Nationwide digital lead talks insurtech partnerships, COVID and beyond

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Chetan Kandhari is chief digital officer for Nationwide. He spoke to Digital Insurance in July 2020.

Digital Insurance: What is your charge as chief innovation and digital officer?
Chetan Kandhari: I’ve been at Nationwide for about 15 years, including CIO for the enterprise applications group and CIO for personal lines. About two months ago I was asked to take on and integrate the digital and innovation organizations and start to really think about how we can accelerate digitization of our core processes. In the past the role was probably a little more focused on digital marketing and it was in the marketing organization.

DI: How does Nationwide define digital transformation differently now?
CK: My agenda is to get our customer journeys digitized from front end experiences to intelligent automation at the back end. It’s more than software transformations. How do we ensure technology gets an outcome? The first part of that is understanding our customer journey. I embarked on a blueprint and inventory of that about four months ago in our various business lines.

DI: Nationwide announced two new initiatives that don’t seem related on the surface, but I’m wondering if they fall under the “digital transformation” umbrella and indicate the breadth of the strategy. The first is Nationwide joining the Verisk Data Exchange to get driving data from opted-in customers easier for your usage-based insurance product.
CK: This is a great example, it’s about combining data analytics, ease of use and being able to get more customer stickiness from your product. We just started on June 8 with the SmartRide instant verified discount. With certain GM connected vehicles, we can get instant verified data [through the Verisk exchange]. Before, you had to drive for six months [to get your UBI discount].

If you take a step back and you think about this from a customer’s viewpoint, what they’re really trying to say is, “can I lower the cost of my insurance with the least amount of effort?” One of the ways I describe digital, is that ultimately the thing we need to do is create real-time, in the moment and on-demand extraordinary experiences.

DI: Nationwide recently partnered with Bold Penguin for an agents' digital platform: Does that partnership encourage more high-touch for agents serving these populations?
CK: What you look for is how to take our products and try to simplify them. Through the Bold Penguin interface, we’ve got these APIs that allow agents to do a lot more. We want to make it easier to do the streamlined quoting process. Small commercial is going toward that commoditization like we saw on personal lines 20 years ago. Now you can have, lets say, two to three thousand dollar premiums because of availability of data. If you have all the florists, or you’re specializing in churches, salons, you know that this is your range of premium. It makes the commission worthwhile for our agents to have a bigger book there.

DI: In the coronavirus era, small business insurance is a hot topic as so many are being pressured by the pandemic and don’t feel adequately covered. Do you see a role for digital in changing that going forward?
CK: As small businesses navigate optimizing and managing the cost of their operations, digital technology will play a more significant role in education, guidance and maximizing solutions for businessowners. Through the use of data and digital technology, business owners will start to experience tailored offerings that best match their business needs and real-time, proactive prompts for coverage consideration based on changes in operations.

Beyond the tailored coverage experience, comparative solution providers like Bold Penguin will make visible a set of options that business owners can customize to create coverage protection to best meet their needs. It’s products and solutions enabled with speed, ease, and fit—in a dynamic digitized environment. Together, data and technology will allow carriers and agents to best meet protection needs through personalization tailored specifically to the customer’s environment.

DI: Has the pandemic changed your view of what digital transformation means? Do you feel like there's an opportunity now to make more revolutionary changes to the customer journey now that people are even more attuned to doing things online?
CK: It hasn’t my changed view of what digital transformation is, so much as it has widened my view and changed my thoughts on the pace at which we need to get it done. We need to move faster and aggressive to capture the behavioral shift that has occurred so rapidly. The demands of social distancing have made people more willing to trust digital channels than they were prior to the pandemic. That presents us with an opportunity to create new digital experiences more quickly and find our customers less hesitant to adopt.

As an example, people tend to think of the claims space as one in which people are hesitant to adopt self-service. But the pandemic has increased interest in digital experiences, for obvious reasons. The number of people using services like Instacart or Shipt has exploded. In the early days of the pandemic, people got much comfortable with doing things like using chatbots to cancel flights because airline call center volumes were so high. Interestingly, these trends cut across generational lines. It isn’t just millennials. So as a protection company, how do we use this opportunity to digitally cater to a wider demographic than we could before, with things like a claims experience that reduces physical contact with other people? If we answer that question correctly, we can digitally handle a broader range of transactions across a wider set of customers.

We’ve already begun to take advantage of this moment by doing things like enabling digital tracking for premium refunds, mobile app messaging, expanding Nationwide Express to personal lines and creating specific COVID-19 and CARES Act content and solutions for our customers. We’re going to continue to improve the digital interaction for our customers like payments, policy changes and disbursements for more product lines, expanded digital underwriting and claims experiences, and even more digital options for financial wellness assessments and tools as well as distribution channels.

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Insurtech Partnerships Nationwide Coronavirus