Driving digital transformation requires insurance carriers to become educators, investors, engineers and agents of change. That's according to Jennifer Marshalek, Nationwide’s senior vice president of digital solutions, who gave the opening keynote at Digital Insurance's Dig | In: The Digital Future of Insurance conference in Austin, Texas.

Technology companies like Amazon offer services that policyholders now want from insurers, and insurtechs are putting pressure on established carriers to keep up, she added.

“Startups have the benefit of starting from scratch and knowing the consumers they want to target,” said Marshalek. “As a legacy company, it is our job to see [digital] as an opportunity, not a challenge.”

Insurers’ roadmap to innovation encompasses three levels, Marshalek said. The first is creating basic online functions in sales, claims and consumer education. Next is to develop existing products to make them simpler—such as automating basic human tasks to eliminate paper and reduce costs. The third level is the ability to transform models into something completely different in little to no time.

But there are a number of challenges to on the road to digital as well, she says. To begin with, going “digital” is a large concept for C-level executives to wrap their heads around. This is where educating senior leaders on the consequences of not modernizing becomes important, Marshalek confessed.

It’s also tempting just to move on innovation without a real plan of attack. Like engineers, building digital strategies is about creating functionality that will be used frequently by customers.

“If it’s not serving the consumer, it will not help your business,” said Marshalek.

Other notable hurdles include limited resources and the ideology that digital is a project when in fact it is a breathing product money must be pumped into, she says. Nationwide is currently working on mapping its end-to-end customer journeys while leveraging its internal and external partners.

According to Marshalek, the key to digital is “to figure out what areas you want to be great at and leverage partners who are experts in the rest.”

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