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The Killer App

I had the opportunity recently to learn whether the life insurance application and underwriting process is still a long, tedious and onerous one. Short answer: Yes! Longer answer to follow.
I was speaking to our insurance agent at the office about a universal life product that advances the death benefit if I need assistance with at least two activities of daily living (ADLs).
In addition to the product’s marketing message fitting my particular anxiety at that moment, I thought going through the application process would offer useful insight. I purchased a term life policy about 10 years ago, and it was indeed a long ordeal, but since then, I have been hearing how the industry has worked diligently to improve the underwriting process.
First, my agent asked me questions for the initial application. That was about 20 minutes. 
Next up, medical exam. At first, I was going to have somebody come to the office, but with blood and urine samples, I was just a little uncomfortable with splashing bodily fluids around my workplace. So I set a noon appointment for home and fasted for the tests.
A nice enough gal took the samples, asked more questions and recorded my weight. OK, another half-hour in the process. Next up was the phone interview and questionnaire, which I was told would be 15 to 20 minutes.
The interviewer had the exact diction and nasal-yet-authoritative quality of a 1950s high-school hygiene film narrator. She had the ability to simultaneously soothe and unnerve, even though I don’t believe those sensations were meant to coexist. 
We went through the basics. By that, I mean everything about anything I ever did or experienced. After some introductory interrogation about me and my family, we moved on to medical history. Actually, it was more like she went down the list of everything in the medical history book and at the end of each sentence asked me if I have ever had it.
At one point, I had a surprising sense of gratitude and said, “Wow, I really did not realize how many awful things can happen to a person.”
Then she asked if I had ever fallen in the past two years. “Well, I slipped on ice a couple of times.”
“When were the dates?” She asked.
“I don’t know. I, uh, would have to check my diary.” After a few moments of silence, I added, “I am not actually checking my diary. I was joking.”
But she insisted on dates. We narrowed down that the falls occurred when it was cold outside, so we settled on “winter.”
We moved on to activities. Had I been scuba diving, hang gliding or mountain climbing, along with the dizzying array of ways to kill yourself in the pursuit of recreation? I had done none of them. That realization hit me with a sad little thud. Then she asked me if I planned to do any of those things in the next two years.
I thought, well, this could be my chance! This could be the turning point in my life. I could leap out of this chair and climb mountains to breathe thin, clean air and scan rugged horizons. I could plumb the depths of the sea and witness wonders of color and movement. I could throw myself out of an airplane and plummet to earth amid whistling wind and the vastness of sky.
Yeah, I’m not doing any of that. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. The insurance company knows that.
Then we talked about foreign travel. Did I plan to travel or live in a foreign country in the next year? Well, how would I know? The whim might strike me to walk the nine bridges of Paris some weekend or maybe a university might find me to be enough of a curiosity to sit me in some endowed chair for a year. 
With a sigh, I admitted I had no plans to go anywhere. Did I have a pilot’s license? Did I plan to get one? At this point I believe my head was between my knees and I had become catatonic staring at the pattern in the carpet. No, I didn’t plan on doing that or anything else. Let’s just say that for anything else on your list that looks interesting, put me down for “no.”
So, 41 minutes and 16 seconds after the start of this interview, I realized the only risk I posed was dying of boredom.
Where do I sign up for the life insurance that guarantees me a life?
Anyway, my point before I depressed myself was that the underwriting process is still burdensome. I am sure my experience was representative of any carrier underwriting a contract beyond a simple low-value term policy.
In a quick Google search, I could see there were many consumers who were anxious about the process. There was one chat group of Washington, D.C., moms who shared notes on the process. Part of one person’s comment was, “We now have to submit to health testing and an ‘interview’ with the insurance company. I am typically a very private person when it comes to my health and didn’t realize it would be so intense.” Another said, “My experience with trying to get life insurance was AWFUL, and I gave up due to the intrusive medical questionnaire. It was so upsetting to have to answer deeply personal questions over the phone, not to mention maddening to be forced to give a specific answer when you have no way of knowing/the answer is not one of their multiple choice items that they make you pick.” And these were just a couple of points made in just this one chat.
Consider this with the latest MIB figures on new applications. The number was down 4.4 percent in March, the 12th consecutive month of declines. It seems to me that we have to make this process easier for people. I have heard from plenty of big data experts who say there is more than enough information available to insurers to make underwriting faster, far less intrusive and more accurate. IBM has been arguing that for years.
Back to me. I still haven’t heard about my insurance. My agent did stop in the other day to say, “Hey, Steve, I hear you fall down a lot. Can you give me some dates on when you did all this falling?”
Steven A. Morelli

Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Steve may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNSteveM. [email protected].

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