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An Inside Look at New York Life's New Educational Website

Rather than push products, New York Life's new 'GuaranteesMatter' website seeks to educate consumers on the strength of mutual companies and the value of life insurance and annuities as part of a retirement strategy.

Image Gallery: Take a Look Inside New York Life's "GuaranteesMatter" Web Site.

Many insurance websites have distinguished themselves for being especially informative or interactive, but New York Life (more than $22 billion in annual revenue) has broken new ground by being unabashedly opinionated. Launched in January 2010, GuaranteesMatter ( does not lack for rich media experience: It utilizes animated videos and audio narrative, as well as interactive tools and surveys. But above all, it carries a potent, unapologetic message about the strength of mutual insurance companies.

GuaranteesMatter also is notable for having been conceptually plotted, designed, created, soft-launched and marketed within just 15 weeks, according to Ken Hittel, VP, corporate Internet department, New York Life. The speed is explained in part by the origins of the site in the dark days of October 2008, when the worst of the financial crisis was unfolding. Seeking to reassure customers, New York Life CEO Ted Mathas began recording videos that were put on the website. "The original idea was a 'quick hit' response to the financial crisis, using the site as a platform to talk about financial strength and stability," recalls Hittel.

But two considerations intervened to counsel a different approach, according to Hittel. First, the immediate crisis was going to be followed by a protracted recession, so a quick hit didn't quite fit the bill. Second, it wasn't enough to say that New York Life was strong and secure -- it required an explanation. "Lots of people made promises -- that was a theme we wanted to hit very hard," Hittel elaborates. "We wanted to tell why you can depend on guarantees from New York Life."

Visitors to the site are greeted with a brief interactive introduction, complete with a tour of the site's navigation. A brief video essay titled, "The Bubble of Expectations," which emphasizes a selection of hopeful promises that preceded and contributed to the financial crisis, follows. After contrasting such promises with a characterization of New York Life's business as one of "long-term guarantees," visitors are invited to view "The Mutual Advantage," a video that pulls no punches in its explanation of the relative merits of mutual insurers over public companies beholden not only to policyholders but also to stock holders. Whatever consumers may think, the content is unlikely to endear New York Life to its demutualized competitors:

"A mutual insurance company is one that doesn't have shareholders, and that little difference has big implications for the way the company delivers on its promises and commitments," the narrator asserts. "See, every life insurance company has a long-term promise to its policyholders to be financially strong when they need it. But publicly traded insurance companies also must satisfy their shareholders. As a result, their time frame for success is often much shorter than that of a mutual company. This can encourage them to pursue aggressive strategies to quickly bolster their stock price and provide investors with immediate returns.

"New York Life believes this undercuts the financial strength of the institution. In fact, during the 2008 and 2009 recession, every major publicly owned life insurance company in the U.S. suffered one or more downgrades in their financial strength ratings. But in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, New York Life continues to enjoy the highest possible ratings from every major rating agency."

Hittel describes the information presented on the site as the first attempt by any company to explain mutuality to consumers. "The financial crisis did give us the ideal backdrop," he acknowledges. "However, to make the distinction between mutual and publicly traded is fine, but we sought to show the relevance."

New York Life steered clear of making GuaranteesMatter a product-heavy site, according to Hittel. But one message the New York-based carrier strove to emphasize on the site was that the company's products were relevant to visitors' planning. "Most people don't think of life and annuities as part of a standard financial solution," Hittel explains. "One of the main purposes of GuaranteesMatter is to reintroduce the notion that life and annuities are a relevant part of your financial solution set."

Image Gallery: Take a Look Inside New York Life's "GuaranteesMatter" Web Site.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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