Toronto-based Sun Life Financial Inc. has begun rolling out a new intelligence system within its group benefits business, which utilizes big data and analytics tools as a way of better engaging plan members and prompting them to take advantage of the benefits available to them.

The new system, dubbed the Digital Benefits Assistant, represents an example of the way insurers are tapping into data to better understand clients’ needs and wants, and identify potential sales opportunities.

“This is about bringing more intelligence to the way we interact with plan members … and becoming smarter and more personalized,” says Rob Sims, senior vice president, client solutions, with Sun Life. “We have a ton of data – historical data, where we can look over a long range of time and understand the patterns, and detect when in people’s lives these things matter.”

The Digital Benefits Assistant, which is available to group benefits and group retirement plan members, is designed to notify clients of the various benefits, products and features available under their plans, at points of their lives when those features are most relevant.

The technology will be utilized in every interaction that plan members have with Sun Life, whether they connect with the insurer through their online account, on their mobile device or by calling a customer care centre.

“We want to make sure that people understand the value of their benefit plans, and are able to make the right decisions at the right time,” Sims says.

For example, when a plan member’s child is approaching an age at which he or she will no longer be covered by the member’s workplace benefits, the Digital Benefits Assistant could generate an automatic notification, and inform that member of the option of extending their child’s coverage.

As another example, if a certain type of insurance coverage is only available to plan members who are under a certain age, the program might remind clients to consider getting that coverage when they’re approaching that age.

Since insurance products and benefit plans tend to be complex, Sims says clients are often unaware of exactly how their plans work and which features are available to them.

“The industry has done a poor job of communicating in an intelligent way with clients and plan members,” he says, “and so we’re really trying to take a big step forward with that.”

The intelligence program is currently in the early stages of being rolled out on the group side of Sun Life’s business. Depending on the experience on the group side, Sims says the company might one day explore the possibility of introducing it on the individual side of the business, as a way of supporting advisors in working with their clients.

“There’s a lot of learning that we need to do,” he says, “because we’re early in this journey.”