A number of weeks ago, Discovery Vitality announced that it would be making a number of changes to how members receive Active Rewards.

Some of the changes include certain devices not being recognised as reliable fitness trackers, and members having to reach different goals in order to hit their rewards mark.

Naturally, the changes didn’t go down too well with some members, but Vitality is well aware of the fact.

“We have had a fair bit (of complaints), as you would have noticed, in social media of members who have expressed dissatisfaction with the changes brought on. We have had a few requests… from a group of members who are clearly unhappy about the changes. Obviously we are doing everything we can to try to provide context, and hopefully to assist them,” Discovery Vitality CEO Shrey Viranna told htxt.africa.

Easy switch

Viranna is sympathetic, but added that it has been fairly easy for others to switch over to the new points system.

“Ideally for us, it would be our ultimate outcome to have a seamless transition and for most people it is an easy adjustment into the new points. The last thing we want is for people to disengage or feel that the ability to train has become harder.”

As mentioned, many members took to various online platforms to express their unhappiness about the changes, with some expressing a desire to cancel their Vitality membership – and possibly take legal steps against the company.

Viranna, on the other hand, is confident that everything was done according to the Consumer Protection Act, and by the book.

“People should always follow the processes in a way that they feel is fair and just. As an organisation listed [on the JSE], we are obviously terribly mindful of good corporate governance – frankly any organisation should be mindful of good corporate governance. For us though, probably from a CPA point of view, we are always thoughtful of that before we do any changes. So in that sense, I don’t believe there is a legal risk,” he said.

Did the right thing

“With that said, it is important for me that we did the right thing, and how do we get the communication and message across so that we can engage with people constructively, rather than feeling hard done by.”

Viranna also explained some of the confusion surrounding the use of FitBit devices. While he pointed out that they are exceptional fitness instruments, he detailed that the formatting of the data it collects clashes with what Vitality needs.

“We believe the device is an exceptional device, and we have always gotten the step data from them. FitBit has been sending us heart rate data, but they send us zone data; the model that we use recognises an activity. Right now, the way the data is sent to us, is sent in an aggregated level. So we are actually unable, from that, to determine what the average heart rate was for a training period.”

The heart rate data here is key, as Vitality’s new points systems is based on the average heart rate a member needs to achieve in order to gain rewards.

He did add, though, that Vitality is working closely with FitBit to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. Once the company is able to send user data to Vitality in a format that includes an average heart rate, FitBit could be added to the approved list again.

No quick fix

But as with most things in life, there is no quick fix.

“Our consumers are unhappy with that [FitBit being removed] and I want it resolved, but when you are in a multiparty relationship, it is out of our control. It’s not like it is up to our systems guys or our developers to fix things.

“I would love to go out with a date and say ‘by this date it will be resolved’, but right now a date hasn’t been put on the table yet between us and FitBit – which we are working on.”

As for Strava, one of the most popular fitness apps out there, Viranna said that the app’s issue is two-fold.

“The first issue is around the third-party verification and the self-reporting. And as a general principle, we are moving away from a set of devices that allow for that. And the moment Strava can send through data to us where they have removed those two aspects, that issue will be resolved.”

Viranna said that he uses Strava himself and acknowledges that it is regularly used by cyclists in particular, but conceded that part of the reason it was removed, was due to its reliability – the second issue for Vitality.

“We have had some reliability issues quite regularly or for prolonged periods of time, that we believe significantly compromised the customer experience. So often we have people who go for a ride and open the Discovery app and see the points haven’t loaded.”

He explained that there are three possible causes for the points not loading, such as Strava itself, the integration layer that pulls the data through or an issue on Discovery’s app’s side.

“Between these three groups, and we include ourselves in it, there has been prolonged periods of poor reliability, which compromises our customer experience, which also then reflects on us. And so for the combination of those two reasons, we made the decision to remove Strava.”

As for a time frame of when Strava will be added back, Viranna (just like FitBit) explained that a number of changes need to made.

“We continue to work with Strava and we are actively working with them to try and find a solution on both those dimensions. The first is to prove the verification by removing the third-party app data, or third party device data; and the second is the reliability of the data transfer. Our consumers are putting this squarely on us, and I’m not shying away from that, but as part of our obligation to fix it, we had to make a call.”

The majority is honest

While it has been proven that it is totally possible to cheat heart rate monitors and third-party apps, Viranna believes that the majority of Vitality customers are honest when it comes to reporting fitness activity.

But with that said, there could be a possibility that some members have figured out ways to cook the books, and it is this behaviour that Vitality ultimately wants to stamp out.

“I don’t think the large proportion of our base are gaming the system or cheating it. I do think our average consumer, or more than our average consumer, is honest. That said, we are seeing higher levels of abuse of inaccurate data more so than any other time.”

[Image – CC by 2.0/Gerry Brady]


Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.