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The science that could really change underwriting

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I found it interesting to hear where David Stertzer, who served as the CEO for life insurance advocacy association AALU for nearly 33 years, ended up after transitioning to an advisory role with AALU last September.

Stertzer joined a startup called Wamberg Genomic Advisors that is “dedicated to making genomic testing readily available at prices everyone can afford,” as a managing director, with his role being to advise life insurance companies on genomic and advance DNA program strategies.

I think it’s telling that this longtime high-profile leading advocate for life insurance professionals thinks enough of the potential of genomic and advanced DNA program strategies to make that his next career step after so many years being entrenched in dealing with issues of key importance to the industry.

Stertzer, you may remember, played a vital role in the expansion and success of AALU, including a thirty-times increase of the organization’s resources, 60% growth in membership and fostering a respected team and lobbying counsel that delivers a unified life insurance message to Capitol Hill. He helped AALU manage successful policy outcomes in the areas of inside buildup, business uses of life insurance, the estate tax, tax reform, and deferred compensation and retirement savings.

But instead of becoming a consultant for a legacy carrier – or retiring from the industry altogether – he chose to team up with a tech startup focused advanced DNA testing.

When La Jolla, Calif.-based Wamburg announced its hiring of Stertzer back in October, Stertzer said he was excited to be a part of the mission to help the life insurance community and their agents make genomics and advanced DNA testing part of their portfolio.

“The life insurance community has always innovated. New products and programs have consistently been created that have been critical components in meeting the comprehensive financial, and life needs of insureds,” Stertzer said. “The programs being created by Wamberg are enabling the life insurance community and agents to be at the forefront of programs that extend and improve life. It is consistent with the values and purpose of life insurance.”

Tom Wamberg, president & CEO of Wamberg Genomic Advisors, said the overarching mission is bigger than the company. “Advanced DNA testing for cancer is enabling medical professionals to develop personalized health strategies, treatments, and care paths when needed. Patients and doctors empowered with knowledge are better informed to provide effective treatment,” Wamberg said. “We are assuring, through the life insurance industry, that insureds can enroll in programs that guarantee they get access to the most advanced testing and support.”

On another genomics front, you have GWG Holdings subsidiary YouSurance, a Minneapolis-based digital managing general agency (MGA) started by the team behind Life Epigenetics, which is the first company to use epigenetic biomarkers to assess life insurance applicants’ health and lifespan – starting with a simple saliva test.

“We know epigenetics can better assess an individual’s health and wellness than traditional methods, as well as provide new insights into human longevity,” said YouSurance CEO Jon Sabes. “We are leading the charge in applying this technology to the life insurance industry and are in the early stages of working with insurance carriers to apply this science into the underwriting of their life insurance. Epigenetics will allow greater precision in pricing and enable consumers to save money on their life insurance.”

Genomics and epigenetic testing mixed with life insurance brings up plenty of potential legal, ethical and adverse risk issues of its own, but the science behind it looks very promising for predicting lifespans on a micro level.

While there’s been lots of talk about in the industry about using big data (social media, fitness monitors, etc.) to further automate underwriting, the real game-changer in underwriting could very well end up being advanced forms of genetic testing.

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