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Insurance 101

Life insurance underwriting: what’s with all the questions?

Insurance 101

Life insurance underwriting: what’s with all the questions?

How digital underwriting is empowering online life insurance.

Before you can officially get a policy, applicants have to go through life insurance underwriting. “What is underwriting in insurance?” I hear you asking. If you’re unfamiliar with this, it’s the process where an insurer looks at how risky you are to insure. The riskier you are to insure, the higher your policy premiums could be. It’s just a fact of life *cough* insurance. So how does life insurance underwriting work, exactly? And how does underwriting work for no exam life insurance policies? Let’s dive in, ‘cause it’s actually a pretty cool process.

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  1. What is life insurance underwriting?
  2. Continuous underwriting and instant underwriting
  3. How does digital underwriting know I’m healthy?
  4. How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the underwriting process?
  5. Life insurance underwriting bottom line

What is life insurance underwriting?

Insurance underwriting is basically your insurance company figuring out how likely it is that you’re going to die during your contract term. The process confirms if you’re eligible for coverage, the amount you can buy, if there’s going to be any restrictions, and, of course, the cost.

Underwriting essentially exists to help you get the best possible coverage so that your family is taken care of in the event of your death.

So how does it work? Well, it usually involves filling out an application form with medical and lifestyle information. Sometimes you may need a life insurance medical exam, where a doctor or nurse checks you out (in a professional sense, sorry). “Like going to the dentist, underwriting is for your own good,” says Nick, an underwriting expert with 16 years experience at a major insurance company. “Asking questions and obtaining data allows the insurer to make the right decisions around who to offer coverage to and at what rates.”

Continuous underwriting and instant underwriting

Now that we know the basics of life insurance underwriting, let’s dig a bit deeper into two types: continuous underwriting and instant underwriting.

Continuous underwriting is where an insurer uses real-time data to monitor risk factors as they appear. This could look like monitoring your sleep quality, fitness levels, and even driving styles. How do they do this? One way is wearable tech like an Apple Watch that can monitor your sleep cycle. However, because only one-in–five Americans use a smartwatch or fitness tracker, Nick suggests that it’s “early days for wearables in underwriting.” Companies are still beginning to understand the data’s predictive value.

Instant underwriting is the process where approvals happen at the point of sale. Essentially, as soon as you hit submit on an application, insurtech (i.e., insurance tech) goes over the information you provided. If everything looks good, you could be approved in a couple of hours, or even less. Unless there’s more information needed. But instant underwriting strives to be just that—instant.

How does digital underwriting know if I’m healthy?

The life insurance underwriting process starts as soon as you fill out your application. Now, each insurer may have their own way of doing the underwriting process. Since online life insurance is becoming more common, many companies, like Wysh, are using insurtech to power how they do underwriting. But there are a few areas that companies look at to inform their digital underwriting.

No live agents, no dull or awkward conversations, no up-selling—just you and your laptop/computer in the comfort of your own home.


To put it bluntly, insurance companies want you to live a long time. Being younger means a lower risk of death, which, for the policyholder, might mean cheaper premiums. Which is why companies often suggest that it’s beneficial to apply for a policy the younger you are.

Personal and family medical history

When applying, you may have to answer some medical questions, especially if the policy is a no exam life insurance policy. Companies often get additional information via many different databases. Basically, they grab what medical records you have on file to determine your health risks. Other than giving the greenlight to search the records, you may not have to do any additional actions, unless prompted by the company itself. They’ll also look into your family’s medical history, to see if there’s risk for any genetic health concerns they need to know about.

Driving record

Yes, insurance companies look at driving records too. In the US, car accidents account for roughly 35,000 deaths a year. Some pretty scary statistics. So companies  want to take a wee lil’ peek into your driving history. The way you drive can correlate to how risky it’d be to cover you for life insurance. For example, companies may look at things like traffic violations, accident reports, DUI convictions, etc. If violations like these happened recently, you may see higher premiums. So safe driving!


Insurance companies also want to look at how you live your life. For example, if you’re an extreme sports enthusiast, say like a skydiver, you may face higher premiums to cover that increased risk. Or if you’re a smoker, you may face higher premiums to offset the risk smoking can cause to your health. How you live your life and the choices you make can be just as important as the stuff that’s going on under the skin.

Life insurance classes

Once you’ve answered a few questions about your health and lifestyle, an underwriter will assign you to one of the above risk classes to determine how much your coverage will cost.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the underwriting process?

Stay-at-home measures and social distancing combined with the restrictions placed on non-essential medical treatment earlier on in the pandemic have thrown a ton of new challenges at the underwriting world. Even now, many months into the pandemic, the unknowns are still out there. With so many uncertainties, insurers are facing new challenges for the first time. For example, what good is it asking for a doctor to share a summary of your medical history when there’s no one in the doctor’s office available to handle such requests? It might sound like a small detail, but every little thing needs to be considered. Insurers are being forced to develop innovative ways to maintain their standards without compromising anyone’s health. With that said, you should note that the insurance industry was already headed toward a data-collecting evolution—the pandemic just forced its hand. According to Nick,

“COVID-19 has caused companies to greatly accelerate their existing commitment to digital processes and data such as electronic health records, in place of the traditional paramedical exam and labs.”

Life insurance underwriting bottom line

From biometric info like age, sex, and weight, to medical history to lifestyle details, life insurance underwriting is unique to each insurer. However, insurtech is often making the process quicker to get more people covered sooner. Now, you could even be done applying for quality coverage in just a few minutes. As our underwriting expert, Nick, put it, “The shift to digital will only continue to pick up speed. Every one of us creates so much data in our daily lives, and there is a movement to harness its predictive value in an ethical way to create customer value and modern experiences.”

As Wysh, we use our powerful Wysh Builder tool to help people determine their right amount of coverage. Still not sure at how much coverage you really need? We’ve got you covered. Read up on some tips and tricks to determine the right amount of coverage for you and your needs. Then head on over to the Wysh Builder to see what that coverage looks like. Start applying and see how powerful our life insurance underwriting process really is.

The opinions we expressed in this post are for general informational purposes only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations.