Transformation in Action: Paving the way for digitization and industry disruption

 
Leadership in Action > Paving the way for digitization and industry disruption
 

A Focus on Customers

One might not expect a nearly century-old company to push the bounds of what’s possible. But Nationwide’s bold transformation has allowed the iconic brand to disrupt the industry, offering powerful lessons for other business leaders.

Jim Fowler, Nationwide’s innovative executive vice president and chief technology officer, considers the company’s mindset a product of its fundamental priorities. “We don’t worry about what the rest of the industry is doing,” he says. “We start by thinking about what our customers need most.” That focus on members and their needs has led to investments in products and platforms that simplify the member experience, allowing greater personalization and delivery of a strategic mix of digital and live interactions.

Nationwide’s current speed and agility are the hard-won fruits of a nine-year journey: a large-scale modernization initiative to untangle a complicated web of technological infrastructure used across Nationwide’s many business lines.

A Springboard for Digitization

Nationwide’s growth over the years has been driven both organically and by strategic acquisition and partnerships. With that growth came multiple legacy front-end and back-end systems. The need to modernize core systems was clear. “It started with business leaders recognizing they didn’t have the modern amenities in the technologies or the process work to be successful going forward,” Fowler says.

In tackling those issues, Nationwide realized how a sweeping modernization effort could lead to other benefits by helping create new products and services, reduce expenses, and improve how it serves its members.

For their part, members were looking for a more digital experience—but one that retained the human touch. Someone who’s just been in a car accident doesn’t want to deal with a robot; they want to connect to a real person who can bring empathy and discernment to a difficult situation. “They wanted us to automate the ordinary things we were doing so we could humanize the extraordinary service we were providing,” Fowler says.

Transformation is the goal. Digitization is just one of the many tools you use to drive that transformation.
Jim Fowler
Chief Technology Officer, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company

Because Nationwide took an early lead in modernizing its operations, it could meet members where they are, with new products and experiences. “You see other organizations much earlier in their core modernization journey,” says Shelly Fliehe, partner, financial services, at EY. “Having already invested in modernizing the core, Nationwide has an advantage over its peers in its ability to bring innovations to market quickly.” Fowler says when he explains to industry peers that he uses just one mainframe app, “they look at me like I have two heads.”

The core platform modernization is accompanied by investments in modern technologies, such as digital capabilities, APIs and modern data architectures. “This allows Nationwide to respond with speed to evolving circumstances, member needs and distribution channels,” says Masa Abdelhadi, partner at EY Technology Consulting.

The Courage—and Expertise—to Transform at Scale

A transformation of this magnitude takes courage, says Raj Sharma, EY Americas vice chair for consulting. “A journey like this is going to take lots of twists and turns. And you have to have the courage to see it from beginning to end.”

It also takes a trusted partner. After all, Fowler says, few companies have the in-house expertise to manage such a large and complex transformation. To find that expertise, Nationwide turned to EY, which brought technology capabilities at scale, transformation at speed and experienced insurance talent at the center. Beyond those skills, Fowler valued EY’s ability to challenge ideas when necessary. “The team wasn’t quiet when they saw us going down a route of groupthink,” Fowler says.

Today, Nationwide is a model of agility within the insurance industry. That speed was the result of keen foresight and decisive steps taken over a years-long execution. Fowler proudly recounts the experience of a recently processed claim. Within an hour of the Nationwide associate initiating the claim, the cash was sitting in the member’s bank account. “I couldn’t do that on a mainframe-based legacy application,” Fowler says.

Ultimately, Nationwide’s transformation has been so successful because customer needs are the guiding force. “Transformation is about changing your business,” Fowler says. “And any time you’re changing your business, you better be doing it with your customer in mind.”

This is part of Transformation in Action – a Leadership in Action series. LIA is a premium storytelling experience that invites the viewer to hear first-hand, unique and engaging stories from featured leaders.

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