The early bird wins: Lessons on upselling insurance

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‘Upgrade at issue’ email marketing programs can be a low-cost, low-maintenance way to add an additional revenue stream.

Customers may be receptive to purchasing more life insurance than they originally applied for, but it must be done with the right tone, at the right time and with the right offer. If implemented well, it can be a great way to add an additional revenue stream that needs little, if any, intervention.

The context

Since 2015 we’ve been assisting a large US life insurer with their marketing efforts, running cross-sell campaigns to current policyholders across a variety of channels. The insurer currently issues a significant number of Term Life policies each year and we saw an opportunity to add an additional revenue stream by encouraging eligible customers to upgrade after approval but before purchase. The project has been ongoing since early 2019, and in that time response rates have been between 10-19%. Annualized premium has increased by 44% among those who accepted the offer.

How it works

In the first few days after applying for insurance and being underwritten, but before a policy is fulfilled, ReMark runs a campaign with the objective of getting customers who applied for a certain level of life insurance to upgrade immediately to a higher amount of coverage. Email marketing (eDM) made the most sense here because it can be sent almost instantly and 95% of people provide an email address at the time of application. Those eligible for a higher amount of coverage than originally applied for will be sent a simple ‘click to accept’ email with a guaranteed-issue Life upgrade offer prior to policy fulfilment.

Here’s what we’ve learned since starting the project:

When it comes to time, less can be more

This kind of upgrade marketing worked well because of the short time window. This isn’t a new concept but what we noticed in this case is how well the product was suited for it. Customers are already expecting an email confirmation. The client's service standards are to issue or fulfil a policy within five business days of coverage being approved, and the deadline conveys urgency. The fact that at least 1 in 10 customers each month responded to the campaign for the first year shows just how effective it can be. If the individual declines the offer, or doesn’t respond fast enough, the insurer simply issues the plan they originally applied for. And if they accept, the new policy is issued.

After testing, we switched to back-to-back emails on consecutive days, (one initial, one reminder) which increased response rates by 58%.

Using a ‘sales tone’ may hinder your sales

The tone of the email text was positive and took a customer service approach. The subject and opening banner of the email focused on the fact that their application had been successfully approved and that there would be no additional medical exams or information required. In other words, more coverage with no effort. We used ‘feel good’ messaging—'congratulations you’ve been approved for the coverage you applied for as well as for an additional amount of coverage’—regardless of whether the upgrade offer was accepted or not. This approach actually outperformed more sales or promotional-like messaging that we tested. Perhaps because of the ‘halo effect’ after the initial sale, customers are open to interacting with their insurer and positive, professional messaging can also set the stage for ongoing communication. In our Global Consumer Study 2020-21, while most consumers are happy with how frequently their insurer contacts them about things like new products, discounts and financial tips, around 1 in 5 would like more regular communication.

Automatic upgrades mean the insurer is in control

Insurance agents, who are negotiating insurance on behalf of an individual, typically make the decision over whether an upgrade is presented to the client or not. While the industry is highly-regulated, especially in the States, offering upgrades isn’t always a uniform process. By automating the upsell program, banks and insurance companies can make sure that every approved applicant eligible for an upgrade is contacted. The same is true when it comes to reporting: an automatic at-issue program means consistent, reliable deployment, contact and sales reporting. This helps clients measure results, conduct A/B testing and know what works and what needs changing. The program requires little if any human intervention, with the emails and offer amount generated by the system.


Not all of these were implemented from the start. Over time and with continuous testing we’ve refined our campaign strategy and as a result, numbers have improved. Those receiving the highest upgrade offer amount interestingly, generated the highest response rate of any segment. Across all segments, result show 10-19% of customers have decided to take up the upsell offer. Rates can differ depending on the channel, but this is extremely rare in insurance direct marketing!