With the advent of smartwatches and fitness trackers, insurance providers now have novel ways of incentivising positive health behaviours among their customers. It's been a rapid ascent for a technology that has only really been available to consumers for less than a decade.
Here we take a look at the timeline of wearables in insurance and how body-worn gadgets have achieved mainstream adoption.
1990s – the dawn
The foundation for the dawn of wearables is set by a team at MIT, led by Rosalind Picard, which develops a range of ‘smart clothing’. The various garments prototyped – including jewellery and underpants – are capable of continuously monitoring data from the wearer.
2009 – the prototype
Sony Ericsson partners with the London College of Fashion on a competition to design an item of digital clothing. The winner, designed by student Georgie Davies, is a bluetooth cocktail dress that lights up when it receives an incoming phone call.
2015 – the pioneer
South African insurance company Discovery, widely seen as a wearables pioneer, starts offering customers the newly-released Apple Watch for free – if they meet targeted health goals. They will have to pay for the device over a fixed period if they fail to keep active.
2017 – the early mover
UnitedHealthcare, the largest healthcare insurer in the US, teams up with Fitbit to launch a customised device that customers can wear and earn back credits against the cost of their plan – an early example of an insurer factoring wearables directly into the cost of a plan.
2021 – the hangover
Research from Deloitte finds that nearly 40% of US consumers own a smartwatch or fitness tracker; over 25% of those subscribe to a service offering personalised health feedback; and 60% of people who subscribe to such a service are concerned about the privacy of their data.
20?? – the future
As wearables become more popular, they can be applied to areas of insurance where they have never been used before – like life insurance. Can life insurers take historic data from applicants who already use wearables and provide a tailored life insurance quote, all without adding to anxiety around use of data? Time will tell…