Nationwide and insurtech’s digital future

Erik Ross, Nationwide Ventures

Nationwide Ventures is the investment arm of Nationwide that seeks to invest in startups that are shaping the future of insurance and financial services.

Erik Ross leads Nationwide’s mergers and acquisitions and venture capital teams. In his role, he oversees Nationwide’s acquisition, divestiture, and joint venture transactions as well as the $350 million fund that Nationwide has committed to investing in early stage companies.

Flyover Future spoke with Ross about Nationwide’s plans.

Why do you think the insurance industry is ripe for innovation and disruption?

Ross: Not much has changed over the last 100 years in respect to what an actual insurance product is. What has changed has been the expectations from customers and businesses in light of the Apple, Google, Amazon, etc., technological change we’ve seen over the last decade. So now there are expectations around everything being digital and that you can pick up your phone and get anything you need anytime you want.

The industry now is just catching up with that paradigm shift.

In February, Nationwide announced that it expanded it investment fund to $350M. What are the plans for that money?

Ross: It’s a continuation of what we’ve already been doing. We’re a thematic investor looking for startups that are aligned with our mission, which is to protect people, businesses and futures with extraordinary care. We’re looking at where we can help our business accelerate through startups whose solutions, technology, and capabilities can benefit Nationwide customers.

We focus on anything related to the value chain. Think about fintech and insurtech. We focus on the insurance side from personal lines, commercial lines, SMBs, etc. We look at the financial services side in regard to retirement plans and annuities.

We look at all those spaces and the value chains. We look at the future of mobility and how we will fit into that ecosystem: services for consumers or businesses utilizing new types of mobility, vehicle connectivity and telematics.

We have something called Living in Retirement. As the longevity economy emerges, with 10,000 people turning 65 and older every day, we look at what folks need as they move into and live in retirement.

Lastly, we look at cybersecurity—protecting businesses and consumers from new and evolving digital exposures and risks with new platforms or reengineering existing products for 21st century challenges.

In the end, we’re a risk management company so in all those areas we’re looking at new data, ways to underwrite things and to make the customer’s experience very fluid and dynamic.

Can you give us an example of a startup you’ve invested in?

Ross: We just announced an investment in a new company called Health Gorilla, which is a data normalization layer. Think about health records and the data within them. Typically when you go to get a life insurance policy, you’re sent to go get fluids drawn, get your blood pressure taken, etc. But if you had all that done within the last 12 months at your doctor’s office, it can access that data for the underwriting without going through all the tests again.

That’s one of the ways we’re trying to create a more digital-related environment.

What are the advantages of being located in Columbus?

Ross: From an advantage perspective, we have great universities in the area to draw talent from and the cost of living is much lower than the coasts. We have several prominent insurers and startup companies here. Columbus has a very unique ecosystem with emerging companies.