Selfies might seem like a modern curse, dominated by vacuous celebrities, but for Legal & General (L&G) and its director of intermediary business Craig Brown, they are the future.
The company is using facial recognition software to give people an indicative quote by interpreting selfies they have taken, in terms of age, gender and BMI. The data is later confirmed and apparently is usually only a few years off in guessing one's age.
The company has been trialling the use of facial recognition software in the US and plans to use it in the UK, as part of the process of making applying for protection easier.
Mr Brown said: "It doesn't replace doctor or underwriting questions; by taking a selfie it pre-populates a quote and it's a good way to get people talking about protection and a great way of engaging the client."
Like all other insurers, facing a conundrum of how to use their biggest asset, L&G is also hoping to use big data to make the challenge of underwriting questions easier.
All of this leads into Mr Brown's role and the key changes needed in the protection industry. Advisers constitute two-thirds of L&G's protection and insurance distribution and Mr Brown is charged with pleasing them. Their desires include easier processes, products made simpler to understand and relevant products for customers' lifestyles.
Mr Brown said: "The notion that protection is sold and not bought still very much holds true. So you [need] to do more to make products relevant to customers' lifestyles – such as in-life benefits like the virtual doctor packages – and make the general process simpler to access, including using big data."
L&G's biggest selling protection product is term assurance with critical illness (CI) attached to it, usually tied to a house purchase. But income protection has seen an increase in sales over the past year.
Mr Brown said: "Advisers realise the importance of [income protection], but the process is too complicated. The market has a challenge to simplify the product, in particular, [and] the length of questioning needed.
"We're always looking to use other data sources; there's other things to make it easier to talk to customers. We're definitely looking at making changes and will see some product changes over the next coming months."
A lifestyle general insurance product has proven to be increasingly popular, as has short-term income protection – a trend seen by many insurers who provide this product.
Mr Brown said: "It's the awareness through campaigns; advisers are increasingly seeing that short-term income needs are the most important of income needs – the average person runs out of cash after 32 days. It's a product that our business development manager teams talk to our advisers [about] a lot, and it's a product that's valued by our clients and customers."
Mr Brown was appointed to his new role in July, after joining L&G in 2012 on the insurance side as head of supplier management (insurance), with an earlier background in procurement. He has stayed in the insurance business, being a key account director before his current position.