Digital platforms an ‘amazing opportunity’ for advisors, says Sun Life CEO

At opening ceremony for new global HQ, Sun Life head outlines firm’s innovation efforts

Digital platforms an ‘amazing opportunity’ for advisors, says Sun Life CEO
Sun Life Financial unveiled its new global headquarters in Toronto on Wednesday, in what has proven a memorable few days for the institution.

Earlier this week, the firm launched its new interactive digital coach platform, Ella, to assist consumers with their benefits and pension plans.

Joined by Ontario Minister for Finance Charles Sousa, City of Toronto Mayor John Tory, as well as MP Adam Vaughan, Sun Life Financial President and CEO Dean Connor explained how the company’s new home was part of a forward-thinking ethos that has taken hold.

"Our new building is bright and sustainable – inside and out," he says. "It aligns with Sun Life's transformation as we leverage the latest in digital innovation, data and analytics to create solutions for our clients. At the same time, it offers our employees more choice and flexibility in how and where they work – supporting our culture of high performance, inclusion and collaboration."

The Sun Life head was joined by his counterparts at Manulife and Great-West Life at the Scotiabank Financials Summit last week, providing insight into the life insurance industry in Canada and across the world. Telling were the comments from incoming Manulife CEO Roy Gori, who stated that the industry remained in the “dark ages” when it comes to digital innovation.

In Connor’s opinion, life insurance providers’ reputation as luddites in the tech space is largely out of date, and particularly in the case of Sun Life.

“We have just rolled out a provider search lookup, so if you are looking for a physiotherapist nearby, it searches for a provider and includes a five-star rating,” he explains. “We rolled this out last fall and it recently crossed over two million ratings in Canada. Canadians love to rate their providers. We built that application in about 90 days and I think that is leading in the world.”

While its state-of-the-art headquarters is obviously a point of pride for Sun Life’s executive team, its product launches over the past year is even more indicative of its commitment to innovation, believes Connor. Data analytics now allows insurance providers capabilities they could only dream of a decade ago, and Sun Life has every intention of harnessing that power.

“Another example of leading technology, which I think debunks this idea that the industry is way behind, is our Digital Benefits Assistant,” he says. “It looks over your shoulder as a plan member and will suggest things like adding to your life insurance after the birth of a child, or perhaps the purchase of a home. It’s personalized, it’s predictive, and it uses your data to be helpful.”

Launched this week, the Ella platform expands on the capabilities of the Digital Benefits Assistant, using advanced analytics and big data to offer financial advice at key life moments. If that sounds like a development that should worry financial advisors, Connor argues that it is the exact opposite. Digital platforms will be a useful tool for advisors going forward, he believes, making them more efficient and increasing the value proposition for clients.  

“I think it is an amazing opportunity,” he says. “If I were a young advisor today coming into the business, I would be all over this. If there is stuff they don’t like to do, like asking underwriting questions about health, processing address changes, they can now do that digitally. An advisor can also use the digital planning assistant to tell them when to call a client.”