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MRS Impact 2022 conference – Catalyx and Swiss Re discuss mental health market research

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The world’s leading research association, the Market Research Society (MRS) hosted their annual Impact 2022 conference online on Wednesday March 16 and Thursday March 17.

During the conference, Catalyx founder, Guy White, and Swiss Re vice president, Matt Singleton, discussed the fascinating market research we’ve recently completed together surrounding the insurance industry and the topic of mental health among consumers.

You can read the conversation in full below:

Catalyx and Swiss Re at MRS Impact 2022


Guy White, Catalyx
Hi, I’m Guy White. I’m the CEO and founder of Catalyx. Catalyx is an insight and innovation agency that specialises in embedding consumers into the innovation and communication development processes of big brands to help unlock more brand value. I’m joined today by Matt Singleton. Matt’s the vice president of life and health products at Swiss Re, and we’re going to be talking to you today about a fascinating piece of market research that we’ve done around insurance and mental health. Matt, could you start us off with a bit of background about Swiss Re? And a little bit about your role?

Matt Singleton, Swiss Re
Thanks, guys. So Swiss Re is one of the world’s largest reinsurers. In simplistic terms, a reinsurer essentially insures insurance. We don’t actually own the relationship with the consumer, that’s our customer, the primary insurers, and I work on the life and health side. One of the important aspects we do here is new product development and product enhancements in partnership with our clients. This is the area where I’m focused, and clearly research and insights are absolutely key to enabling this.

The challenge…

Guy White, Catalyx
So, we’re here today to talk about a really interesting piece of research that Catalyx and Swiss Re partnered on. It has triggered a significant shift in how the insurance industry thinks about mental health and, indeed, about the innovations and solutions it can offer to support mental health issues. So Matt, it would be great if you could set the scene for us. Let’s imagine we’re way back in 2019 – no one knew what COVID-19 was – and give us a view of the thinking at the time and what was going on.

Matt Singleton, Swiss Re
We were aware that mental health was already an important issue and becoming an increasingly important issue in society. For our clients, there was a concern about the amount of claims that could potentially take place. But, also, it seemed there was an opportunity to do more to support clients.

So mental health prevalence is on the rise in society. Now, whether that’s just purely because prevalence has risen or because people are more open about mental health conditions and also more willing to seek support as a result – which is, of course, a good thing – is not entirely clear. It’s probably a combination of the two.

But in 2019, this was clearly an area where our clients needed support and it was an area where we felt that we needed to do more.

Guy White, Catalyx
And what triggered you to take action? And why did you feel you needed to do this big global study?

Matt Singleton, Swiss Re
So, we were witnessing increased interest and questions coming from our clients in many different geographies around the world on this topic. As a global reinsurer, we had the opportunity to leverage some of that strength and do more in this area. So that was really the driving force behind it, essentially: to do more to support our clients around the world.

Here is what happened during the research…

Guy White, Catalyx
I think it’s useful to talk about how we designed this research, before getting into what we found because that was that was part of the challenge, actually.

So, we knew we had a strong inclination that a more traditional approach to this simply wouldn’t work.

We had two main challenges:

So, we split the research a lot down these lines and into two phases.

Going forward, now we’ve designed this approach, we’ve used it subsequently to great effect in challenges as diverse as innovation development in biscuits, in hairbrushes and even in varicose veins would you believe?

On phase one, this was all about determining who the audience could be, and how big that audience is.

Now, we didn’t have the time or the budget to do a traditional segmentation analysis, but we realised that we didn’t have to understand how that audience fit into the total market.

Essentially, instead of trying to understand the entire market, we decided to set ourselves a range of hypotheses on what a likely audience could look like and then set out to prove or disprove these. You could argue that we might miss something and, frankly, you’re probably right. But we reasoned as long as we found what we needed, we’re in good shape, and Swiss Re’s deadlines were such that, in this case, perfection was very much the enemy of good.

So overall, we recruited more than 4,000 nationally represented people across seven markets in North America, Europe and Asia, and we designed a methodology that centred around the fact that ultimately this group of people would need to want to buy something from an insurer that went beyond adverse event protection – protection from after something happened. And they needed to have a certain propensity to buy from this industry.

We kept things broad, because we didn’t have a definition of what this would be beyond “something new” at the time and we reasoned they would need to have some form of motivation to buy as well – a reason why mental health products and support would be of heightened interest to them versus other things.

Then we had to see what was most strongly correlated with that broad product interest.

And the results, actually, once we ran this work, were encouraging enough that we could move on to phase two.

Ultimately, we found that the two strongest determinants of product interest was an anticipated disruption of mental health symptoms, either to myself or to my family, and in most markets we found that that audience worked out around 20% or so of the total population, which we felt was a good size to go and innovate for.

Now, when we then moved on to phase two, to actually go and design the product or the innovation or the service, the main thing we battled with here was a worry that we were dealing with an intensely personal subject: that of mental health. And culturally, potentially fairly taboo as well.

So we’re really worried that a more traditional survey based approach would simply lead to superficial one line answers.

Instead of doing anything face to face, that might get too personal, and instead of running a more traditional survey, that might be too superficial, we used our unique crowd methodology to try and get under the under the skin of things.

This was a week-long crowdsource approach working with 50 people per market in an asynchronous moderated setting across a wide range of topics and across six markets, which Matt will talk about in a little bit.

We captured 1,000s of pieces of verbatims, of imagery, of videos, of discussions and we covered a huge deal of topics and subjects, double clicking through the moderated chat when needed.

Our approach allowed us to do a decent range of mixed method data capture flexing the activities to best suit what we were trying to find out.

We then synthesised the 1,000s of pieces of mixed method data through our analytics approach to identify innovation building blocks for Swiss Re.

What are the main tensions? What are the product benefits of interest to them? What makes businesses in the insurance industry a compelling proposition for this target audience? And how to make it interesting, believable and worthwhile?

So, let’s spend some time talking about the results. So Matt, what did you find out in phase one that was interesting to you?

About the results of the research…

Matt Singleton, Swiss Re
Well, first of all, one of the interesting things was a big tick in the box of the question of are we relevant? And the answer was, yes, we are to a segment of consumers, which was, which was fantastic news. Also, we found that in Japan consumers were less willing to participate in research around this topic. They found it a bit more sensitive, especially when talking about themselves, rather than mental health as a societal issue. So that therefore created some barriers to them entering phase two. And, generally, we were also helped to understand a little more about what this segment looked like in terms of their demographics, their living circumstances etc.

Guy White, Catalyx
And was it all as expected or were there any surprises for you? Was that Japanese finding a surprise, for instance?

Matt Singleton, Swiss Re
As we’re a global company, we had had some suspicions that there could be a little bit of a stigma in Japan, which would prevent people doing such things and that would that was confirmed.

We have one of the biggest underwriting manuals in the world and, prior to this research, there was a concern that the main people who might be interested in insurance for mental health conditions would essentially be those who have had a condition in the past or were living with one currently.

And that wasn’t necessarily the case at all. There were people from all different backgrounds and it was such a positive to essentially see how many people live well with negative mental health conditions, and actually manage them on their own very, very well – often through some pretty difficult circumstances.

People just very much impressed me from that point of view.

Guy White, Catalyx
I absolutely agree with you. In some respects, I think the research and what we found was, well, you could almost describe it as heart-breaking. Some of the stories we heard and some of the things people have been through were often quite tough to read, frankly. There was this stoicism that people just live with it, got on with it and were still able to thrive in many respects. But they also felt that they didn’t have the necessary support in place.

So that was both very sad, of course, but also, from a Swiss Re perspective, it was great to know that there were potential possibilities to do something about it. To shift the marketplace.

So after phase one we cut Japan from the study, for all the reasons that have been said.

There were many, many insights but to boil down such a complex study, we basically found five big insights which I’ll talk about now.

The most unexpected thing for me was that request from consumers for insurance to help them avoid mental health issues becoming something debilitating, rather than supporting them if they did, and protecting against that fear happening, rather than a safety net when it does.

I think this insight shows that insurance providers should give them something tangible for their premium while protecting something they fear might affect them otherwise. So actually, you could argue this could become a two-for-one benefit.

But insights are worthless unless they’re actioned upon. And so, Matt, I wonder if you could tell the audience what happened next? Did this work turn into something tangible and valuable?

And then the research insights became tangible…

Matt Singleton, Swiss Re
The first thing is that those things you listed cross over with the needs of the insurer too. So, there’s a mutual alignment of interests between our clients and their policyholders, and their group scheme members.

Indeed, we want to help consumers prevent negative outcomes. We want to help them track and make sure that they get early intervention if needed. That’s the fabled win-win right there.

Based on that understanding of where they interlinked – and that one of the findings was that consumers saw our apps as being relevant providing they could link to further offline support – we essentially scoured the earth trying to find the right app space partner to join us.

Eventually, we landed on Wysa, who are building on their existing successful app, which scores 4.8 out of five on app stores and has over three and a half million users worldwide.

They’re going to build on that to essentially add the tracking wellbeing aspects and also integrations into the needs of our clients of the insurance, and we announce that in October.

We’re currently in the process of seeking a pilot for that for that app and we’ve been to a number of positive discussions around the world.

We launched this around World Mental Health Day in October 2021 and we witnessed almost 80,000 impressions with the research forming the cornerstone of that campaign, along with a Wysa launch and enhancements to our underwriting manual life guide.

All to make insurers more inclusive to people living with mental health conditions and, indeed, those who aren’t but are aware and need to protect it. So it was a big positive impact and this research really helped drive that.

And finally…

Guy White, Catalyx
It’s absolutely fantastic. As an insight agency, being quite far up in the innovation development pipeline, it’s so nice when see the impact of the work coming through and this one obviously gave us a really warm feeling that we were doing something impactful.

So, to wrap up, life insurance and health insurance used to be about physical things. About the problems that you can see. And they used to be about the pay-out if the unexpected happens; those moments that can turn your life and the lives around you upside down.

Now we’re helping the industry help people proactively protect those problems that you cannot see before they even have a chance of happening.

I think that’s a big shift in thinking.

And, in some way, I’d say we’re helping to normalise the conversation about mental health.

Swiss Re have enormous impact and power around the world to be able to push that messaging and to make it acceptable, even desirable, for people to take a proactive stance against the dangers of the darkness and the anguish of mental health problems stopping them in their tracks before they become a debilitating burden with such large consequences. Breaking down those taboos of not being able to talk about it.

So, I hope you’ll agree with me that this is a really fascinating, worthwhile piece of work and partnership. I’d like to thank Matt from Swiss Re for joining me today to present this and to you too, the audience, for listening. I hope you found it as interesting to hear about as we did to do. Thank you so much.

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