There may be a generational divide when it comes to embracing online services for banking and insurance, but for Sun Life, that generational divide is shrinking.

“Everyone is touching a digital channel today,” Cynthia Stark, VP of digital strategy for Sun Life Financial global marketing, tells ITBusiness.ca. “It’s just a degree of comfort and how deep how they will go.”

She would know: Sun Life recently refreshed both its Canadian website and mobile app, and though many customers are only using the company’s online services to review information rather than conduct transactions, it was important that both platforms be able to accommodate as wide a range of users as possible, she says.

The website in particular was positioned as the front-end experience where all customers go to explore and conduct research, Stark says.

“That’s our storefront,” she says. “That’s age-independent for sure.”

The app, on the other hand, courts a younger audience who may not be familiar with the company’s services or even the financial industry, which is one reason the company opted for designing a single app that incorporated all of its products and services, while at the same time not over-burdening it with too much content and features.

Sun Life’s refresh of its web site and one-stop mobile app began with client feedback, Stark says. The company wanted to understand how web sites were changing while making navigation easier. Regardless of product or service, users are expecting the same great web experience that they have at other sites, she said. The company also leveraged data on what kinds of information people are seeking and made sure it comes to the surface easily.

Not surprisingly, the “visual economy” also drove a great deal of the design for Sun Life’s digital channels, she says, so there was also focus on tools and calculators to deepen engagement. “Design thinking was at the core of our strategy.”

The company went from ideation to a gap analysis and to a prototype. From there, it ran it past its own clients before executing, first with its Canadian web site and then extending to other online properties. “We wanted to have that global refresh for our brand,” said Stark.

Although Sun Life worked with an external agency to help create the web architecture and visual design, the development work was done in-house by its large internal IT shop, which Stark said has done well with recruiting talent. “The experience of doing the build in-house was remarkable,” she said. “We take an iterative development approach that’s almost agile, but it’s definitely not waterfall.”

Even insurance needs social media

These digital transformation efforts have also changed how Sun Life markets itself, Stark notes, with social media playing a larger role in reaching its target audience.

Millennials, for example, almost exclusively connect with the company through social media, making a 100 per cent digital approach more or less inevitable. The changes are also reflected by Sun Life’s product categories such as insurance, which is now facing disruption in the form of “insurtech”.

Stark doesn’t seem concerned about upstart competitors, however; rather, she calls it an opportunity for partnerships. She says Sun Life is already hooked into the fintech/insurtech scene through MaRS in Toronto, for example, as it helps the company learn and accelerate the work it is already doing. “We are charging ahead with our strategies and plans and partnering within the ecosystems appropriately.”

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