UPDATED: Nov 30, 2018
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John Hancock started out as a small life insurance company, and grew to become one o the bigger insurance and financial services companies in the U.S. The company went through several incarnations over 150 years that took it from a mutual life insurance company to a financial services corporation, and finally to a part of an international financial organization.
John Hancock promises integrity, strength, and life insurance products for the modern age with the backing of a lot of history. That’s what anyone expects from a company that is named after a founding father of the nation and has made it a point to build a legacy in that nation. We’ll take a look at how well they manage to live up to all of those things in this review.
John Hancock Insurance Summary
Named for former Governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock was founded in April 1862 as a small four-person mutual insurance company. Starting in Massachusetts, Hancock’s former domain, the company was known as the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, a name that fluctuated a bit during the years, sometimes dropping the word “life”.
In 1879, John Hancock became the first company to offer industrial life insurance policies with weekly premiums, developed as they stood outside of factory gates waiting to sell their products to the workers. By 1918 the company hit $1 billion in total life insurance policies in force.
John Hancock is responsible for the funding or building of several major landmarks, including Boston’s John Hancock Tower and Chicago’s John Hancock Center. While there are several buildings bearing their name, the company doesn’t necessarily own those buildings. They have also been a major sponsor of the Boston Marathon since 1985, and sponsor the Boston Red Sox.
In addition to sponsorships the company is active in a number of charitable organizations including cancer research and environmental initiatives.
In 2000, John Hancock changed from a mutual company to a publicly traded company, John Hancock Financial Services, Inc. The former mutual company policyholders were given shares in the new company to replace their ownership stake, and life insurance continued to be sold by subsidiary John Hancock Variable Life Insurance Company.
In 2004, Canadian-based international financial company Manulife Financial, the largest life insurance company in Canada, acquired John Hancock. Manulife merged its American operations with John Hancock, and the name is still used for all of the company’s U.S. operations. Life insurance products are sold through several subsidiary companies, including the main company, John Hancock Life Insurance Company. Manulife ranks as the 11th largest life insurance company globally by market capitalization as of 2016.
John Hancock serves all 50 states and the District of Columbia with life insurance products, mutual funds, health products, and more. They sell their products through agents and financial professionals and are one of the most recognized names in the United States. Not every product is available in every state, therefore consumers are directed to a financial representative to help them determine what options the company offers in their area.
John Hancock’s main product, going back to the start of the company, is life insurance. They offer several different types of policies. They also provide financial services for investment and retirement, and several supplemental health insurance coverage products as well.
John Hancock writes term life insurance as well as several universal life insurance options. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of information on the specifics of their products available on their website, which, for some might be a disappointment as greater detail might be expected from a company this large. Another reason to expect more information regarding their products would be the fact that life insurance is the company’s flagship product.
The site instead offers a general overview of the different types of life insurance they sell, lacking any policy specifics. There is also a small reference chart offered that gives the reader an idea of the differences between term and permanent life insurance. These policy types are:
- Term Life is available to provide short-term coverage without a cash accumulation account. John Hancock’s policies are convertible to allow policyholders to switch to permanent coverage with cash accumulation benefits. The company doesn’t appear to offer any sort of simple term policy for those who want a quick-issue basic option without a medical exam, but since the information on the policy options is limited, its possible this is available.
- Universal Life in a standard format that comes with flexible premium payments, a cash accumulation account, and a guaranteed death benefit in a permanent form. This is one of the most popular forms of permanent life insurance.
- Indexed Universal Life, which combines all of the benefits of a universal life insurance plan with a protected investment. The interest earned on the policy is connected with an indexed account, providing greater growth potential.
- Variable Universal Life, which offers all of the benefits of a standard universal policy along with investment options that can allow for flexible growth opportunities.
The John Hancock Vitality Program is a unique offering from the company that can help policyholders earn discounts and rewards. This program rewards members for making healthy lifestyle decisions. The Vitality Program uses a points system to determine an annual status of bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. Some of the methods of earning points are:
- Avoiding tobacco
- Going to the gym
- Having annual well checks
At each status level, members receive a discounted premium as well as other rewards. The company has partnered with travel and retail operations to offer discounts on things like cruises, exercise equipment, and more. The higher the status, the greater the premium savings and rewards.
This is a somewhat gimmicky but interesting approach to offering discounts on life insurance in much the same way auto insurance companies plan their discounts. Those who reduce the risk for the insurance company of paying out earlier than expected on a policy by improving their health and lifestyle are rewarded with discounts, just like safe drivers are given car insurance discounts in return for reducing the risk of a car accident.
Most life insurance companies offer rates that are higher or lower based on health, but offering rates that can decrease in return for lifestyle changes is a fresh approach.
John Hancock offers several annuity options, to create a retirement investment that helps provide regular income.
Variable annuities are available in qualified and non-qualified forms, offering tax-deferred savings that will provide income in retirement. John Hancock offers a selection of different investment options for these annuities with potential for growth, while keeping the benefits guaranteed.
Fixed annuities provide guaranteed fixed interest rates and steady income throughout retirement years. There are options that allow you to choose from between benefits that last a fixed time frame, or for your entire life.
529 College Savings
John Hancock offers their Freedom 529, a plan designed to offer flexible investment choices. There are four different investment strategies offering 22 investment plans.
These plans offer tax deferred savings accounts to save for college tuition that also provides distributions free of federal income tax. 529 savings plans are among the most popular college-specific choices.
John Hancock offers both individual and asset allocation funds options in managed mutual fund accounts. These professional accounts offer investment options that are flexible and offer liquidity options as well, and can be adjusted to the risk tolerance level of the individual.
John Hancock can also help individuals with retirement savings through tax-deferred 401(k) plans. These plans are carefully managed by financial professionals to help investors get the most out of the money they are saving for retirement.
John Hancock offers three levels of travel insurance plans, rated Bronze, Silver, and Gold. These plans each cover increasing levels of common travel insurance coverage:
- Trip cancellation and interruption
- Emergency medical
- Trip delay
- Missed Connection and itinerary change
- Emergency travel assistance
All plans have the option to add on ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage. Travel insurance is underwritten by American Modern Insurance Company, and not by John Hancock.This is a common practice among insurance companies, particularly with products like travel insurance.
Unlike most major life insurance companies, John Hancock does not offer and online quote option. That makes it difficult to determine where they stand when compared to other similar life insurance companies. Quotes are only available through agents or financial advisors, and the website will direct you to one in your area.
It’s not entirely surprising that online quoting is unavailable given the fact that the company volunteers very little information about their products overall. Their approach seems to be an effort to get customers into the office or on the phone where they can make a person-to-person sales pitch. It’s something of a traditional approach that fits the company’s general image.
John Hancock has never advertised as a low-cost insurance company, and their products are generally aimed at a relatively well-off market. They do however have the Vitality Program, which is designed to help lower premiums. So while they might not have the lowest price to begin with, those who are dedicated to a healthy lifestyle might well find that the price goes down and becomes more affordable over time. That’s definitely a promising option and something that is new to the life insurance industry, where premiums aren’t generally very flexible, at least not when it comes to health status, and there aren’t a whole lot of discount options.
It’s surprising to see a major life insurance company that has yet to move into the modern age and offer some form of online quoting. Online quoting, even if it requires an agent to complete the application process, has become an expected standard feature of any insurance company website, and it would be an added bonus to see John Hancock add this option.
John Hancock provides two options for reporting death claims on life insurance policies.
The first is a toll-free number, 1-800-387-2747, which can be used across the U.S., or a New York specific number, 1-888-267-7784.
The second is an online notification form that can be used for death claims as well as for notification of the first death on a survivorship policy.
Claims forms are available on the John Hancock website to fill out, print, and submit to the company following the submission on a notification of death. The site offers a form selector to help determine the appropriate form, or the representatives on the claims line can provide guidance to help you complete the claim. It is nice to see that John Hancock has embraced the ease of using the Internet when it comes to claims.
Because life insurance claims are somewhat different from auto and home claims, the length of time required to complete the claim can vary greatly. There is not a number given for following up on a claim and it is unclear whether or not policyholders can track claims when logged into their account on the company website.
John Hancock pays life insurance claims either by check, by electronic funds transfer, or distribution into a Safe Access Account (except in New York). These accounts provide easy access to funds via a checkbook and earn a variable amount of interest, combining a savings and checking account. This is a convenient option particularly for beneficiaries who have not yet made a decision on investing benefits.
Claims are one of the areas where insurance companies frequently fail to live up to customer expectations, which is a major part of any insurance company’s reputation. We’ll take a look at how John Hancock lives up to customer demands in terms of claims and other service expectations in the next section.
John Hancock Financial Services, Inc. has been accredited with the Better Business Bureau since 1996, and currently has an A+ Rating. There are a total of 56 complaints against the company in the last three years, 13 of those were closed in the past twelve months.
This is a low number of complaints for a company the size of John Hancock. Life insurance companies tend to have lower complaint volume in general, likely because they don’t handle as many claims as auto or home insurance companies, and they are generally more straightforward. The BBB rating, however, doesn’t paint the entire picture in terms of customer satisfaction.
The 2015 J.D. Power Household survey of overall customer satisfaction with life insurance companies ranked John Hancock among the lowest. J.D. Power’s system gives ratings out of five, and John Hancock received two out of five. That ranking is labeled as “the rest”, meaning below average, and is the lowest possible choice.
Consumers surveyed by J.D. Power ranked the company two out of five in all possible areas of service: billing and payment, price, policy offerings, and interaction.
While John Hancock, which is primarily a life insurance company, ranks low in the ratings, the top rank went to State Farm, and other similar companies offering a range of products also performed well.
ConsumerAffairs.com has 55 ratings based on 58 reviews. Of those, 36 are one-star reviews, and only five are rated as 5-star. That’s really not a particularly large number of reviews, and not a large number of negative reviews either, considering how large John Hancock is and how many policies they have in force. This particular site is generally used as a complaint site, so it’s not surprising to see that there are not many positive reviews.
The most common complaint appears to be issues with getting claims paid out. Although it’s difficult to tell from a review what the actual details of each situation were, it is all too common for complaints like these to come from a lack of understand of how policy benefits work. That’s not to say that the complaints are invalid, only that it’s difficult to judge given the lack of detail on the policy terms.
Overall, in spite of the J.D. Power rating, there really aren’t a lot of complaints against John Hancock considering the fact that they are an enormous company. The content of the complaints is very similar to what we see with other life insurance companies; there aren’t a lot of red flags. With a strong rating from the BBB and a fairly small number of complaints, the J.D. Power ranking is somewhat balanced.
Since John Hancock is a Manulife company, it’s worth a quick look at the reputation of the parent organization as well. So far, John Hancock continues to operate under its old name, but this may change in the future as it has for many insurance and financial companies.
Manulife does have a BBB file, with a rating of A-. The number of complaints, however, over a three-year period is only 12. That’s really minimal considering they are Canada’s biggest life insurance company and serve 22 nations. Like most major insurance companies, there are complaints against Manulife – but like John Hancock, they don’t seem particularly numerous given how large the company is.
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John Hancock is a company with a very long history both as an insurance company and as a force in American communities. They have a strong reputation and offer some unique options with their policies. Since we were unable to obtain a price comparison, it’s hard to provide any concept of the value they offer with their products, but they do have a pretty solid and focused lineup.
As a one-stop shop for most life insurance and financial services needs, they are likely to appeal to those looking for good products but not necessarily concerned with finding the best deal. John Hancock is worth considering for those who want to shop around for the right financial products to suit their needs and are willing to take the time needed to obtain quotes and compare rates and products.
Those who are in search of quick access to budget life insurance options are more likely to find what they need at another company, particularly a major personal lines insurer like State Farm or Allstate.
For a list of companies that we recommend, visit our Best Insurance Companies page.