Why Expert Advice Is In More Demand, Not Less

Regular reader will know that I am a fan of online services, and also a fan of advice. This article explains why consumers need more advice than before, even while their opportunities to 'buy direct' are increasing. 

"In the modern, fast and noisy world, there is no way customers can make the right decisions in all product categories. When buying non-commodity products customers almost always require some sort of expert advice and personalized product recommendations."


We Should Try Learning from Wearable Heath Tech

I use health tech, I am also in the life insurance industry. While I may connect heath wearables to the industry, most consumers don't. Heck, most of them don't think about their life insurance. That was part of the promise, that's the cherished 'peace of mind' we offered, so we shouldn't complaint too much. Also, tailoring life insurance products so that they connect to wearables is only urgent if it yields competitive advantage somehow. After all, it is still early days in the world of wearable health tech. That helps to put into context many of the general concerns about wearables which are always wheeled out as objections for their use by the insurance industry: 

  • Not enough people use them
  • They aren't accurate enough
  • There isn't that much evidence that increasing activity improves risk

Ignore the first point, in time, either there will be enough or there won't in time and we'll move on.

The second point makes me laugh. Your bathroom scales aren't accurate either. For decades blood pressure measurements have been getting more accurate, but remain heavily dependent on how you do them. But they are so much more accurate than most answers given to the 'weight' question on life insurance applications. The kind of level of inaccuracy is similar to your speedometer in your car (well, most cars). Also, precision isn't needed here. The accuracy is broadly fit for purpose. People who watch their weight know that their bathroom scales are out, and measurement depends a lot on when you weigh yourself, and factors like with or without clothes and shoes. The game is to watch trends, not worry about individual data points. If the wobbly line keeps going up, I need to eat more greens and less cakes.

The third point focuses on the emblematic '10,000' steps. This was never much more than an advertising slogan, very few such devices track steps alone. They seek to 'gamify' the generally accepted contributors to good daily health by getting the user to track a basket of data: general activity, proper exercise, heart rate, sleep, weight, and more. The usual things. Track these over a long period of time and we get trends. Non-tracking tells us something. Even abandonment by the user tells us something. We can't be snobby about this data when, as an industry, we use BMI which is generally based on what the applicant self-reports as their height and weight. 

What is interesting is whether this trend can be brought into product design in a meaningful way. That is a concept that we are still struggling with as an industry. Initial ideas, such as 'giving a discount' are a bit dumb. Most people can hardly remember what their insurance costs, until it gets really expensive, and then, the kind of discount available for this activity, is nowhere near enough to make a difference.

If any form of connection to wearables is to be worthwhile we have to come up with better ways to connect the idea of your daily health activities with your lifelong risks. The core ideas that drive the health wearables market are alien to life insurers. Consider this: a committed user of a health app will interact with it more in one day than they will with their life or income protection product in a whole year. People who can make weighing yourself that interesting may have something to teach us. We should try to learn.

What Really Gives You Cancer?

This interactive body map on Stuff.co.nz brings together the evidence on proven cancer causes. Choose your gender and then select from a list of risk factors such as sun exposure, smoking, and alcohol to assess your cancer risk. The percentages portrayed are “relative risks” which are different to “absolute risks”. The difference is explained in more detail here. Users should note the absence of categories such as cellphone, computer screen, and artificial sweetener. The big issues are diet, obesity, smoking, and lack of physical activity.  

"Train Until You Want to Throw Up"

It is the antithesis of the online advert for "pills that melt belly fat" and it is the truth. Along with "eat lean" and "70% of how you look is about your diet" the other 30% is covered by "train until you want to throw up". There are no easy answers. From Asteron's excellent blog interview with Hugh Jackman. Link

'tis the Season

If one of your favourite pass-times over the holiday is eating food you would not normally permit yourself then this advice might not be for you... or maybe its tailor made for you. Those in our industry should be familiar with the contribution that excess weight makes to a whole range of disorders: from the big ones such as cancer and heart disease to any number of other minor disorders. This article highlights the benefits of choosing smaller portions. Link. 

I typically put on about 2kilos over Christmas. My nutritionist tells me that is roughly 16,000 excess calories (this link for calculations) - or 38 Starbucks muffins. I think I've done well to get it down to that. 

While there are all sorts of diet tricks, and you should certainly use whatever strategy works for you, there is one, really simple one: eat less. That means that for me I can still enjoy the range of foods, but I choose a smaller portion. I'm aiming for less than 2 kilos this time. 


Holiday weight gain = 1/2 a kilo. That's 4000 calories (give or take) which is pretty much eating twice as much as I should for a day and a half, which is as you would expect, considering that on Christmas day I did not get in my customary run. I did on Boxing day, but it was a sad little jog dragging my slow and sorry arse around Birkenhead. Yesterday was a marked improvement, and today at the gym I felt quite a bit better. However, it will be a long slog.

You see, your body is a set of scales, energy in minus energy out. But it is considerably harder to force energy out (refer, for example to this calculator which shows the calories expended in exercise) than it is to force in another mince pie. Then there is calorie restriction: I can rarely manage a deficit of more than about 250 calories a day, so you can see that it would take a good 12 days at that rate to get back to where I was. However, it is unlikely that I will manage a deficit until after New Years Eve, so I will probably be lugging the fatty residue from my indulgence around for the better part of a month before I am back to pre-Christmas levels.

Such is the grim mathematics of eating. As my nutritionist said once: you can always out-eat your exercise programme.

The 'tween days

Our kids had to be chased back to bed on Christmas morning at 3.44am! One of my best presents was chosen by my four-year-old son (Matthew). He 'bought' (with Mum's assistance) a Nerf Gun. It's a Nerf N-Strike with night finder sight - that's the cool red dot that you can scan mennacingly along a wall towards your intended target. You can have a look here. Although I have since discovered that you can get fully automatic Nerf weapons complete with big banana-clips full of ammo. I suspect I shall have to obtain something like that for the office.

Although Barrel of Monkeys was not one of our gifts we did spot this review which makes a good case for BoM (as it is known to afficionados) being the gold standard in fun, indeed, the yardstick by which all other fun is measured. Apetastic!

Actually I did receive Dixit, which is a beautiful game. It's won dozens of awards, but best of all has a dreamlike quality in its presentation. If you've been raised on an Anglo-Saxon diet of average board games (like Cluedo) right on down to the truly awful (which is Monopoly, in my humble opinion) then you may have a jaded view of these cheerful family-focused diversions. Try German board games, try Dixit, try Settlers of Catan. Hell, try Barrel of Monkeys!

Well, there were still four page views on Christmas day, so whether those were just miss-keys or perhaps, like me, a few of you needed to escape the constant badgering to build something out of lego, put batteries in a new toy, or prepare for the next meal - I just don't know. However, I love to write, so I will keep up the odd post in these days between Christmas and New Year just to keep in touch.

Speaking of the next meal, I did a whole baked salmon. I found a Tesco's video clip to enable me to break this new ground, and it was easy - and looked very impressive.

Our holiday programme of activity includes picking up visitors from the UK the day after tomorrow and a trip down to Ohakune for a few days. A friend has recently bought a property that sits right next to a trout stream and has a lovely view of the mountain. Later in January we have a short trip to Nelson.

Work-wise I have a couple of projects which need to keep getting pushed along over the next couple of weeks so we can be off to a flying start in the New Year. The most I can say about those is that it is really encouraging that after the worst few years financial services has seen in a long time there are still people who are keen to do innovative new work in the field.