Episode 11

Creating Innovation through Simplification with CUNA Mutual

“Our biggest competitor isn't another carrier—it's procrastination.” Those aren’t words you hear from life insurance leaders very often, but Kevin Cummer and Nick Rohan from CUNA Mutual have been on a journey to break down barriers in their industry.

In this episode, you’ll learn how CUNA Mutual focuses on customer centricity by simplification and leverages technology to better serve their customers.

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Time Stamps

  • 02:30 What digital transformation means to CUNA Mutual
  • 05:00 The beginning of innovation by simplification
  • 06:00 3 ways CUNA Mutual is breaking down barriers to acquiring life insurance
  • 08:30 “Our biggest competitor isn’t another carrier, it’s procrastination.”
  • 12:30 The results of CUNA Mutual’s updated distribution strategy
  • 15:00 Leveraging direct-to-consumer tools thrive in a changing market
  • 17:30 The mission behind the innovation


“Our biggest competitor isn't another carrier—it's procrastination.”

Those aren’t words you hear from a life insurance leader very often, but Kevin Cummer and Nick Rohan from CUNA Mutual have been on a journey to break down barriers in their industry.

To focus on customer centricity, CUNA Mutual simplifies the process to obtain life insurance and leverages technology to better serve their customers. It sounds easy, but it hasn’t always been this way. Listen in as Kevin and Nick discuss how their teams have worked together to help build an innovative system to improve the customer experience.

Key Takeaways:

    • Innovation doesn’t doesn’t need to be complicated—maintaining customer centricity by making tools, products, and information easy to understand, navigate, and purchase is key

    • Leveraging technology to simplify and streamline existing processes—instead of creating more—is an effective way to increase customer centricity

    • Shifting focus from the contract to the customer allows for greater innovation on the customer experience

We’re excited to see where the future leads in leveraging technology to build customer-centric experiences and to really break down barriers to life insurance ownership. There's a lot of great opportunity.

Kevin Cummer

Director, Life Products, CUNA Mutual

Our Guests

Kevin Cummer, Director, Life Products and Nick Rohan, Director, Partner Management at CUNA Mutual

LinkedIn LinkedIn

Kevin Cummer is passionate about helping middle market consumers achieve financial security. He is currently the Director of Life Products at CUNA Mutual. Kevin has almost two decades of experience in finance and insurance.

Nick Rohan is the Director of Partner Management at CUNA Mutual. He has been with CUNA Mutual for almost 22 years, and has a plethora of experience in helping people have a brighter financial future.


Anthony O'Donnell: This episode of Life Accelerated is brought to you by Equisoft, a leading global provider of end to end cloud-based solutions with deep domain expertise in the life insurance industry to learn more, visit equisoft.com.

Kevin Cummer: It's about replacing that traditional home office underwriting process with an automated process. And that allows us to provide a coverage decision while the consumer is still. Or on the phone with a sales representative, we leverage technology to show that life insurance can fit into anyone's budget.

Kevin Cummer: So we have an integrated quote tool, and then we have on our website educational articles that hit some of the common questions. What should I know when I apply for life insurance? How could marriage affect my life insurance needs? Why should I consider life insurance? If I don't have. Is it less expensive to buy life insurance when I'm young?

Kevin Cummer: So when you tie all of these pieces together, it all comes back to that. Focus on simplicity, breaking down some of those frequent barriers to life insurance

Anthony O'Donnell: ownership. I'm Anthony O'Donnell. And this is Life Accelerated a podcast for life insurers driving to achieve digital transformation. Joining us on this episode are two guests from CUNA mutual, Kevin Cummer, director of life products and Nick Rohan, director of partner management.

Anthony O'Donnell: CUNA mutual launched its consumer brand True Stage in 2016. And in May, 2022, the company announced its plans to unify its businesses under the true stage brand during 2023 true stages on a digital journey to go well beyond its credit union roots and break down barriers to life insurance ownership, Kevin and Nick have a take on who their competitor is.

Kevin Cummer: Our biggest competitor. Isn't another carrier. It's procrast.

Anthony O'Donnell: They understand that in order to break down barriers to life insurance ownership carriers need to create a streamlined customer experience. Kevin and Nick discuss how their teams acute and mutual work together to create tactical products and ultimately make those products easy for their customers to find and understand in our conversation, Kevin and Nick dive into what it takes to

Kevin Cummer: make a more seamless and simple process for the consumer to ultimately demystify life insurance.

Anthony O'Donnell: Here's my conversation with Kevin. We're talking about how CUNA Mutual's true stage has gone on a digital journey to break down barriers to life insurance ownership. Before we get into the details of that voyage. Let me ask Kevin what digital means to CUNA mutual, true stage.

Kevin Cummer: Yeah, thanks, Anthony. At the core of it, we believe a brighter financial future should be accessible to everyone.

Kevin Cummer: And true stage has designed our experience from the middle market consumer. We're looking at ages 25 to 64 income range, 35,000 to 125,000. And we know with that demographic insurance can be very complex and overwhelming. So what we're really looking to do is build an experience that simplifies the process for them.

Kevin Cummer: And we've leaned into the use of digital technology along the way to enable many of those aspects of simplicity, whether it's in terms of automated underwriting, online quote tools, or digital marketing capabilities.

Anthony O'Donnell: Tell us a little about true stages origins and how your digital journey has grown from direct mail marketing base credit union affinity distribution to something much broader.

Kevin Cummer: Our customer base was, as you noted, there are limited to members of credit unions. That's really what we've historically been known for. We focus on offering our life insurance products through direct mail marketing and a call center there. And while credit unions and their members are still our primary revenue.

Kevin Cummer: Technology has enabled us to expand our reach with the introduction of simplified issue products in 2017, our online sales have increased significantly and we've been able to expand our reach beyond credit union membership. While we also do our own work to reach consumers who are interested in purchasing online.

Kevin Cummer: We also recognize that there's other partners out in the space who can help get our products in front of consumers who are searching for the right life insurance solution. And that's where Nick and his team comes in.

Nick Rohan: Yeah, I think what's been amazing about the work that we've done over the past few years to simplify to experience is it's set up the ability to do small experiments with potential partners.

Nick Rohan: That kinda led us to this path. We had an existing partnership that was focused on a different product line, but through one of. Quarterly strategy sessions. We had the opportunity to whiteboard some ideas, and one was testing this path of them selling our life products. And that was really the Genesis of it.

Nick Rohan: It's grown to be one of our larger levers as a company. Over the past couple years, we found that simple experience that we really focused on ourselves. When we designed it resonated at a B to B level with other partners, which gave us the opportunity. Like I mentioned with that experiment, but also to start having those broader conversations and talking about what a business like this might look like for us, which was new, frankly, in 2018.

Nick Rohan: All right.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, we had the opportunity to talk to you both today because you represent two very important parts of this broader strategy, the product strategy and the distribution strategy. So, Kevin, I thought you could reiterate a little bit about the timeline of how you broke away from the way you were doing things and the kind of products that were required to fulfill this.

Kevin Cummer: So we started our transition from fully underwritten products to more of a simplified issue portfolio with the introduction of a simplified issue, whole life product. And that came in 2017. That product we've got coverage around ranging from a thousand dollars up to a hundred thousand dollars. We then expanded the portfolio with the introduction of some simplified issue term coverage.

Kevin Cummer: And that was in 2018. Those face amounts ranged from as low as $5,000 up to $300,000. And then we also offer a guaranteed acceptance whole life product that has coverage amounts ranging from a thousand dollars to $25,000. So you'll. When you compare to the industry, these products, you say, well, those sound like lower face amounts.

Kevin Cummer: And that really is our focus. And again, it ties back to what we talked about earlier that we're focused on that middle market consumer that's really who we're targeting with our products and ultimately our experience.

Anthony O'Donnell: And how do you put together a simplified issue product? What are some of the technologies that you need in order for it to be a simpler experience?

Kevin Cummer: It really starts as you look at that transition from fully underwritten to simplified issue. It's about replacing that traditional home office underwriting process with an automated process that uses answers to the application questions. Maybe some quick data polls from some outside vendors that we partner with.

Kevin Cummer: And that allows us to provide a coverage decision while the consumer is still online or on the phone with a sales representative. That whole process from start to finish can take as little as five to 10 minutes, as opposed to the one to two month process that you would see with the traditional underwriting.

Kevin Cummer: We also try to leverage technology to show that life insurance can fit into. Budget another barrier to people having coverage is that many consumers overestimate the cost of life insurance industry studies will show that over half of consumers believe that life insurance. Three times more expensive than it actually is.

Kevin Cummer: So for consumers who are shopping on our website, we have an integrated quote tool. That's a great way to really just help them see, you know, what are the different products available and how can they fit into their budget to realize that, you know what, I can make life insurance work and that I can't provide some protection for my family.

Kevin Cummer: So that integrated quote tool really gives consumers freedom so that they feel like they can investigate their options. Know where they're at today. And if something changes down the road, I have a feel for how that might impact what they might need in the future. Even for our consumers who utilize our call centers, our agents are gonna utilize a lot of those similar tools to really make it a more seamless and simple process for the consumer.

Kevin Cummer: And then finally, we just really try to demystify. Life insurance for those who feel overwhelmed through content that we have on our website, educational articles that hit some of the common questions. What should I know when I apply for life insurance, how could marriage affect my life insurance needs?

Kevin Cummer: Why should I consider life insurance? If I don't have kids, is it less expensive to buy life insurance when I'm young? So when you tie all of these pieces together, it all comes back to that. Focus on simplicity, breaking down some of those frequent barriers to life insurance owner.

Anthony O'Donnell: Kevin. What about the time?

Anthony O'Donnell: What about the issue of expediting the issue of the policy based on the fact that you're doing the simplified underwriting?

Kevin Cummer: Absolutely for a consumer to know that they have the coverage when they finish their time online or on the phone, they already know the coverage has been issued.

Kevin Cummer: They know when the payment's gonna be taken the initial payment's already been taken on the web, or they provided that information to the call center. There's no waiting for a decision.

Nick Rohan: During the process of building out this simple products that one of the themes that we heard or sayings that came to be is our biggest competitor. Isn't another carrier it's procrastination. So if we can get that protection in that consumer's hands when they're thinking of shopping and when they have a need in their mind, versus having those moments of pause throughout the process, that procrastination turned out to be our biggest competitor before the next carrier hit the list.

Anthony O'Donnell: Nick. What's the importance of simplicity to the kinds of relationships you're developing with your distributors. If you're selling products that have simplicity that are more appealing to the consumer, that's gotta be an important selling point for the partners that you're looking for.

Nick Rohan: It sure is that simple process for the consumer really translates in a call center, sold situation where it's a simple process for the agent doing the sale as well.

Nick Rohan: Right. There's a lot of appeal there, but backing up as we look at building out these B2B partnerships to get those products on the shelfs, if you will, we learn quickly that that simple theme needed to translate upstream as well. How do we integrate, how do we connect with the partner and meet them where they are?

Nick Rohan: Right. So there's. Opportunity for that to be very simple integrations where they use tools that we already have a CRM tool, that they can log into all the way to a deeper integration leveraging of kind of a full API suite. And that's really where our focus has been the past 18 months or so we learned really quickly.

Nick Rohan: Through some of those early experiments that, that simple part of the integration was just as key as how sophisticated it might be. Right. And so we've been shipping away at a roadmap over the last 18 months to really bring that entire consumer buying journey to partners via APIs, and then let them kind of select with how they'll engage with it.

Nick Rohan: So if they have the capability to engage a consumer through a marketing, Perhaps some content on a webpage or a call center or conversation, but they don't have the closing tools, whether that be due to the complexities of taking payments online or whatever that might be. We've created these off ramps with what we call a path to close.

Nick Rohan: So they engage that consumer on their properties to the extent that they can. And then we always have an offramp to close that business for them and in partnership with them. So that's what we found is key is that simplicity. We did some initial experiments where we had all these point to point API.

Nick Rohan: That failed miserably. It was a lot of maintenance work for us to keep it up and going. And the partners hated it. All these individual connections they had to call throughout. So a key part for us was, and a big shout out to our internal architecture team who stepped back and looked at all those connection points and really built out whatever the spaghetti mess might be as a legacy carrier behind the scenes.

Nick Rohan: It presents very simply to a partner. They. One partner layer that they interact with and it has kind of the optionality throughout it for them to connect back to those paths. However, they're connecting, it's all in that one layer and that's where we keep it. So as we add new, we're just adding to that layer and not creating more and more integrations points.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah. Now I understand the importance of this distribution strategy and how it's working as a growth engine at true stage. How do you identify partners and who would be a good partner and who may be not such a great partner for.

Nick Rohan: So looking at what partnerships that we seek and how do we determine what a good distribution partner is for us?

Nick Rohan: Our first stop is looking at are the values on the market aligned. If we don't have that, it's likely not a successful partnership. If they're not leading that consumer with advice and finding the right product for them versus a strict price comparison, we're not likely a good fit. If they're focused on high net worth individual.

Nick Rohan: To Kevin's point earlier, our product set isn't designed to play there. It's designed to serve that middle market who we feel are underserved with financial products that guiding that consumer to the right product, using an advice led approach, whether that be through a call center conversation or through their web content is also key to us.

Nick Rohan: We wanna make sure that we're not just being rammed through a process that we are being matched with the consumer and to their need. The challenge here we have and how it relates to some of our product design is we don't control that. Right. In our core businesses, we can target our marketing. We have models and things that we can leverage, but here we need a product that has enough flexibility to meet the consumers that are at the end of our partners marketing efforts, while maintain it a sufficient level of profitability.

Nick Rohan: So we can make sure we're there to fulfill the promises down the road.

Anthony O'Donnell: So how is this all working out? What kind of results are you seeing through the distribution strategy? What does that imply about? What succeeds? Both from a channel perspective, and also in terms of how the products are received. Nick, maybe the way we could start here is to talk about what your goals were originally for true stage with the distribution strategy and how you're doing relative to how you hope to be doing?

Nick Rohan: Yeah, my quickest summary would be very well. So we set out with that simple experiment. We had really modest goals in our annual forecast or privilege that the organization gave us a chance to set out and learn. What we learned, really quickly was we were ripe for this. In our first three to four years of existence, we've seen triple digit growth year over year, each year, which is really exciting.

Nick Rohan: It comes with some internal pressures to keep that going. That's not sustainable for the lifetime of the program, but we still view it as one of our primary growth levers over the next five to six years, as we do our longer term business planning, we've found partners with. In-house call center capabilities quickly shift their mix to us because they like that experience like we talked about earlier.

Nick Rohan: So our initial forecast for an individual partner quickly shift, that's always really fun as we get to report that in. And then from a digital perspective, that simplicity translates into. Enabling simple experiments with their user interfaces and how they wanna take a consumer through that buying journey.

Nick Rohan: So it plays on both sides and it ultimately turns into great results for us, both from a financial perspective. But as we mentioned, it's great to be part of a mission based organization. So that consumer protected number grows every month. And that's when we watch and tout quite a. That simplicity message you've heard have as a theme throughout the conversation today continues as you own a policy.

Nick Rohan: And at that critical moment, when your beneficiaries calling in to file a claim, we've empowered that claims team to pay claims in that single call, much like the single call close capability we built on the front end. That single call claim, relying on publicly available data, that they can pay that claim with one phone call and get that beneficiary taken care of.

Nick Rohan: And that really comes out when you're listening to our claims calls or even our sales calls. You hear both ends of that. A key reason that helps us remember why we're here beyond the financial metrics.

Anthony O'Donnell: Kevin you were describing a kind of virtuous cycle, right? A feedback loop, or you're able to see what works, what doesn't work and make adjustments has the volume of the business that you've enjoyed, enabled you to do that a little faster.

Anthony O'Donnell: Has it accelerated your response?

Kevin Cummer: Yeah, absolutely. I think we have seen a lot of growth in our business and that gives us more data to work with. One of the things I think that we've seen is to go back to the beginning of the pandemic. There was a real transition in the insurance industry. As far as how life insurance was put in front of consumers, there was that face to face channel really became a very difficult place and required some transition.

Kevin Cummer: We benefited. The fact that we had invested in a lot of these capabilities already and were really able to take advantage of the fact we could hit the ground running. We already had these direct to consumer tools in place. And so we experienced some of our top growth years. There's the growth that Nick and his team contributed from the distribution partner space, but even excluding that our business group at some of its fastest rates ever in 2020 and 2021.

Kevin Cummer: And that was really due to the fact that we didn't have to figure out how are we going to remain relevant with consumer. We had the tools in place that it was just business as usual for us. And there was a real receptivity to insurance amidst, all the concerns that people had during the pandemic. And so we really were able to learn a lot and grow a lot during that period.

Anthony O'Donnell: So it was a great time to affirm digital capabilities. And this certainly strikes me as a wonderful digital success story in that regard so far. So good. I guess you could say you're a couple years into the program. How would you define long term success in this endeavor?

Nick Rohan: Yeah, I think we talk about this all the time.

Nick Rohan: The benefits of working at a mutual company and one that's mission driven that were afforded the benefit of, as we look at our and build out our strategies, we can take a long view. We don't have an earnings call next quarter that we have to be on. So one we have aggress. Growth goals. We highlighted them.

Nick Rohan: And in all three elements of our business, our core credit union business, our internal D to C business. And then now our partner space, they're all projected to grow quite strongly. We don't view that as the only metric. One of the elements that we spend a lot of time talking about is how do we grow a profitable portfolio?

Nick Rohan: We have the benefit of being that mutual company. We have the benefit of being a legacy carrier. We don't have to show the marketplace strong growth, like an inure tech might need to secure additional funding. So we're looking to build that profitable portfolio from the start. And we know the various types of partners we might engage with will all bring a different approach to the market, which will bring different profitability levels.

Nick Rohan: And we look to balance that. So that's another place we look is just keeping that balance across the types of partners. We. The returns we're seeing there. And then ultimately, how do all three elements of our business balance out between the credit union are all an internal distribution business. And then our third party distribution business in the partner.

Anthony O'Donnell: Some great comments there about the business dimension. And Nick, you also mentioned mission. I thought, Kevin, you might want to conclude on a reflection on the mission as you thought of it from the start and how it's going.

Kevin Cummer: Yeah, absolutely. I moved into our product organization three and a half years ago and a big part of the reason why I was supporting this business from a finance perspective previously.

Kevin Cummer: And. I felt, I just really loved what we were doing as far as what we're trying to do, making financial security accessible to everyone. And so it's a part of the reason that I moved over into the product organization. And it's part of why I get up and do what I do every day. Because from top to bottom, we all believe, and that's why we're doing what we do.

Kevin Cummer: And we remind our it development teams of it. Every time they build a new product, we remind our product folks who are building the products. This is why we do it. And we share stories of Nick alluded to the claim calls, for example, Here's what that life insurance meant for someone down the road and for the consumer.

Kevin Cummer: There's real peace of mind that comes with having the right life insurance coverage in place to protect your loved ones. And we try to really remind ourselves of that. We're excited with the progress that we've made in leveraging technology to build these experience, to really break down those barriers to life insurance ownership.

Kevin Cummer: We're excited to see where the future leads with it. And there's a lot of great opportunity yet ahead.

Anthony O'Donnell: Any parting remarks?

Nick Rohan: At echo, Kevin and I are both long term employees of the organization. And to see this part of our business evolve and be part of it has been really exciting. We've got great teams behind us, our it teams, all of our compliance and legal teams, and then the product team that helps us build all of this.

Nick Rohan: We'd be remiss if not shouting them out, we get to come today to talk about it, but it's been great to be part of it. And ultimately, like Kevin said, I've gotten to sit and listen to both the sales calls and the claims. Some of them real time really pulls at you and it gives you a reason to get up and come back and make it even better.

Anthony O'Donnell: Next time customer centricity is key to customer and business success. And by streamlining the life insurance application process CUNA mutual sets a standard for how to put the customer first, an excellent case study in how to move the needle forward. Thank you for joining us for the life accelerated podcast.

Anthony O'Donnell: For more relevant content, to help you achieve digital transformation. Visit equisoft.com/life accelerated.


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