InsurTech Interviews

Global Fintech Interview with Christopher Smith, Head of Group Benefits at Guardian Life

Global Fintech Interview with Christopher Smith, Head of Group Benefits at Guardian Life

Hi Chris, please tell us about your role and the team/technology you handle at Guardian Life.

As Head of Group Benefits at Guardian, I am responsible for leading the team that is focused on growing Guardian’s group benefits business across all markets. Group benefits, which is employee benefits through the workplace, is undergoing a technology transformation. Technology enables every facet of our business and strategy from how we go to market, develop products, service our customers to assessing claims.  We work hand in hand with our CIO and Chief of Operations Dean Del Vecchio and his team. This is a company wide effort to win in the market through technology.

One of our priorities is simplifying how benefits are delivered.  Our Guardian Digital Overdrive Report showed that at least 6 in 10 employers report that their organizations are more digital than paper-based for benefits administration, and we anticipate that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely accelerate employers’ desire to expand technology, particularly to address top benefits challenges. This is where we play a critical role. We know that our existing customers with less than 100 employees offer more insurance products if they use a benefit technology platform to manage elections, than not.  This means more people getting access to the coverage they need to protect their well-being.

As a result, in today’s world, there is no differentiation between business and technology as they are completely dependent on each other for success, financial protection, and the overall customer experience.

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What is Guardian Life and what are your core services and solutions?

Guardian gives Americans the security they deserve through our insurance and wealth management products and services. We are a Fortune 250 mutual company and a leading provider of life, disability, dental and benefits for individuals available at the workplace. We have been around for more than 160 years and pride ourselves in our time-tested values that guide our passion to make people’s lives better and more secure.  Guardian is a values-driven organization, and we believe that people count, we hold ourselves to high standards and we do the right thing.

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How do you leverage InsureTech technology at your company?  What positives have you experienced since the adoption of these platforms?

On our end, InsureTech is completely transforming the insurance industry.  It is a key part of how Guardian works to find new ways to serve client needs and to impact more lives.

Insurance is traditionally known as being a complex industry, but with today’s technology, it is making it possible for us to create a more digital, faster and seamless onboarding and enrollment experience for our customers. To provide some context, according to Guardian’s Digital Overdrive Report, as of early 2020 (pre-COVID) when the research was conducted, 70% of all employers managed employee elections through a benefit technology system.  Since that time, Guardian has seen an increase in penetration of benefit technology platforms in our book-of-business (March 2020 to March 2021), especially in the smaller end of the market, which had previously been much less likely to adopt technology to manage benefit elections.

We are particularly proud of the launch of Hugo by Guardian, a digital assistant with machine learning capabilities that has been instrumental in helping us deliver exceptional customer service 24/7. It started out as a whisper agent to support employees in our customer call centers that provide support to dental providers. However, when we experienced reduced call center capacity due to COVID-19, we had a support gap that we were able to fill by moving Hugo’s role from a whisper agent to direct support via chat. The coronavirus pandemic provided us with a unique opportunity to pilot Hugo in our call centers, during a time when customers needed us the most.  We are now expanding Hugo into conversational voice for claims status and later this year, we plan to expand the use of Hugo to other call types including verification of benefits.

Finally, I am very excited about the work Guardian has been doing over the past 2 years to build out API (Application Programming Interface) real-time technology to simplify the management of our policies on a number of leading benefit technology platforms.  The API solutions we have created with our benefit technology platform partners automate processes that were historically time-consuming and error prone.  Simplifying how benefits are delivered through technology has a real impact on people’s access to the financial protection they need.

Tell us more about your collaboration with Nayya and how they improve your insurance operations.

To gain strategic knowledge of transformational technology, Guardian invests in start-up companies through our Guardian Strategic Ventures.  This is how we came to discover Nayya. We both have a shared vision of transforming the benefits enrollment experience, which traditionally has been an overwhelming experience for employees.

For example, our Guardian Workplace Benefits Study revealed that only half of all workers feel their organization’s communication is highly effective in helping them make the right benefit choices, down from 68% in 2014. And satisfaction with the overall enrollment experience has been stalled in the mid-60% range.  With all the technology available to us, there is no reason why the enrollment satisfaction shouldn’t be higher.

This leads us to why we partnered with Nayya, which is designed to help employees navigate the enrollment process via a personalized decision-making tool. With employers expanding their benefit offerings to meet the evolving and diverse needs of their workforce, there was a growing need to improve and digitize benefits education as part of the enrollment strategy.

By integrating Nayya into the Guardian enrollment experience, we will harness the power of data to help educate and guide employees through the benefits selection process. It’s an exciting partnership and the initial feedback we’ve received from brokers and employers has been overwhelmingly positive.

Recommended: Guardian Life Collaborates with Nayya to Enhance Benefits Enrollment Experience

How do you see the rise of AI ML and automation platforms scaling from here in the insurance industry? How would these trends evolve with the increased adoption of AI and ML tools?

It’s an exciting time to be in the insurance industry particularly because of the rise of technologies like AI ML and automation platforms. There is no doubt that the pandemic will have an impact on its acceleration, and as adoption increases, it will lead to a faster evolution of consumer deliverables and experiences.

We recently announced a joint venture with the AI and predictive analytics innovators at Atidot. The collaboration is focused on creating a platform that deploys artificial intelligence and machine learning to power data driven decision-making that makes insurance products and services easier for consumers to understand and buy.

This is one example of how Guardian is innovating in this space. Looking ahead, insurance carriers will look to leverage AI ML for automation and process improvements, like faster claims processing, predictive pricing models, improved underwriting practices and fraud detections, as well as an improved and seamless customer experience. We understand that the key to our success is to deliver unmatched, personal customer experiences at every touchpoint and these technologies will help us get there.

Also Read: Global Fintech Interview with Robert Visentini, Chief Product Officer at Profectus Group

Your prediction on the “future of Insurance industry” – how are you planning for the challenges at Guardian.

The future of the industry is rooted in our past and transformed with data. I have been in the industry for more than 25 years.  What keeps me in insurance is the value we deliver to our customers.  We offer proactive solutions that address emotional, physical and financial well-being.  We have been there for our customers when they need us the most, and we’ve been doing it for more than 160 years.

We are proud of what we deliver to our customers.  But we know that we cannot be satisfied with how we work today.  One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Drucker who said “An organization which just perpetuates today’s level of vision, excellence, and accomplishment has lost the capacity to adapt. And since the one and only thing certain in human affairs is change, it will not be capable of survival in a changed tomorrow.”

I believe our use of data and technology will transform how we deliver for our customers.  From how we develop products, what products we develop, how we assess risk, how we service our customers to how we adjudicate claims.  Every part of our eco-system will be transformed with data and technology.

At Guardian, we pride ourselves in being forward-thinking and in our ability to adapt quickly to the changes within the insurance industry to help meet our customers’ needs. One of the ways we do this is to leverage ideas from our employees and partners.  In 2016, Guardian built a new innovation program asking our employees to submit ideas around challenges.  Over 6,500 employees have participated in these challenges and other programs to drive our innovation.  At the same time, we launched a partner innovation challenge with our strategic vendors to help us meet our strategic priorities by submitting ideas through our partner challenges.

Tag a person from the industry whose answers you would like to read here:

I’d like to tag two people.  Our CIO and Chief of Operations Dean Del Vecchio and Gary Hoberman, Founder of Unqork.

Also Read: Global Fintech Interview with Scott Purcell, CEO and Chief Trust Officer of Prime Trust

Guardian Life Logo

Guardian has been helping people protect their futures and secure their lives for more than 160 years.

Every day, we serve approximately 29 million people through a range of insurance and financial products. We help people and their families pursue financial security and well-being in life, health, and wealth. We help companies take care of their employees. And we help people recover and thrive after unexpected loss.

From our founding in 1860, when a community of immigrants joined together to insure and protect their businesses and families, doing the right thing for our policyholders and customers has guided everything we do. Our dedication to customers has helped us remain one of the most highly rated in client satisfaction and financial strength.

Christopher Smith is Executive Vice President of Group Benefits at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian). He is charged with advancing the Company’s Group Benefits strategy and continuing its growth across all markets.

Most recently, Mr. Smith was Senior Vice President and Head of Enterprise Operations and Service at Guardian where he led the core insurance operations of new business, policy administration and customer service across all lines of business. He was pivotal in accelerating the transformation of the service model and driving operations strategy with an omnichannel focus.

Prior to joining Guardian, Mr. Smith had a career spanning 25 years at MetLife where he held a variety of positions. Most recently, he was Executive Vice President and Head of Global Operations at MetLife where he was responsible for claims, new business and underwriting, policy administration, global shared services and lean management across all of MetLife’s markets. This organization brought together operating groups from over 40 countries to create a differentiated customer experience and increase operating leverage. Previously, he served as chief of staff to MetLife’s chairman, president and CEO, while simultaneously serving as chairman of the board of MetLife Foundation. Earlier, he led the company’s enterprise strategy group and held roles in the group insurance and investments areas.

[To share your insights on Fintech trends and analysis, please write to us at sghosh@martechseries.com]

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