Great West Life and Annuity Insurance Co. has begun marketing on banks' Web sites a term life insurance policy that it says customers can buy in under five minutes.
Applications are approved or denied on the basis of five medical questions. There are no medical exams, follow-up questions, or references to centralized medical and insurance records.
The downside is that because everyone, healthy or sick, pays the same rate, healthy people pay more than they would for other products.
Huntington Bankshares of Columbus, Ohio, has offered the Great West product since August, and U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis will introduce a version of it next month, said John Roeske, vice president of bank insurance markets for Denver-based Great West. Charles Schwab & Co., the San Francisco discount brokerage behemoth, has offered a similar Great West product for three years.
Though a number of banks have come out with simplified term products this year, most have a second round of questions to catch health problems in applicants. These policies also can take longer to issue.
Huntington was looking for a simple product with a quick turnaround time that would serve middle-income customers, most of whom are underinsured, Mr. Roeske said.
"For most young people with families, the right answer is to buy term life insurance," he said. "You can't put them through the same process you put an affluent person through for a million-dollar policy."
Fast approvals are essential, Mr. Roeske said, because after more than five minutes customers are likely to give up and move to the next Web site.
Great West's term life product offers up to $150,000 in life insurance with level rates for 10 years. Mr. Roeske said Huntington plans to add Great West's simplified whole life product next month.
William K. Browning, president of Huntington Insurance Services, did not return phone calls, but Mr. Roeske said the bank has had promising results. Since term life went on-line in August, Huntington has sold one policy for every 32 visits to the insurance section of its Web site, he said. Great West said it expects to make 1,200 to 1,500 term sales through Huntington next year.
Such simplified sales procedures will be a boon for banks trying to sell insurance, said Charles M. Murray, president of CMI Direct, a Sunland, Calif., company that works with the Internet efforts of banking companies.
"This is a great step," Mr. Murray said. However, it can be pricey for healthy applicants, he cautioned. "Yes, it's good you can get it on-line," he said. But the bad news is that healthy applicants "probably pay 50% to 80% more" than they would otherwise.