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4 Innovative Ways Prudential Uses Big Data to be Customer-Centric

Data can empower consumers to take charge of their financial future

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Kindra Cooper

Prudential agile marketing

Used correctly, big data has the power to provide us with deeply personalized recommendations – not only what to watch on Netflix tonight or which vacuum cleaner to buy on Amazon, but to guide us through important yet deeply personal life decisions like investing and retirement.

More than half of Americans admit they’d earn a ‘C’ or lower when it comes to financial literacy, according to a new survey by Harris Poll on behalf of Prudential. Worse, 23 percent say their debt is higher than their retirement savings. 

Big data can accomplish many things on the business- as well as the consumer-facing side. For instance, it can simplify the customer journey by leveraging customer data to personalize offers or pre-qualify customers for credit cards, insurance, mortgages and more.

What is big data? It’s an approach to finding trends in huge swaths of information to provide a better experience for end users. 

Michele Morelli Toluna“Digital has essentially upended entire industries,” said Michele Morelli, SVP of global marketing strategy at Toluna, a consumer insights platform. “The way companies are responding is by creating more nimble and agile approaches internally in order to get products to market much quicker.”

In August, Prudential, one of the world’s largest life insurers, announced a major restructuring of its marketing organization that would allow it to harness consumer data insights through agile marketing – combining technology, data and AI to deliver personalized experiences that promote the adoption of financial wellness solutions. 

Here are four innovative ways Prudential uses big data and agile marketing to personalize the customer experience. 

1. Providing customers with a self-guided platform to set their own financial goals

Personal finance chatbots are growing in popularity as everyday consumers use AI to gain insights into their spending habits and gamify the challenge of sticking to a budget.

However, most of these chatbots offer very surface-level personal finance management and don’t advise on investing and long-term financial goals.

Last year, Prudential launched LINK, its first direct-to-consumer insurance and investing service. While not a chatbot, the platform offers personalized financial planning and recommendations for insurance, annuities and investments in a portfolio of exchange-traded funds. 

Read more: How Spotify Does It - Using Data and AI to Know the Customer

The best part is the omnichannel experience; users can integrate existing Prudential retirement accounts as well as non-Prudential accounts to build a financial wellness roadmap.

When you sign into the MyFinancialLife dashboard, you can see your assets and investments, as well as personalized recommendations based on goals you set. For instance, you can specify a goal of building an emergency fund, insuring loved ones, saving for retirement or purchasing a home, and the dashboard recommends relevant products and a course of action. 

Prudential LINK(Image credit: Prudential)

Providing an experience so deeply personalized requires Prudential’s marketing team to gather feedback from customers on a daily basis.

Wittney Rachlin Prudential“We have people who are deeply engaged with the servicing channels that give us feedback on a daily basis. We also have our design team that does ongoing user testing,” explained Wittney Rachlin, VP of growth opportunities at Prudential. 

However, the best digital customer experiences also provide an opportunity to seek offline help, no matter how robust the self-service platform is. LINK users can work on their financial goals using the platform’s self-guided approach or work with an investment advisors via video chat, phone or in-person.

LINK represents Prudential’s first foray into direct-to-consumer as it competes with online insurtech startups and competitors with a strong online web presence. 

2. Eliminating customer pain in a naturally unpleasant experience

Some experiences are downright unpleasant, no matter how you look at it. Applying for life insurance is one of them.

Typically, applications take weeks to process, and the prospective policyholder must answer invasive quality-of-life questions, undergo a medical exam, submit bloodwork and endure weeks of back-and-forth with the insurance company. Big data allows insurtech companies to circumvent the minutiae and use pre-existing consumer data from third parties to assess an applicant’s risk. 

Read more: Here's How Cutting-Edge Companies Use Voice of Customer Data

In August 2018, Prudential introduced PruFast Track, an accelerated underwriting initiative that processes over 40 percent of applications faster by leveraging third-party data to supplement application data. It results in a paperless process that doesn’t require any medical exams or bloodwork, and approvals can be granted in as little as 48 hours. 

The company does so by teaching machine learning algorithms using big data to identify life insurance applicants who meet certain health guidelines. Like in any insurance approval process, the system accesses third-party databases to corroborate information, such as scanning pharmacy and motor vehicle databases to determine if an applicant is a reckless driver or takes medication for a serious heart condition. 

3. Educating the consumer on financial wellness by understanding their knowledge gaps

Unlike most other consumer-facing industries, retail banks and insurers must overcome a knowledge hurdle in order to market their products to consumers. People won’t invest in annuities or open a 401(k) if they don’t understand what it’s for. 

The biggest challenge in CX for financial services is it’s organized by product because of how the business is managed internally, which creates a fractured experience for customers. Prudential launched an online content library with resources broken down by subject to help individuals, employers and business owners learn how to manage their money.

Prudential agile marketing

(Image credit: Prudential)

A key area, however, was providing content tailored to those who are left as beneficiaries of their loved ones’ life insurance accounts. From understanding how to manage the deceased’s estate to planning a funeral, people need a lot of help in this arena. 

“There are many people who get an insurance claim and it's more money than they've ever seen. Do I need it for bills, should I invest it, what should I do with it? So that's a service we can provide,” said Rachlin. 

In her role, she’s responsible for converting insurance beneficiaries from prospects into customers. This means understanding their needs during a trying time and being there for them. Prudential’s online survivor center features content tailored to those dealing with the financial aftermath of losing a loved one. 

Read more: Only 6 Percent of Organizations Have "Mature" CX Programs

Users can file claims online, plan a funeral using the site’s funeral cost calculator, and receive reminders for key tasks like notifying Social Security and understanding how many copies of a death certificate to request. The platform even links the emotional support resources and grief counseling. 

A new feature the team introduced was offering survivors the chance to speak to a financial advisor. It’s a sensitive situation, but Prudential discovered through user research that many life insurance beneficiaries need help understanding how to navigate the legal and financial aspects of losing a loved one. 

“It’s not about leading them to an advisor and selling them a product; but it’s also about providing them with the tools they really need at the moment,” explained Rachlin. 

Life insurance beneficiaries are not a direct customer of Prudential, hence why the company uses Toluna’s third-party data to better understand their needs and provide overall support. 

4. Building an agile marketing organization

Acting on big data requires organizations to adopt an agile approach so they can adapt to data insights in real-time. In August, Prudential announced a new operating model for its marketing organization to bring it closer to the customer. 

The move supports Prudential’s pivot from “being one of the world’s largest life insurers into a global financial services company and leading provider of financial wellness solutions,” said CMO Naveen Agarwal. The research cycle at a legacy company tends to be about six months.

Prudential, a 144-year-old company, had to learn how to become agile by encouraging once-siloed departments to collaborate, such as Marketing, Analytics and UX.

Read more: CIBC on Using Service Design to Optimize the Customer Journey

“One of the things we did do was embed people from legacy businesses into those Agile teams,” said Rachlin. “So, while it was uncomfortable and not something that they were used to, it also made them comfortable in that they felt like their insights, background and history were being integrated into the new work that was happening.”

Rachlin hired a team of 20 marketers, designers and creators who work in different departments but are regularly enlisted in agile marketing campaigns. Once the project is done, they’re “redeployed back into other parts of the business.”