. is upping its game. On Monday, Manulife Bank introduced a package of services designed to claim a share of a market for daily banking that is crowded with big banks, alternative banks, credit unions and upstart financial technology companies.

Manulife’s strategy: Appeal to millennials and other digitally savvy people with a four-part bundle of banking services wrapped in an app for smartphones that helps with saving and budgeting. Manulife’s goal: Compete against the country’s banking heavyweights more than the alternative players. “We’re here to be the best alternative to the big banks,” said Rick Lunny, chief executive of Manulife Bank.

The All-in Banking Package from Manulife Bank is slick enough that it should be studied by other banks looking at how to adapt their accounts for the digital age. The question is whether there’s enough there to offset the so-so economics for customers who believe in paying the least in fees while getting the most interest.

The core of All-in is an unlimited transaction account (e-transfers included) that costs $10 a month, compared to $14 to $16 for similar big bank accounts and zero at an increasing number of alternative online banks. The All-in account goes down to zero in fees in a month where you add $100 or more to a savings account that comes as part of the package.

That savings account pays 1.2 per cent, a disappointment. Several alternative online banks that have savings accounts are paying 2.25 per cent or more to go with their no-fee chequing accounts. Examples: Alterna Bank, Motive Financial and Motusbank, which opened for business in April.

The third part of the All-in package is a no-fee cash-back credit card paying rewards of 2 per cent on groceries and 1 per cent on other expenses. This reward rate is not at all bad, although anyone wanting a no-fee cash-back card should check out the Rogers World Elite MasterCard.

The fourth part of the All-in package is travel interruption insurance offered by Manulife. Finally, as a sweetener, Manulife is offering people who sign up for All-in one year of Amazon Prime, which otherwise costs $79. Amazon Prime offers free delivery of Amazon orders plus access to TV shows and movies.

All-in is most interesting when you look at the way financial technology is deployed to help customers manage their money so they’re able to save more.

Mr. Lunny said the bank partnered with five fintech companies to develop features such as the one that lets you set how much money you want in your chequing account and then sweeps any excess into savings at the end of each day. Other functions show how close you are to saving enough each month to eliminate the $10 account fee and how close you are to your credit-card limit. There’s also what Manulife calls an intelligent virtual assistant, which can answer questions about banking and offer tips on budgeting, saving and such.

The most obvious big bank competition to All-in comes from the online banks Tangerine, owned by Bank of Nova Scotia, and Simplii Financial, owned by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Both offer no-fee chequing with unlimited transactions and savings accounts with rates of 1.2 per cent.

On fintech specifically, some of the most noteworthy competition to All-in comes from the budgeting apps at a pair of big banks, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Royal Bank of Canada.

Manulife designed All-in to work most effectively on smartphones and expects the bulk of its customers to access their account that way rather than desktop computers. It’s a sign of how much importance the bank is putting on young adult customers as opposed to an older, wealthier demographic targeted by the bank’s Advantage Account.

Mr. Lunny said the bank hopes to attract millennials with the All-in package, then sell them mortgages and investments as they get older and more established. “We feel millennials are our future,” he said.

For millennials, the All-in package scores well on mobile-friendly technology and convenience – four products in one. But having to save $100 a month to make the $10 account fee vanish? That’s old school, and not in a good way.

FSRA to oversee insurance, mortgage and deposit taking institutions in Ontario

WEALTH MANAGEMENT REPORTER

A new independent financial regulator is up and running in Ontario to oversee insurance, mortgage and deposit taking institutions.

The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) assumed regulatory duties on June 8, replacing both the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) and the Deposit Insurance Corp. of Ontario (DICO).

The new regulator – led by financial services veteran Mark White – will oversee Ontario’s financial services providers, excluding securities, which are regulated by the Ontario Securities Commission.

In particular, the FSRA will regulate Ontario’s insurance sector, pension plans, loan and trust corporations, credit unions and caisses populaires, mortgage brokers and service providers that invoice auto insurers for statutory accident benefit claims.

Mr. White assumed the role of CEO of FSRA in May, 2018, and has spent the past year helping in the transition of FSCO and DICO. He brings almost 20 years experience in the regulatory, financial and legal sectors. Prior to joining FSRA, he was vice-president and head enterprise risk at Bank of Montreal. Mr. White also held the position of assistant superintendent and head of regulation sector at Canada’s bank and insurance regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI).

“Our mandate is quite broad but it centres around making sure there is financial safety, financial fairness and financial choice for people in Ontario,” Mr. White said in an interview.

Part of that transition means FSRA inherited 1,100 pieces of guidance from former regulators. Mr White said they will spend the next year looking at how they can pare back that number by either “eliminating, combining or refreshing” the regulations.

“We will look at how the regulation can work more effectively for the public, the industry and the regulator,” he adds.

Key priorities for the FSRA include, among others, the provincial government’s focus on reforming auto insurance to increasing access and affordability for drivers, and to establishing title protection for financial planners and financial advisers.

“Our government recognizes that making Ontario open for business means making sure financial services are efficient, responsive to consumers and businesses – FSRA will play a vital role in helping businesses grow while protecting consumers,” Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said in a statement.

Several main concerns posted on the regulator’s website on Monday afternoon address questions on whether the “age-old distinctions” between personal auto insurance and commercial insurance are still relevant; ensuring company pension assets held in trust are managed under fiduciary standards; and the concern around new products and services coming to market daily and how quickly should regulatory approval be given.

Mr. White said these are issues they plan to examine over the next year.

The Ministry of Finance will continue to administer FSCO’s Dispute Resolution Services until June 30, 2020. During the transitional period, all open cases will continue; however no new proceedings will commence.

As of July 1, 2020, any remaining cases will be extinguished, with parties able to start a new proceeding with the licence appeal tribunal.

Source: The Globe and Mail

Desjardins launches $45-million fintech fund

Desjardins Group is launching a $45-million fund to invest in financial technology startups as it seeks to build more direct relationships with a nascent sector that once looked poised to disrupt traditional banking.

The new fund will make investments ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to as much as $3-million, taking stakes of 10 per cent to 25 per cent in early-stage “fintech” companies. It will be managed by Desjardins Capital, the financial co-operative’s venture capital arm, which has invested in more than 400 companies.

The fund builds on existing partnerships and investments Desjardins has made with more than 20 fintechs dating back several years. The burgeoning fintech sector was once seen as a threat to established institutions such as Desjardins but, faced with the high cost and difficulty of acquiring new customers, many fintechs have changed course and have begun collaborating with large financial companies to help them with the transition to digital banking and insurance services.

By creating this new fund, Desjardins is looking to take tighter control of its investments in financial technologies, and to sharpen its focus on products and services that can directly contribute to its strategy, from innovation in insurance and wealth management to strengthening cybersecurity.

Desjardins has already pumped $25-million into Luge Capital, a venture fund focused on fintech and artificial intelligence that launched last year with a total of $75-million from backers such as Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Sun Life Financial. Desjardins will continue to back Luge, but now wants to make its own investment decisions as well. Whereas past investments have often been confined to startups in Quebec, the new fund will also seek out opportunities in the United States, Britain, Europe and Australia.

“With $45-million, we can do a lot,” said Guy Cormier, chief executive of Desjardins Group. “There’s a lot of noise, there’s a lot of buzz in the fintech industry, and we just have to be quite careful and quite clever about the kind of partnerships [we choose]. We really know what we want to do, what we want to accomplish, so we’re not trying to go everywhere. But with this fund now we have more capacity.”

The fund’s first investment falls outside the normal boundaries of fintech. Desjardins is putting $400,000 into X-TELIA Group Inc., a company that operates a wireless network tailored to home automation and connecting the so-called internet of things, to help expand its network across Canada. Desjardins sees applications to home and auto insurance, but is also a major lender to the agricultural sector, and X-TELIA connects smart sensors on farmers’ grain silos to make it easier to manage inventory.

“We want to add to our offer. It’s not any more enough for a financial institution to do the financing or to do the everyday banking,” said Martin Brunelle, vice-president of transformation and special projects at Desjardins. “What we want is to ease the lives of our members or our customers.”

Three other fintech companies are currently in the pipeline to receive investments from the new fund, Mr. Brunelle said. But they are at different stages of maturity and some could take years to bear fruit, if they flourish at all.

“The first goal is not return on investment for us. It’s really to build a relationship that is stronger, tighter with these fintechs, and will help us to build something that is great for our members and clients,” Mr. Cormier said. “The return on investment will be there maybe in a few years.”

Source: The Globe and Mail

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2019 Insurance Digital Experience Study | J.D. Power

Property and casualty (P&C) insurance companies have shown marked improvement in many of their digital offerings—particularly mobile self-service functionality—but still have work to do to meet customers’ rising expectations. According to the J.D. Power 2019 Insurance Digital Experience Study,SM released today, specific areas where insurers come up short when compared with mainstream digital consumer companies are with ease of shopping and servicing their policies, household-level policy management and inconsistent use of social media.

“Digital has become so important to the modern insurance company by delivering two essential characteristics consumers seek from carriers: ease and accessibility,” said Tom Super, Vice President Property and Casualty Insurance Intelligence at J.D. Power. “In many cases, mobile apps and insurer websites are the primary faces of these consumer brands. As consumer behavior continues to evolve, insurers must keep pace as part of their overall distribution strategy or run the risk of irrelevancy.”

The study, now in its 8th year, evaluates digital consumer experiences among P&C insurance shoppers seeking quotes and existing customers conducting typical policy-servicing activities. The study examines the functional aspects of websites and mobile apps based on five factors (in order of importance): ease of navigation; appearance; availability of key information; range of services; and clarity of the information. The study was conducted in partnership with Centric Digital, the leader in digital intelligence and includes Centric Digital’s DIMENSIONSTM measurement of insurers’ digital strengths, weaknesses and overall digital maturity.

Following are key findings of the 2019 study:

  • Mobile apps gain traction as preferred account servicing channel: Satisfaction with account servicing experience is higher among customers who use the mobile app channel than among those who use a desktop or smartphone website to interact with their insurance company. Overall satisfaction with mobile app service experience is 12 points higher (on a 1,000-point scale) than last year. Currently, 74% of insurance companies evaluated in the study offer the ability to access and manage policy and claims information via a mobile app.
  • Insurers’ digital maturity stunted by lack of resourcefulness: While most companies’ websites are highly responsive and meet brand standards, they fall short on delivering the types of expanded self-service tools, integrated digital communications functionality and contextual insurance information that would put them on par with leading websites in other industries.
  • Watch for insurtech partnerships in the months and years ahead: Insurtech start-ups are affecting the traditional insurance marketplace by providing customer-centric digital solutions and money-saving process efficiencies for insurers. Many traditional carriers, such as Nationwide, American Family and Allianz, have already partnered with insurtech start-ups—and more collaboration is expected.

“It cannot be overstated how important it is for brands to deliver digital experiences that meet or exceed cross-industry consumer expectations,” said Peter Smith, Chief Strategy Officer at Centric Digital. “This measurement and analysis show there are still many opportunities for P&C insurers to improve the consumer digital experience. While we’ve seen improvement over the past year, many insurers still have a long way to go when it comes to delivering world-class digital experiences.”

Study Rankings

GEICO ranks highest in the service segment with a score of 874. Allstate (862) ranks second and Farmers (857) ranks third.

MAPFRE Insurance ranks highest in the shopping segment with a score of 811. Progressive (803) ranks second and Erie Insurance (798) ranks third.

The 2019 Insurance Digital Experience Study is based on 11,151 evaluations and was fielded from January through March 2019.

For more on the Insurance Digital Experience Study, visit https://www.jdpower.com/business/resource/us-insurance-digital-experience-study.

J.D. Power is a global leader in consumer insights, advisory services and data and analytics. These capabilities enable J.D. Power to help its clients drive customer satisfaction, growth and profitability. Established in 1968, J.D. Power has offices serving North America, South America, Asia Pacific and Europe.

Centric Digital provides industry leading solutions to measure and navigate digital transformation. Powered by proprietary platform DIMENSIONS™, Centric Digital has benchmarked hundreds of brands, designed multi-year transformation strategies, unlocked and managed $2+ billion of investment roadmaps. Centric Digital is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Chicago and Mendoza, Argentina. Visit centricdigital.com to learn more.

 

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