3Qs with Sebastien Malherbe, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer

Q: What role does product design play in helping Breathe Life achieve its mission?

Great question, and I love talking about Breathe Life’s vision and mission, especially in terms of how great design will get us there! First, a key distinction. A company’s vision – it’s “what” – stays constant. Ours at Breathe Life is to provide financial security to all, whoever and wherever they are. 

Mission is the “how.” How we are going to fulfill our vision is by creating great products with the best technology. In this sense, my mission as the head of product and design is really about changing the perception of how people think about financial products. In many people’s minds, financial products, especially complex ones like life insurance policies, immediately conjure negatives such as “difficult,” “boring,” and “laden with paperwork”.

I believe great design can change these perceptions!

Fellow InsurTech company Lemonade provides a strong proof point. They have used design to flip the script on home and rental insurance, making buying insurance and filing claims – dare I say it? – fun. In the past, if your home flooded, and you had to file a claim, you’d have nightmares about all the forms and paperwork. But with Lemonade, you pick up your phone, snap a photo, send it in, receive an instant response, and, if approved, have the money electronically deposited into your bank account. 

That’s both simple and elegant, and a lot of it is driven by design. There are also a lot of business processes working behind the scenes that are hidden from the consumer, but basically the application does the work so the consumer doesn’t have to. 

Traditional life insurance carriers are eager to offer the same kind of online ease, but their products are often more complex and, as a result, advisors play a bigger role in consumers’ ultimate purchasing decisions. That said, I am positive great design will play a key role in making shopping for, and purchasing, life insurance easier, better, more engaging, and perhaps even a bit fun. That’s how I see the mission of design at Breathe Life, and it’s key to our success as a business and industry.

Q: I’m glad you brought up advisors. What’s the key to designing for advisors?

It’s interesting. More than 90% of life insurance policies get sold through advisors, so we view them as the primary user of our platform, yet we still need to keep the needs of consumers and the carriers themselves in mind. So, yes, we design for all three, but through the lens of the advisor. 

So what does that look like? 

For advisors, we use design to reduce on-screen clutter and streamline routine processes. For example, we want the advisor  to be able to focus on what he or she is doing right now, to really be “in the moment” with their clients, so we don’t want to show them the entire navigation at that moment or distract them with unnecessary dashboards. 

For consumers, we need to use design strategically to break down the complexity of insurance products and make the experience of shopping for, and learning about, insurance products engaging and easy. One way design can do that is by making the information-gathering process fast and simple. Instead of presenting a consumer with “first answer these three hundred questions about your health history” as the first step in the online process, we hone the questions down to a relevant few, presenting those questions in a visually appealing way to get the process off on the right foot and make it easy for advisors to jump in and add value. 

For carriers, we have designed the Breathe Life platform as a “white label” solution, meaning we can easily incorporate their branding elements into our design. But it’s also important to understand that “white label” is not the same as “anything goes.” Our platform provides carriers a sandbox from which they can pick and choose different elements that are already optimized for conversion and user experience, better positioning their advisors to drive sales, up-sell, and cross-sell.

Q: What’s more important: code or design?

You can’t ask a designer that! Fortunately for me, as Chief Product Officer, I get to wear many hats, and I spend equal amounts of time with software engineers and designers in pursuit of building the best InsurTech platform possible. 

Yet I do think some technology companies put code first and treat design as a bit of an afterthought. I am leading a more design-forward approach at Breathe Life, and we believe that is the right path for our industry, because you can have the greatest code in the world, but if people aren’t engaging effectively with the product – a key responsibility of product design – you aren’t helping carriers and advisors sell more policies and protect more consumers. 

Think of all the best technology you use in your daily life. Code makes it work, but design makes it dazzle. Of course, at the end of the day, great technology products are the product of both great coding and design. So far, I am pleased, and so are our clients, that Breathe Life delivers both in one elegant package.