How MetLife will ramp up digital innovation in 2018

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Large insurers are looking to get real business value out of the insurtech wave this year, and MetLife is no different. The company recently anounced that it would run an insurtech accelerator at its North Carolina tech campus, and is also looking to invest $100 million in innovative companies.

Leading the company's transformation efforts is chief digital officer Greg Baxter, who joined MetLife in summer 2017 after holding a similar position at Citi. Baxter says that after spending his first few months withe company laying the groundwork from a data and platform standpoint, now is the time to look more aggressively at finding partners.

MetLife is looking to reinvent itself as a customer-centric company, he explains, That means the organization has to transform holistically and change how it's traditionally looked at practice areas.

"Innovation needs to be a core competency and, we want to work with world-class external partners on discovering solutions, Baxter says. "in terms of the strategy, the first step was getting our foundation right, building out the base platforms, and getting the data in.

Podcast: MetLife's inside-out approach to innovation

The insurtech sector has matured in the wake of a boom year, he adds. Now, large insurance firms like Metlife and insurgent providers are looking to find cultural matches so that the carriers can benefit from the startups' new way of thinking, and the startups will be able to better align their ideas to the real world of insurance.

"It's new ideas meeting global scale and industry expertise," Baxter says. "This is taking what we're already doing with startups, venture capitalists, academia and internally to the next level."

Compared to his time on the banking side, Baxter notes that insurance's less-frequent transaction pace has elongated the timeline for disruption. However, now that the train is moving, it's time for companies to get on board, he asserts.

"We're now seeing some of the front-end distribution disruption, and similar to fintech, once you start to disrupt that area, innovators start to come along and look at the products, services and platforms," he says. "For that, you really need expertise. How do we [leverage] the [intellectual] capital of established companies as opposed to trying to recreate? It moves from disruption to partnership."

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Insurtech Data strategy Digital distribution MetLife