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A New Zealand life insurance company that was the first in the world to offer a fully online underwriting service has been recognised for its online achievement, winning an international insurance industry technology award.

Auckland's Pinnacle Life beat off competition from global insurance giants including AIG, Allianz Life and AON to win the top innovation award at the annual INNovator Awards, run by a top insurance industry technology publication, Chicago's Insurance Networking News.

Pinnacle Life was the only non-United States company among 20 finalists for the award.

It won kudos from the judges as the only entrant whose innovation directly benefited the customer, rather than merely delivering cost savings to the insurance provider.

Ed Saul and Steve de Jong launched the Pinnacle Life website in May 2007 as "the first life insurance provider anywhere in the world to deliver immediate, fully underwritten online cover to consumers".

Saul said that while many people are surprised a full online service had not been available before, there were several hurdles to overcome, including designing an insurance policy that could be sold over the internet, developing the technology to enable it, and integrating the system with a real-time underwriting service.

"That is actually more difficult than you would think because in a typical insurance company, to do that would cross maybe five or six different parts of the business and would require a multitasking project to get the job done. A lot of companies might have the insurance product knowledge or the online marketing knowledge or the technical know-how. The key, however, is bringing all of these elements together."

By aiming its service at the younger, internet-savvy section of the market, Pinnacle Life had increased its business by 30 per cent since the launch of the site, said Saul.

"One of the exciting things for us is that we've drawn people into the market who previously would probably not have had life insurance. It's not that we're necessarily in direct competition with the traditional life insurance companies."

Life insurance was typically bought by 30 to 50-year-olds, a demographic which was increasingly comfortable transacting online.

The company's online marketing strategy has included setting up and maintaining a blog about insurance issues, which it says has helped to drive traffic to the Pinnacle Life website.

"It's part marketing and part trying to inform the market and humanise this stodgy concept called life insurance. We even have a bit of humour on it," Saul said.

Saul and de Jong have sold the technology behind the Pinnacle Life website to Australian insurer Once Life and are optimistic that further sales will follow as more insurance companies look to capitalise on internet sales.

www.pinnaclelife.co.nz