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Thought leadership, insights, and success stories

Formula for Successful Life Insurance Innovation

This post was originally published in June 2019 and updated in August 2021.


Three things typically go wrong with traditional business innovation processes:

  • Failure to understand the real underlying customer problem
  • Overanalysis of the wrong data by the wrong group of people
  • Unable to capture the full value of the insights and ideas generated

The approach of RGAX’s Life Design Sprints helps the life insurance industry tackle all three to achieve more successful business innovation. The formula for design sprints combines three key elements: a specific mindset, the right people in the room, and a series of exercises extracting individual insight and group consensus. The outcome is reduced corporate risk, increased organizational alignment and buy-in, plus innovative insurance solutions on firm footing to get to market faster.

1. Adopt a customer mindset

A design sprint starts the design process from scratch, using a tested step-by-step system of exercises. Consider the difference between creating a zero-based budget – newly built for current circumstances – versus building a budget based on the previous year’s budget and circumstances. In rapidly changing markets the zero-based budget is much more effective.

Market research is likewise about the past. Many managers used to think, “I have to get a full overview of the market and study it. Then, I will find our business opportunity.” But the market today is changing, the people in your organization are changing, the organization’s vision may have changed, and the competition is changing, too.

In a dynamic environment, a zero-based design approach will help you identify a current problem, learn about the people experiencing that problem now, and create a business opportunity drawing upon the current strengths and expertise of your organization.

Design sprints put customers’ problems at the heart of the exercise by identifying a problem in the market and getting the participants to think about how they can apply their expertise to turn the problem into a business opportunity.

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2. Bring together the right group of people

Design sprints deliberately include a mix of participants who bring a diverse range of thought processes, experience and expertise – including some with a high-level of authority in their respective organizations. Because organization buy-in is so important, you need the decision makers whose opinions hold the most weight within each organization to participate in a design sprint.


Depending on the size of the organization, a design sprint could include these participants:

  • CEO or business unit leader
  • Head of the relevant product line
  • Head of sales or distribution
  • Head of marketing
  • Head of digital innovation, whose group will develop the solution
  • Operational leaders, who understand how products are delivered currently

3. Use the right exercises to extract individual insight plus collaboration

The structure of Life Design Sprints ensures we capture every individual’s contribution. Several exercises are baked into design sprints to get around the common brainstorming pitfall: the voice of the most senior or loudest person squashes other input.

We make certain every brain in the room fully contributes their ideas to the group decision-making process by deliberately ordering exercises in each part of the design sprint process:

  • Initial individual work - in silence. This exercise gives each participant the time to formulate and express their thoughts fully before sharing with others.
  • A first group review - also in silence - with each participant highlighting the ideas they like with sticky dots. This exercise allows each idea to stand on its own merits minus the author’s influence.
  • Finally, a structured group discussion focused on the ideas with the most dots. Participants share questions and opinions to reach consensus for the next steps.

I wish I’d known all this sooner

The following is a cautionary tale of a design sprint that didn’t happen, but should have. Years before RGAX created Life Design Sprints, we internally brainstormed an insurance solution that applied lessons learned from one regional market to win over non-consumers in another regional market. It was an elegant solution with a strong narrative. Indeed, we fell in love with it.


Unfortunately, it took a year to get full buy-in from the needed partner and another year for our partnership to build the solution. Just before its launch, however, the managing director at our partner moved on, and his successor unilaterally terminated the project.

Why? Because the project lacked buy-in and a shared vision with the wider team at the partner. It suffered from “not invented here” syndrome, meaning that no one within the partner could effectively explain the project’s ambition.

If we’d initially held a design sprint with them instead of brainstorming by ourselves, the outcome would have likely been different. With a design sprint, we would have

  • Established a shared vision and achieved buy-in at all levels of the partner organization
  • Started development right away with all relevant leaders at the partner fully aware of the project's ambition
  • Got to market before key people moved on and maintained resilience to personnel changes

In short: we’d have saved two years of wasted work.

Design sprints give groups momentum

Beautiful things happen when you have buy-in and alignment in a group after a design sprint. And it doesn’t need to be a new product solution. Take for example, our work with a group of insurers, reinsurers, and other industry players to run a design sprint in London to promote preventative solutions to the societal (and life insurance) problem of suicide in the UK.

Long after the design sprint, the participants continue to work as a self-organized group because they were all aligned on the problem and had the buy-in and resources needed to move forward.

Design sprints reduce corporate risk

Life Design Sprints help organizations reduce risk and provide innovative insurance solutions the necessary alignment and buy-in to get to market faster. We partner with life insurance carriers and insurtech entrepreneurs to incubate and accelerate new products and services.

Each RGAX Life Design Sprint:

  • Has the right decision makers in the room so that all levels buy into the project
  • Puts a deep understanding of the customer at the heart of the problem
  • Ensures your organization extracts the individual insight of everyone in the room

Ready to innovate with alignment and buy-in? We’d love to hear from you. 

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Written by: Jonathan Hughes

As Managing Director of EMEA, Jonathan Hughes is responsible for driving business strategy for the region and collaborating closely with strategic partners as well as with RGA. Jonathan works closely with life insurers, distributors, fintech companies and digital health startups to help develop a range of innovative life and health insurance propositions.

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