When it comes to marketing products and services to millennial consumers, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
For every industry like brewing, real estate and banking that have had to revamp their selling strategies to reach elusive millennials, there are niches that have found startling success appealing to the generation’s attraction to authentic brands and experiences.
One of the big winners is genetic testing. A survey by research firm ORC International found that 76 percent of millennials want to know what’s in their DNA, compared to just 32 percent of respondents who were over age 65.
This trend has not gone unnoticed. In response to the growing success of Ancestry.com and 23andMe, travel companies are offering “DNA tourism” trips for vacationers to discover their roots in person, apps are being created for fitness, health, nutrition and even wine based on genetic results, and genetic counselors are struggling to keep up with a boom in requests from those who want to know what their results mean.
With this growing interest, companies are finding ways to apply this science in ways that have never before existed.
One example is life insurance, an industry that has largely ignored genetic testing while keeping underwriting procedures unchanged for decades. Most applications for large policies require a visit from a paramedic who draws blood for analysis, an invasive procedure that has often kept applicants from completing the process.
It is a process that is ripe for disruption and several companies are looking at the concept of using the technology pioneered in the Human Genome Project to assess health and project lifespan. The Reinsurance Group of America’s chief medical director discussed the “epigenetic clock” and its application to life insurance in an online interview. Another company in the space, Minneapolis-based YouSurance, announced it is analyzing biomarkers in saliva to create a “Longevity Report” that provides consumers with information about their health and an assessment of how rapidly they are aging.
For consumers, this is the next logical step from products like 23andMe and Ancestry.com that have given millennials and other insight into their past and a hint at their futures. Companies like YouSurance hold the promise to give consumers information about their aging and a method of doing something about it: buying life insurance products for themselves and their families quicker and for lower prices while they consider the effect their lifestyle and environment are having on their biology.
One important element to note is that these companies are measuring epigenetics and not genetics. While genetics are the hard-wired traits you inherited from previous generations, epigenetics change throughout your life and can be affected by your lifestyle and your environment. With epigenetics it is never too late to make positive changes that can reduce the impact of aging.
That means people won’t be penalized for traits they can’t control. Current underwriting has little precision in its assessment of applicant’s health and can only place them into large categories. In that way, epigenetic technology could be used for more precise pricing that would potentially reward the healthy with better rates for their life insurance.
This technology opens avenues for other products and services. As the science gets more precise information about how your body is aging, an effective financial plan will become more important and, potentially, easier to create. I spoke with Insure Tech expert and YouSurance’s CEO Jon Sabes, and he predicted, “epigenetics will allow greater precision in pricing that can enable consumers to save money on the life insurance they purchase to protect their families while contributing to further discoveries that we will uncover using this science and technology”.
Clearly, advances are not slowing down and millennials are a ripe market for it. Every day, scientists are finding new correlations between our physical outcomes and our molecular biology.
Just as the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, the arc of the information universe bends toward transparency. This information will be available to all and it will radically improve the products and services that can be offered to all consumers.
Chris Orestis, executive vice president of GWG Life, has more than 20 years of experience in the insurance and long-term care industries and is nationally recognized as a healthcare expert and senior care advocate.
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