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InsurTech Ohio Spotlight with Bobbi Jo Allan

Bobbi Jo Allan is the Vice President of Digital Product Management and Innovation at Nationwide Financial, delivering clear, straight-forward tools and resources to assist financial professionals as they help clients. Bobbi Jo was interviewed by Andrew Daniels, Founder and Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio.

Bobbi Jo, your role is a blend of strategy and execution: how have you balanced those to create a successful innovation program?

“My prior position at Nationwide was in the Office of Corporate Strategy, and I was craving the opportunity to add execution into my role. When you look at the innovation space, it’s highly strategic because you must understand what the trends are and where the markets are moving. You must predict what our partners expect from us in the future. How do we then match that with an innovation program? It's also taking those insights and distilling them into projects that we bring to life.

Most of our effort is focused on the execution side. The Office of Corporate Strategy and our business partners do the big picture thinking. They provide direction for us, and it's our responsibility to help bring that direction to life. A laser focus on business priorities and execution has been important as we've grown the innovation capability at Nationwide.”

How do you approach innovation within a legacy company?

“We have tried every which way throughout our innovation journey at Nationwide, and we've learned throughout the entire process. Today, our teams work hand-in-glove with our Nationwide business partners. Their strategic roadmap is our strategic roadmap. The capabilities that they're interested in developing for the future are the ones that they would look to us to help provide. That’s the single biggest ‘aha’ moment that we've had.

We have tried innovation teams that work very independently and don't necessarily have that same level of enterprise alignment. Some organizations might call that skunkworks. For us, we found it wasn't allowing us to get traction. Our legacy company status gives us tremendous benefits that lots of companies and innovation teams might not have because of the fantastic infrastructure in which we operate.

Also, we have found that because we have an existing infrastructure, we must work differently with our internal matrix partners to bring things to market. Our MVP timelines are often a lot faster than they would expect to see from a product or a capability built by the business. Time and time again, we have seen our matrix partners rise to the occasion and actually get excited about the opportunity to approach the work differently, to think about how they could move through things more quickly or how they can adjust their process in order to accommodate some of the innovation needs. We have then seen them take that new approach and scale it more broadly. It's not just innovation for our projects. We've seen cascading effects throughout the organization.”

What’s at the core of a successful innovation team?

“There’s a creativity to it, which is absolutely crucial. In terms of the core of a successful innovation team, we need different people from different backgrounds. You might be amazed by the variety of backgrounds of our innovation organization. That enables us to put teams together in such a way that everyone is bringing a unique point of view. Therefore, you have to make sure that when you're constructing teams, you're pairing people together in a way that's going to enable them to be successful.

We often pair big picture, blue sky thinkers who are great at vision with a person who has a lot of chops in digital and execution. The magic happens when you're pulling those disparate skill sets and approaches together.

We have also, I think, demonstrated that we know the business - we support Nationwide Financial. We understand the financial services markets, what's important to our business partners and where they need to go in the future. If we didn't have that, I don’t believe that we would be successful because you don't get the credibility from your business partners if you can't demonstrate that you understand what their jobs are and what they're trying to achieve.”

How important is an innovation team for talent acquisition and leadership development?

“Oh, so important. Like all teams at Nationwide, we strive to bring in talent that’s diverse in every aspect. We typically hire both internally and externally. When we hire internal candidates, they are someone who wants to expand their skill set; they're going to want to get dynamic problem-solving, human-centered design practices, working through ambiguity, all of those things that we do in innovation. They then can take those skills back into the business, marketing or whatever other organization they may have come from. It gives them a broader perspective and ability to get things done. We have found that we are able to attract great talent from across the organization because they see the benefit of this work and how it can help their career progression and development.

Then you can supplement that with folks from outside the company who are typically going to come with very strong digital or innovation skill sets. Their task is to learn financial services. Again, it's that alchemy of marrying folks who have been at Nationwide with someone who might be learning financial services.”

What are some of your current focus areas, and how do you stay on top of emerging technology trends?

“I can't not mention generative AI and the emergence of large language models. Had we been having this conversation ten, maybe even eight months ago, we probably wouldn't be talking about it as much as we are today. We view this as a tremendous opportunity to enhance the offerings that we provide to our members and to our partners. Ultimately, we're like the rest of the industry; we're evaluating and figuring out our approach. I tend to be someone who is a little bit of a skeptic when it comes to emerging technologies. Very often, it can feel like a hammer in search for a nail. This feels different - like it's going to change a lot of how we work. We're excited that it's going to enable humans to do more human things and make their jobs easier.

Some of our early use cases are designed to help our organization do its job better because it's solving problems that associates have on a day-to-day basis. There's a lot yet to come in the generative AI space. Fortunately, Nationwide has been ahead of the game when it comes to AI since we’ve been using it in some form for the last ten years. It’s positioned us well to test and learn with generative AI. But, technology is always evolving. You can have a meeting on Monday about its capabilities, and by Friday, there's an evolution. It’s happening that fast. We're doing everything we can to learn the space and make sure that we're using it as the opportunity that it is.”

InsurTech Ohio Thanks Its Presenting Partner

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