Jane Wang is the founder and CEO of Optimity, an innovative, Toronto-based insurtech created for customer-centric engagement and acquisition for life insurers. The award-winning company provides digital health and wealth loyalty programs and has six scientific publications on achievements on behaviour change in large populations.
Wang is a passionate advocate for health and wellness. She describes herself as a serial health tech entrepreneur, university lecturer, cancer research fundraiser, and mortality risk specialist. We caught up with her to find out more about Optimity - a company motivated and founded as a result of her own story of personal loss - which is now disrupting the health and life insurance space.
Q: Tell us about your role in insurtech - what does it involve - and how did you get there?
I understand the value of insurance, and it is something we definitely need. But there is a huge protection gap. Part of it is because the process of buying insurance can be long and painful. As an insurtech company, we want to modernize it. I see it like an analogy where buying insurance is like taking medicine that tastes bitter or unpleasant.
Optimity is the spoonful of delight that helps the medicine go down. There are two parts to this, and the first is the delight part. How do we create a positive, valuable experience that makes the transaction better? The second is the delivery mechanism. How do we spoon-feed consumers who expect to be served a personalised digital experience? So we're both the mechanism that delivers the medicine, but the delight that allows you to enjoy it. Optimity's value add is our focus on creating a superior experience that takes a user-centric approach to design.
There was a push and pull for me entering this industry. The push came from my personal experience with insurance when my mom passed away. She didn't have enough insurance when she died, so we needed to pay for things out of pocket. It made me realize we were not as financially sound as I thought, even though my parents were both very smart and engineers. The pull comes from seeing the whole insurance industry trying to be more customer-centric. They are hungry to leapfrog into this century because many of them operated using legacy systems that were not agile, dynamic, or modern.
Q: What attracted you to insurance - and the sector you are currently in?
Two things attracted me to the insurance sector. One, the industry is trying to do something good by offering financial protection. Many of the companies are mutual insurance, so they really have their members in mind. This makes them financially and principle aligned and creates a win-win situation between the member and the company.
Two, I feel l can make a huge difference in this industry. There is a considerable talent and capability gap, where there are very few people who have the skillset or worldview to do that Optimity brings.
Q: What interests you most about this sector - and how do you see it developing?
The sector needs to modernize. I see it developing similar to property and casualty (P&C) insurance, where some companies really modernized to become more consumer-centric and thrived. This type of customer-centricity and engagement will become a table stake. The companies that can put these programs in place and adopt it into their DNA will capture a considerable portion of the market share. By embracing some of these technical systems, which are easily scalable, some could go from being regional to national companies.
Q: Is diversity a problem in the insurtech space - and if so, what should we be doing about it?
I've had the opportunity to work with many diverse teams and companies with strong female representation. They are passionate and progressive when it comes to innovation. On the flip side, less diverse companies tend to be less receptive to new ideas. They are skeptical about new ideas and always ask for more evidence and data. But all the data in the world won't change their minds because they are not buying into it. And that is an issue for the industry, overcoming this inertia to see meaningful change.
Diversity in leadership is a visible sign that a company is progressive. Most of our clients are very diverse, and that is a clue to the organization's values. Hopefully, the industry will buy into these values and become more diverse. There is also a business reason for these companies to embrace this mentality. The population of the United States is becoming more diverse, and companies that can tap into this growing base can see more business and close the protection gap.
Q: How do you see the insurtech space developing over the next five years, with particular reference to your specialty?
Insurtech is going to be more collaborative and a lot more open APIs. We'll see huge improvements to distribution and the customer experience for companies that invest in that. A growing number of consumers are expecting a seamless physical-digital experience that most insurers cannot provide today.
Q: What inspires you in insurtech today?
Optimity is such a mission-driven company that meeting other mission-driven people who share our values drives me. It also inspires me to see so many people who are hungry to improve the system. There is also a gigantic opportunity to address the various gaps in the industry. These gaps include:
- Values: having diversity in the company but also serving diverse customers.
- Knowledge: this includes a lack of training for new employees and the ability to engage with customers after the initial sale.
- Systems: many companies use legacy systems that do not have the functionality of modern systems, and they are reluctant to replace them.
- Talent: Progressive and innovative people are avoiding the industry because many companies are finding it difficult to modernize.
But when you get something right, it can make a huge difference to the industry.
Q: You're an expert in wellness. What are key elements from your own routine that you can’t live without?
- Drinking water. I'm so bad at remembering that I need to use the app to nudge me to drink. Drinking the water boosts my energy level and defends me against things like kidney stones.
- Movement. I have a walking pad in my office, and I try to fit in some movement in all the micro-moments during my day. If I have a 15-minute gap between meetings, I like to take a walk outside and move. All the movement helps.
- Strength building. This resilience training is essential both physically and mentally. It's building the muscles through challenge, so every day, I try to do something that is physically or mentally challenging. It helps me be a stronger person overall and helps me deal with stressful work situations. I push myself to do an extra squat or lift some more. People seem to think that fitness is a constant. It's more like a river that will flow away unless you maintain it.
Q: What are you looking to add to your self-care & wellness routine for 2022?
I would like to improve my financial wellness. I earn a good salary, so I tend not to think about it. But as we developed financial wellness content for Optimity, I realised that even executives running businesses could have gaps in their financial knowledge. My husband does the family budget, but if we want to build a great life together, have something to pass on to our children, and help our community, there need to be intentions behind it.
That affects how I save or spend money or earn alternative cash through rental income. All that is not coordinated, and it's one of those muscles that I haven't developed, and I just assumed it was OK. After working with some of our insurance partners over the past couple of years, I realize I don't know as much as I should. So that's what I want to work on in the New Year.
Q: What do you wish more women knew about wellness?
I think this applies to men as well, but the journey into wellness takes more than just your commitment. You need a teacher, coach or partner to help teach and encourage you. Many people make a New Year's commitment to change something. But most people fail because they do not have a support system. They don't have the knowledge, resources, or support team to accomplish these goals. Wellness is better, easier, and more fun when it's part of a network instead of a single person's responsibility or a single point of failure.