Episode 24

Mastering Life Insurance and Customer Engagement with Foresters Financial

In this episode, Matt Berman, President at Foresters Financial US & Canada, covers the transformation of the life insurance industry through digital innovation, how modern technology can boost customer engagement, the importance of adapting your product offerings to address ever-changing customer expectations, the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the life insurance landscape, and more.

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Time Stamps

  • 00:00 Introduction to Matt
  • 03:10 Matt Berman's Background and Skills
  • 08:41 Digital Transformation and Life Product Evolution
  • 11:28 Distribution and Technology
  • 14:34 Foresters Strategic Plans
  • 19:27 Foresters Digital Transformation Journey
  • 22:49 Sales-Related Systems
  • 24:30 Foresters' Conception of Customer Engagement
  • 27:45 COVID's Impact on Foresters
  • 30:46 Making Life Insurance Compelling


Matt Berman, a dynamic leader in the life insurance industry, brings over 16 years of experience to the table. Having held senior roles in product distribution and customer experience, Matt now serves as the President for both the US and Canadian markets at Foresters, a financial services company focusing on life insurance and investments. With a passion for delivering unique, value-driven experiences for policyholders, Matt is a key figure in driving Foresters' digital transformation journey, creating impactful and engaging solutions for members.

In this episode, Matt covers the transformation of the life insurance industry through digital innovation, how modern technology can boost customer engagement, the importance of adapting your product offerings to address ever-changing customer expectations, the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the life insurance landscape, and more.

Key Takeaways:

    • Digital transformation speaks to the experience you deliver for your end consumer, your agents and advisors, and most importantly your employees.

    • Digital transformation is a way to enable advisors to make their impact on the consumer more effectively as life insurance is complex and everyone has a different circumstance.

    • State-of-the-art systems allow for more value and the ability to stay in touch with customers' needs as they evolve.

We know that engagement informs better business quality. It's a better, more mutually profitable relationship with the customer. We can deliver more value and we can stay in touch with their needs as it evolves.

Matt Berman 

President, Foresters Financial

Our Guest

Matt Berman 

LinkedIn Website

Matt Berman joined Foresters Financial in February 2017 and has more than 25 years of experience leading strategic planning, sales and product management in both the property and casualty, and life and savings sectors, most notably with AXA, AIG and Zurich Insurance. Previously, he served as Chief Distribution Officer and President of a former subsidiary, Foresters Life Insurance and Annuity Company and has a proven track record of leading, managing and motivating client-centric teams in fast-paced, results-driven environments. Matt is currently the President of Foresters Financial in the US and Canada.


Anthony O'Donnell: Welcome Matt. Happy to have you on Life accelerated in case any of our listeners aren't already familiar, tell us who Foresters is and what's special about the company.

Matt Berman: I started with the company in 2017. I was quite surprised by its unique history. It’s DNA, at our core we're a financial services company. We focus on life insurance, and investments. We have an investments business in the UK. we support a life insurance business in both the US and Canada. But what's special about our organization is that we were founded in 1874, so next year will be our hundred and 50th anniversary. But we're what's known as a fraternal life insurance company.

So, if you look at life insurance companies by category, you've got stock companies, you've got mutual. fraternals look economically like mutuals, but we differ in the fact that a portion of our earnings goes back to our policy holders, and we refer to our policy holders as members. We're a membership organization and we deliver that value back to the membership in a portfolio of benefits.

So, if you think about our organization, we will deliver. Best in class financial products, best in class financial services, but our policy holders, our members are entitled to a suite of member benefits. And those member benefits could range from scholarships, granting opportunities. We recently onboarded a wellness engagement platform, which we can talk about a little bit.

But, at our core that's what makes us unique, our ability to engage our members on a different level besides the core, deliverable, which at the end of the day in the US and Canada is a life insurance offering. So, um, you know, when I was doing my research on this business, met the then CEO O I thought, wow, this is a pretty unique organization. I was immediately attracted to this business, and it's been just such a fun ride. being a part of an organization that can deliver value to our, our, members and to the community at large in just different ways.

Anthony O'Donnell: Matt, I was interested in having you as a guest on the program because of your very interesting background. I'd like to talk a little bit about your current responsibilities, the role that you hold today, but also the road that brought you Where you are now, you’ve had senior roles in product, distribution, customer experience.

Now you're president for, for two, two important markets. So, tell us what your job is today and what you're expected to do and tell us how you got there and the kinds of skills that you built up on the way.

Matt Berman: my, my journey, to this particular spot has been, , unique and I, I feel privileged to have had the experiences that I've had.in this sector, in the life insurance sector, for the past 16 years. Prior to my employment with Foresters, I worked for 10 years. Inside of the US business of Axa global, financial services company, headquartered in, in Paris. Today business in the US is known equitable and, I was introduced to the senior management team in I believe. had the incredible opportunity to join corporate strategy. at the time and, in my role, in that group, I felt I got a PhD, in the life insurance business at large. I had a great opportunity to springboard from that group and get involved in the day-to-day business, get involved in the day-to-day functional areas of the life insurance business inside the us. As you mentioned, I had a tour of duty, so to.in the distribution group, in the product management team. I had a customer experience role, and it was such a unique environment, and the culture of that organization allowed me to see the business from so many different lenses and, in my role today. Kind of fast forwarding and joining foresters, those experiences were invaluable, to understand, the mechanics of a product, what makes a product.

work, how do you create a design that can deliver value and profitability. And, at the time I had. Great mentors. I had great managers and, the leadership inside that organization was fantastic, where I was encouraged to not only see the business through a certain lens from, let's say the lens of corporate strategy or the lens of product and mechanics and, product profitability.

But I was forced out of my comfort. to try new things and, I had the fortune of working for a manager that continued to push me out of my comfort zone and to discover. How business breathes in other environments. So, it’s one thing to understand a product, understand product design and profitability, but it's also important to understand how that product is sold, how it's promoted, how it's distributed, what’s, on the mind of those agents and advisor. That are there to serve their customers, what's important to them, and hear their perspectives on how they're onboarding, how they're managing their own clientele. In all of those experiences, multi-dimensional as they were, it was such an education. To have a more holistic lens on the business.

Anthony O'Donnell: Let’s talk about your views today and your current role based upon all that experience, how you think about digital transformation and modernization in general. with regard to the responsibilities that you face. What are the most important trends that life insurers need tackle in this regard and what does this mean for the baseline or table stakes kinds of abilities?

Matt Berman: Yeah, when you mentioned digital transformation, to me, this speaks to experience. it speaks to the experience you deliver for, three different constituents or stakeholders.it speaks to the experience you need to deliver for your end consumer. It speaks to the ease of doing business. With your agents, your advisors, and this is sometimes forgotten in the conversation, but it really speaks to the experience you deliver for your employees in terms of providing an opportunity, providing. an ecosystem where you can create those moments, those delightful moments for the people that you serve.

So, , you know, digital transformation, , it occurs on, on many different levels. We are obsessively focused on how digital transformation impacts the product experience, when we think the enterprise software that. We manage day to day. and you mentioned it at a timely point, I think, the past few years, moving into a covid environment, now managing a post covid environment, many of us were, whether we liked it or not. And address digital transformation, whether it was on your strategic roadmap or not. it really became the, the bellwether of survival for our industry.

Anthony O'Donnell: I wanted to ask you about the impact of modern technology in this moment that you just referred to on the evolution of product. so, we're seeing a lot of product innovation in property casualty, for example. How is modern technology influencing the evolution of life products?

Matt Berman: Yeah, how it's affecting the product. Again, I would say, this evolution on instant issue. So, when I think of, products of the future, building. A bigger, stronger customer base, addressing what I believe is a duty for all life insurance companies, which is to ensure the uninsured population, and the uninsured population under an uninsured population. To do that, you have to deliver experiences. Are compelling, right? life insurance, it's, stigmatized as being, a traditional industry, an industry that may not be innovative, slow to move. And let's face it from the consumer perspective, not many folks feel the urgency of allocating disposable income on.

a product or service that offers no immediate tangible benefit. Now, COVID, that mindset changed a little bit, but we're beyond that. And we’re living in a new environment, an inflationary environment. There's a lot of macro pressure on American households, so that urgency has diluted a bit. So how do you then, that compelling, value proposition and, digital transformation can be, one way to change that mindset, right?

if at your core, you know that life insurance is a critical asset class, it's a critical component of your financial, And I think most Americans, most Canadian households would agree with that. But then, how can you make the experience more compelling, easier? And the data that we have access to today, the technology that we have access to today can allow us to design and create products that don't require the burden of, let's say, blood and fluid, that timely application process, we can move agents and customers in and out of the application process. Without sacrificing or compromising our underwriting principles. And that's where we're seeing a lot of transformation.

Anthony O'Donnell: So, let's take more or less the same kind of question, but apply that to distribution. So then how does technology affect, how the insurance leadership should think about distribution. What should you be preoccupied with? What should you be able to offer in terms of sales and distribution channels?

Matt Berman: so, what keeps me up at night and there's been a fair amount of momentum, around digital transformation how that impacts product design, how that impacts the application process, onboarding, and some of the key principles that I walk away from when I think about distribution. one, I think there will always be a place for the advisor in the conversation.

Digital transformation may at times speak to. Direct to consumer and there's a place for direct to consumer that's, a space within the distribution landscape that's, been thriving over the past years because there are a number of customers or a number of households out there that feel, hey, I've done the research.

I know what I need. My needs are very straightforward and I'm gonna do this on a d I Y basis. Got it. But the fact of the matter is life insurance is complex. Life insurance can serve multiple needs, protection needs, retirement needs, estate planning needs, and everyone has a different circumstance. So, when you get into more nuanced, needs, more nuanced, circumstances, more complexity, you need that advisor.

You need professional advice. And so, I think of digital transformation as a way to enable that advisor to make that advisor's impact on the consumer more effective. And so, I look at digital transformation as a means to empower them. That agent, that advisor,

giving that advisor the tools to educate that prospective applicant in a way that's fast, efficient, thoughtful, intuitive, and then to get that applicant in and out of the process quickly enough and get a policy issued in a reasonable amount of time. On a cost-effective basis.

And those are the guiding tenants that we have supported, on that journey. Now having said all that again, I'll come back to digital transformation as a means to create more direct to consumer experiences. again, there is a place in the market and, , we have supported and, we will continue to support journeys on that front, but our core business where we have our entire, or I would say the majority of emphasis is with that agent and making sure that, we're empowering them to do the good work that, they need to do with their clients.

Anthony O'Donnell: Okay. We've been speaking at a, at high level about industry issues. Let's talk now about how these ideas are embodied in forester's, strategic plans, and may, maybe we could briefly reiterate your job as it stands after your recent promotion to be president for the Canadian operation as well as the US operation.

Matt Berman: So, I see my role as defining the strategy of the organization. And I do that with my leadership team, with my peers, inside of our organization. And, um, you know, at the end of the day, we’re looking to build profitable momentum. We’re looking to deliver value to our customer base. Build market share within that population of what we would call everyday American families, middle market families, and in the US and Canada.

and do that, , in a cost efficient. Manner where we deliver, turnkey, delightful experiences. And to do that, it, it certainly requires a sense of what those evolving needs are, what are, the needs, that are evolving with, our prospective customer base and what are the needs of our agents?

We have been very focused on areas of wellness, given that it's a key pillar of our North Star, our mission, the affinity that we build through, our membership. We've opened the door and we've found an intersection of, where wellness can be delivered in this, digital transformation and delivered in a way, that is, Modern it's, efficient and relevant. So, I'll give you an example. We partnered with, a global InsureTech, they have built a very unique wellness engagement platform. what that platform. enables its, customers to do is to proactively manage their day-to-day wellness. and we partnered with Dak Do and have offered that platform.

It's been customized for our membership and all foresters, policy holders, all Foresters members are eligible to register and sign up on this platform. And this was a very unique, it was a very unique, new chapter in our evolution because one, , as I mentioned it focuses on our critical mission, which is to serve the wellbeing of middle market families and their communities.

But we executed and we aligned. 100%. With our focus on digital transformation as a leading global inure tech company has enriched the lives of many members, many clients, and customized it for our ecosystem. It now compliments. what we do day to day. And, to give you an example of what that looks like when members register and jump on this platform, immediately, they deliver coaching strategies on more effectively managing their day-to-day wellbeing.

We’ve built a reward. Inside that app that allows our members to engage in volunteer activities, healthy behaviors, and they can redeem points for a number of other benefits inside of that platform. Now, this could go in a lot of unique ways, and we have aspirations of.

building in some of.

that data, obviously with the consent of our members and our policy holders to potentially inform how we can continuously underwrite. That individual. one of the things or one of the elements of our, of our, business in our industry is that we are still grounded in some very traditional principles. we underwrite a person at one point in time. We sell them for a long duration, product. And we hope that the decision that we made at that point in time bears out over the next 10, 15, 20 years with this new sense of connectivity with this intersection. The industry should move to a place where we can more effectively underwrite individuals.

We can reward them for healthy behaviors in unique ways where that can reside not only outside of the policy, but perhaps inside of the policy. And this is how it's informed, you know our strategy. Where we're trying to deliver additional value to, to our customers and our members.

Anthony O'Donnell: Matt, you shed in a previous conversation that Foresters is actually on a digital transformation journey in a kind of formal way across several dimensions, including infrastructure. Core technology and front-end capabilities such as those you've just discussed. Let’s talk in turn about some of the main initiative areas. Why don't we start with core systems?

Matt Berman: Yeah. When you think about it, companies like ours, as I mentioned, are celebrating our 150-year anniversary, next year. We've got a number of members. We have administration systems that need to be updated on a regular basis.

We have conversion strategies to make sure that we are. Staying up to date, we are keeping a pulse of all of the business that we've onboarded, not only this year, but in years past. Again, our reason for that we exist is to deliver on long duration promises. So, when I think of core systems, it's critical that we invest in adminis that can reduce and best manage your expenses so we can deliver more value back to our customers. But so, where we are better suited and equipped. To engage with our customers day to day. I think what differentiates us from a number of, , folks in the marketplace, you know, as I mentioned, , the traditional model of life insurance is, hey, you know, you enter at one point in time and you leave, , when you when you file and submit that claim or you realize a benefit in the product, and that can.

Quite some time because we are a membership organization, it's critical that we are in touch and we're engaging with our customers on a continuous basis. We know that engagement informs better business quality. It’s a better more mutually profitable relationship with the customer. We can deliver more value, we can stay in touch with their needs as they evolve, as far as managing the product or policy that they have, and to do that you need state-of-the-art systems. And when I think of core systems that speaks to administration systems, right? Whether new business or, enforce admin systems. And I'm very fortunate to have an amazing chief information officer that I work very closely with and, we've been able to onboard and convert, some very complex systems to stay ahead of that conversation.

Anthony O'Donnell: All right, so let's go down a list of the things that we discussed in a previous call you, you've talked about sales related systems, CRM.

Matt Berman: We are going through a conversion of our CRM as we speak, and, , you know, one. for a company and for companies that have a long history, it's important that you are staying current with the market, staying current with technology.

systems, organizations, infrastructure at certain points, moves into an unsupported environment. So, make sure that you have appropriate touchpoints with all of your stakeholders. Managing systems is critical. And, our CRM, that we are onboarding at the moment, our new system will allow us to have, higher. impact Engagements, with all of our policy holders, with all of those households and those families. And, that journey has been, certainly complex, but we know that we can be more impactful to those house.

we have a better sense of what their needs are, how to engage with them, when to engage with them.it will inform, ways in which those individuals want to be, engaged and how they're contacted.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, why don't we take that and talk a little bit. Forester's conception of customer engagement kind of at a higher level. We've touched on it in various particular ways throughout our conversation, but let's summarize how Foresters look at customer engagement and how you're building customer experience around that concept.

Matt Berman: Yeah. So, to manage and to drive, what we would seek as high or frequent customer engagement. It’s a function of the underlying infrastructure. Technology, innovation, digital transformation, one item and one element, which is part of our own journey is, to make sure that our own telephony systems, have been modernized, that we have a more omnichannel footprint. So however, you enter it into the organization, as a customer, as a member, we can respond and we can work with you, as you would prefer, right? that makes sense for you, whether it is calling, a customer service rep, or if you, want to engage on a mobile app, on a digital or remote basis. We one has to have that path and we have to have that ecosystem to allow us to have meaningful e. Touchpoints in a manner that's preferable to our membership or our customer base. two, given the fact that we are a membership organization, engagement again, is so critical for us. in terms of performance and how we as an organization are evaluated. We have our own internal metrics in terms of engagement. it's a priority for us our membership platform allows us to do that, because. Our customers, policy holders, recognize the value we deliver on a multi-dimensional basis. And we firmly believe that there's a business case for it. which is to address underinsured, uninsured households in the US and Canada. And, I would say the guiding light in everything that we do. to design products, and to build a portfolio of products that can meet the needs of individuals, not only at a point in time, but as their needs evolve.

So, you may have simple protection needs early on at a life event, whether it's the purchase of a first home, first child marriage, but then those needs evolve and you're looking to create supplemental retirement income. That's another area of customer engagement. And we’ve built a portfolio to try to meet those needs as they evolve.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, we're now in 2023 and I'm still asking questions about, for the reason that it's ushered in changes that are still unfolding. So, I wanted to ask you, how has covid shaped, how foresters see not only digital transformation, but how the company's professionals work together?

How you attract and retain talent, how you work, for example, in it, how do you develop, are people working remotely, much more than they did in the past? and how you're managing.

Matt Berman: Yeah. COVID , in impacted the industry in so many different ways. one, I think Covid created new urgency around the value proposition. We, as a cohort of life insurance, can offer. We were very fortunate. to be on this digital transformation journey already. And so, it may have accelerated plans that were already in place, a culture that was already evolving. So, you mentioned remote work. We had a number of areas, for instance, our underwriter. that were already working, remotely. because we knew that was a function that could enable flexibility, and it could drive, efficiency, which ultimately passes. Down or back to, our customers and our members. But I look at Covid again on a number of dimensions. One, it was a call to action for us as an industry, to deliver on those promises. For those unfortunate households that experienced tragic circumstances. And I think in hindsight, this was the proof point of our industry, to be there for those families in need. at those unfortunate moments, at those tragic moments and the industry again fulfilled its primary promise to its stakeholders. I think from a model perspective, we are rethinking as we have always. Rethought, what is the most efficient mouse trap for our business? Again, digital transformation. Investing in technology creates the most delightful experience for agents, for our customers, for our employees. This was on the radar already. It just may have accelerated those plans and in some ways, you could say that it underscored what you would consider an InsureTech and what you would consider a traditional. I look at our business today, and we have, and in many ways, we do, operate on a completely digital or virtual basis. We have that capability today, I think that going forward as we're now in this covid hangover, and I say hangover because, we're experiencing a bit of friction in the economy as a result of covid, inflation is on the minds of every American and Canadian. We're reconciling a number of public policies, changes. and we're thinking about how people view life insurance. And it's a new call to action for us today to say how do we make sure that this value proposition wasn't a temporary blip, that it should be continuously compelling.

And it's what all of us inside foresters are thinking about, how do we reinvigorate, how do we transform, how do we, , rethink the design of what we do every day to make. , you know, this promise that we sell, unique, valuable, and, and something that people will seek all the time, as opposed to, you know, conforming to that old, saying that life insurance is. Sold, not bought.my, passion every day is to try to reverse that paradigm and for people to say, listen, this is something that's critical. It’s core to the safety, the wellbeing of my family. And I shouldn't have to be prompted, I should be going to my advisor proactively to seek out this valuable.

Anthony O'Donnell: Thank you Matt. It's been great having you on life Accelerated Podcast

Matt Berman: It's been wonderful being here. Thank you again for the opportunity.


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