Almost 90 per cent of Australians die from preventable causes such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer through poor diet, inactivity and smoking, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The challenge for behavioural scientists like AIA Australia head of behavioural research and development Alison McLean is understanding what drives people’s poor habits and empowering them to change.

McLean, who will speak on Behavioural Analysis and Insights at Investment Magazine’s Group Insurance Summit on Thursday, says AIA is achieving good results from a number of wellbeing programs. You can still reserve a digital pass for the summit.

Grounded in behavioural science AIA’s six-year-old Vitality program encourages members to improve their health earning points to increase their status for greater rewards if they work to improve their physical and mental wellbeing by attending health checks, exercising or improving their diet.

McLean, who joined AIA from Swiss Re in July, said the program had seen a 34 per cent increase in the days members exercised,  or 3.6 on average days more a month, by using “loss-framed incentives”.

“We feel losses much more than we do in terms of gains,” she says.

This was illustrated by offering discounts on an Apple watch to members, with an incentive to act early to engage in an exercise program to get the best discount on the watch.

She says the insurer’s wellness programs had been working well in the claims space with its Pain Revolution community-based educational program helping chronic pain sufferers and CancerAid, a new six-week coaching program to empower members living with cancer to get greater control over their disease.

“The main aim is trying to think about behaviour and ensure we have healthy and protected customers and how to we empower our customers to do that,’’ McLean says

“How can we help people to get into these programs which we know, when people get into these, the outcomes are good.

While only four months into the job, McLean has been examining how to blend her understanding with digital technology to engage better with customers and has been exploring the work of Ryan Buell at the Harvard Business School.

“Something I’m looking at now is operational transparency which is a window into a business where loyalty and trust is built with customers.

“What I have recently designed is bringing in coaches and how we design messaging from that coach to make it clear for people, combined with simplicity and clear steps, that if you sign up here for eight sessions you will get this.”

While behavioural science is a relatively new discipline, McLean has peers in banking, regulatory and super industries but has fewer in the life insurance space in Australia, she says.

“My focus now is more on how can we help customers to make good decisions about insurance, super, and health insurance in a digital environment,’’ she says.

“It’s complex because life insurance presents its challenges with less frequent feedback than say, a mortgage, where you make regular payments and can see the financial benefits of paying a mortgage off over time.

“With life insurance, you only really experience it when you claim and it’s an infrequent event.”



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