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How John Hancock Met Distributors' iPad Demands

The company's distribution arm, through compromise and innovation, launched an iPad app to help its advisors sell better to clients.

Today, John Hancock Financial Network released an iPad app version of its Retirement Ready sales platform. Bruce Harrington, head of sales for the company, which handles distribution of John Hancock life insurance, annuities and investment products, came to the Insurance & Technology offices to talk about the company's strategy for tackling distributors' desire to use the Apple platform for sales.

Retirement Ready guides advisers through the use a product allocation tool, called the RSQ Analyzer, which was developed by the QWeMA (Quantitative Wealth Management Analytics) Group. The idea is that by offering a better way to illustrate product allocation, advisors would benefit from more informed and engaged clients, instead of having them drop off in the midst of the process -- or not come in at all.

"When they were trying to illustrate this concept to the client, they were trying to scratch it out on a yellow pad," Harrington says.

Advisors needed a better way to do this so that they could get in front of more clients. So JHFN conceived of Retirement Ready, originally as a web platform, which the company launched last fall.

"But when we did road shows across the country, the No. 1 question was, 'When can I get it on an iPad?'" Harrington says.

That had been the plan all along, he adds — not surprising for a company with a history of iPad innovation. But there were challenges. The app had to be developed and then run through compliance before it could go live. And, the computing power of the iPad isn't enough to handle the full product allocation engine. At the same time, uncertain connectivity speeds when the iPad isn't attached to a Wi-Fi network meant that advisors couldn't expect to be able to export data to John Hancock's servers for processing. So the company decided to simplify things on the app.

[Check out our gallery of great iPad apps for insurance agents]

"If wi-fi was universal we could've just replicated what we had on the web, but if you had to do call over the internet depending on the connectivity it could be slow," Harrington explains. "The app is designed so you can do it in a public seminar, or do it at the kitchen table."

Harrington says there isn't frustration at the lack of needed computing power to provide the full experience on the iPad. Rather, it's more important to provide the capability to advisors on the platform they are most comfortable with, so they can benefit from its existence and more intuitively use it. With a critical mass of iPads among the advisor population, the native app was the easiest decision to make at the time.

"If I were to start building an app today I would build it in HTML5 [for cross-device compatibility], but our feeling right now is that the population is iPad-centric and we'll adjust in the future if needed," Harrington says.

Besides that fact, building in HTML5 doesn't allow the app to leverage the features and capability of the device as much as is desired, Harrington adds.

"The downside of building HTML5 is that you don't get the benefits of every specific platform. But if you had to build for each platform and had it perfectly tuned you're talking two or three times the cost," he explains. "Doing it this way isn't perfect, but it's the decision we've made -- and the advisors that have been involved in the beta testing have been very pleased with it."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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