Episode 13

How National Life Has Grown at a Double Digit Rate for a Decade

National Life has a double digit growth rate over the last decade. And CIO Nimesh Mehta attributes their success to a strong dedication to their people and a strategy called teaming. He joined Life Accelerated to reveal how aggressive digitization has helped them excel.

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Time Stamps

  • 00:00 Nimesh’s background
  • 02:00 How National Life leverages tech
  • 08:00 Why digital strengthens the experience
  • 11:30 Winning the war for talent
  • 14:30 How to execute on a digital strategy
  • 18:00 Why agile isn’t the best work style
  • 19:30 Examples of execution at National Life
  • 23:30 3 pieces of advice for executing


National Life has a double digit growth rate over the last decade—unheard of in the life insurance world. And CIO Nimesh Mehta attributes their success to a strong dedication to their people and a structure called teaming.

Nimesh Mehta joins us on Life Accelerated to share how they’ve adopted technology faster than anyone else in the industry. He also reveals how to create a human-centered digital strategy, how to use it to remove friction from the buying process, and how National Life leveraged it to grow so quickly.

Key Takeaways:

    • Creating competitive advantage means not just delivering on customer expectations, but giving them what they don’t yet know they need. And that requires technology to help you read between the lines.

    • Traditional IT teams are becoming obsolete. ‘Teaming’ will become the best way to attract and organize diverse talents into cross-functional groups dedicated to achieving singular goals.

    • Storytelling is crucial to helping technologists translate their ideas into a narrative that can inspire others to commit to what it is you’re doing, how it’s being done, and then embrace the art of the possible to get there.

Technology is not about being front and center and being a technology-driven company. It's about using those technologies to actually build relationships with our customers and making it easy to do business.

Nimesh Mehta

CIO, National Life

Our Guest

Nimesh Mehta

LinkedIn Website

Nimesh Mehta is Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer of National Life. He focuses on all aspects of technology operations to effectively align business and technology strategy with a customer centric focus.

He was previously the Head of Life & Annuity Operations and also served as the Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Technology Officer at the company. His proven track record in developing transformative strategies within an emerging, fast paced organization brought him to the company in 2008.

Prior to joining National Life Group, Nimesh served in various leadership positions at Lincoln Financial Group for over 14 years. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering with specialization in Chip designing from Case Western Reserve University. He has since received an MBA from Case Western Reserve University concentrating in Strategy, Marketing and Finance.

Mehta was the 2020 Dallas CIO of the Year, recognizing his leadership in information technology.


Anthony O'Donnell: I'm Anthony O'Donnell, and this is Life Accelerated, a podcast for life insurers striving to achieve digital transformation. Joining us on this episode is Nimesh Mehta, CIO at National Life Group. Nimesh tells us about how national life has been growing in double digits for a decade, something that is very rare in the life insurance industry.

Nimesh tells us that this is one of the fastest growth rates in the industry, and that stunning growth was not by chance. Nimesh has some interesting counterintuitive points to make.

Nimesh Mehta: Everything is digital.

Anthony O'Donnell: A very interesting observation for a podcast dedicated to digital transformation.

He also tells us that the war for talent is over and talent one. He also coins the Neologism water Scrum fall. Anyway, I'm sure you'll find his insights very provocative and inspiring. Here's my conversation with Nimesh. I'm very happy to be meeting with you today and recording some of your thoughts, your very interesting experiences.

I thought we would begin this conversation with a little bit of information about your career and how it has prepared you for your current challenges at National Life.

Nimesh Mehta: Thank you so much for having me. It's an absolute pleasure to talk with you. You know, when I think about my career, I'm a computer engineer by trade.

I never thought I'd be in the financial services industry. This was not by design. You know, in my world they say there's something about karma and destiny. So perhaps it was one of those, but I've had the privilege of serving so many different parts of the organization that I bring a unique perspective to it.

So my world, when I first started with Lincoln Financial, I got a chance to be at different parts of the company. And then when I came to National Life, I started in technology, and then soon I was asked to run mail and print. I'd never seen a print machine. And then I was asked to help write Vision 2020, which was our corporate strategy.

So I moved into a strategy role and then after that I moved into operations. I ran life and annuity operations, which is something again, new and plenty of learning for me. And then I came back to technology. So I've sort of had the 360 degree view of the organization. So perspective that is probably.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, it's a great story and it's wonderful how you can take the talent that a person has and the training that a person has. And when you find that they have aptitude now, you had the technology training and clearly in the roles that you held, the leadership saw that you had aptitude and they give you experience, and now you say you're back to technology.

But technology is so much more integrated in the business today, and so I'm sure that informs your ability to make decisions and to collaborate strategically with the leader.

Nimesh Mehta: You know, when you think back at technology, you know, there were a lot of technologists that wanted a seat at the table, then technologists got a seat at the table. What are you gonna do with that seat?

And now it's about using that seat to really create competitive advantage for the company. And I think having technology in the middle of everything, everybody's talking about digital, everybody's talking about making everything fast and smooth and electronic and so on. And so, But technology is no longer thought of, at least in our organization, as a cost of doing business.

It's an investment we make that must have returns, and that's the way it's become different and it's very integrated into the strategy and our strategic thoughts as we think forward to year 2030.

Anthony O'Donnell: So we've talked a little bit about who you are, where you've come from, and what you contribute to the enterprise.

Let's expand the discussion now to include some commentary about what National Life's Place is in the market and what its vision of success is.

Nimesh Mehta: When you think about national life, we've been growing at a double digit kager for the last decade. It's unheard of in the insurance industry, which is probably, I would say either stagnant or maybe seeing a one or 2% growth in different areas.

So we became one of the fastest growing insurance companies. This was not by fluke, it was by design. And the design was to think about our vision and mission, which is really by keeping our promise. And focusing on middle America, which we believe is the most underserved segment in the us. I mean, look at the US population.

We have, you know, 300 plus million people and a hundred million of those are either underinsured or completely uninsured. Not a good place to be. So we believe that keeping that focus and being steadfast in that vision to serve Middle America has got us the success, the growth, and the ability to serve our customer.

Anthony O'Donnell: You're remarked on National Life's remarkable growth rate. Could you drill down a little bit into some of the factors behind that remarkable growth?

Nimesh Mehta: So when you think about the growth rate, we were probably, I would say the 50th, maybe even insurance company by size from in the life insurance perspective.

When I started with the organization, and I think last year we were in the top 10. So as we think about how we got there and the focus, it's really completely understanding and appreciating what middle America. And how to serve that community and really thinking about the aspects that are centered to what their financials are, and really looking through everything that needs to happen in that segment of the market.

Versus being a company that's trying to lead everything to everybody, and that becomes a very tough place to be. So our primary businesses are life insurance in middle America. Then we look at serving the teacher market for their retirement, which is 4 0 3 B K through 12, and then single deferred annuities as well.

Most companies, from an insurance perspective, at least that I've seen in my experience, are very transactional. It's about the transaction, and we believe that we need to change that. And I truly believe that our success is tied to the culture of the company and the relationships that we have, not only with our distributors and customers, but also with our employees.

And I think that's the secret sauce.

Anthony O'Donnell: What about the focus on technology and how much of a role technology played in enabling those relationships with your customers and your distribution partners?

Nimesh Mehta: As I think about digital, see, everybody uses the word digital, so I'm going to probably be a little controversial.

Digital is passe, everything is digital. Anything. We're talking together, this is digital. You know, you're using a calculator that's digital. There's very little things in the world that are left truly analog anymore. But when we think about relationships, most organizations are using technology to build digital relationships.

They're doing the self-service. They're creating websites. They're creating mobile. All of those things enable the company to build the digital relationship with their customers. I think we're trying to go one step beyond that and thinking about how do we use digital to build relationships, Right?

There's a slight twist to that, and so technology to me is not about being front and center and being a technologist or technology driven company. It's about using those technologies to actually build relationships with our customer. And making it easy to do business with. I think technology is the part that takes away the friction of doing business.

It's never comfortable buying life insurance. So if I can take the friction out of it with technology, I think we've done something that wasn't done before.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, when I think about how you may personally take out the friction, we've talked in the past about your leadership style and your approach to management, and I guess across the company as well.

And you mentioned the pillars, if we can call them that, of talent execution and customer understanding or customer experience. And what I'd like to do is take each of those in order. The Life Accelerated podcast series is all about life insurers, digital aspirations. So in light of customer understanding, how do you understand digital?

At National Life, even when you've just told me that you think digital is passe.

Nimesh Mehta: I say that and I say that tongue in cheek as we go. We're also 174 year old company, and so when I think about technology and the role that it played in the past is different than the role that it's probably going to play in the future.

As I said, we're growing, which means our company needs to scale, which means we need to be able to do things that get us to the point of not just understanding. But being able to read between the lines and doing what they're not asking for, and I think that's the next level of customer understanding that we have to get to.

So I used the old adage if Ford would've asked their customers what they wanted, he would've heard faster horses. But I think what he heard was transportation and getting from point A to point B faster. So I think the role that technology plays in customer understanding is getting the outer the possible and getting to that next level of providing what's not being asked.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, another interesting observation that you've made to me in the past is that you think more in terms of humanization than digitization. Could you elaborate on that?

Nimesh Mehta: Sure. And as I was saying before, you know, when we think about using digital as a part of building relationships, let's take a couple of years.

You know, covid has changed the world. People are all into automation. But here I am working from home today, and I've done this for the past three years. I never imagined I'd. Being my home working for two or three years. But that did put me and a lot of other people in isolation. And there are people that are actually craving that human experience today.

And I think we have to figure out, and the person that cracks that nut to create that humanized experience using technologies, the person that's gonna do really well. And let me give you an example of what I mean by humanization. Let's look at our gps, real simple example. Couple of years ago, driving my car somewhere, the GPS would say, Make a right turn in 120 meters a last.

I wasn't carrying a measuring tape and I have no idea where 120 meters is. That's not how humans navigate. But now if you listen to your gps, it says, make the next right turn at the light. That's how humans navigate. And when we talk about humanization, it's changing that experience to be more like we are and how we talk and how we behave as.

Anthony O'Donnell: All right, let's take talent next. How is National Life doing in the battle for talent? If we can look at it that way.

Nimesh Mehta: We always talking about the war for talent. The other day I was telling some of our leadership team. I said the war for talent is over talent want. So now we gotta figure out what we're gonna do and how we're gonna do differently.

One of the reasons National Life has been so successful because our products, they can be copied. Our technology even at some point will get copied. But what we have really unique is our. And until you have the right people on the bus, you can't get the bus to go anywhere. So we truly believe at national life that people are our secret sauce, which means getting the right talent at the right time, at the right place to do the right things.

And there are two concepts and talent that we are focused on. One is the concept of moving away from teams to teammate. This is not something that I invented, but something that Amy Edmondson's been talking about for a. But teams are people that, football teams, basketball teams, they practice together, they know each other.

They go out there and they play to win a game. And the concept of teaming is bringing people together that have never worked together before, focused on a singular goal, and then getting things done. So the concept of teaming is really a part of talent that's important. And it's important because this is where diversity of thought becomes.

To what's going to happen next. Because if you cannot understand and appreciate different perspectives, you probably cannot work with the talent around you. So getting people to appreciate diversity of thought is really important. The other piece of it, as we say in this market, is attracting talent.

We're all talking about it. It's really hard to find the right talent, and what I would leave your listeners with is the ways that we did interviewing and attracting talent in the past are probably not going to work. And I'll share three thoughts of ways that might be different today than they were maybe even two years ago.

The first one, you really need to know who you want. The days of having three comparable choices and trying to figure out who the best candidate is not gonna happen. You have to be able to understand what you want as you walk into that interview and be ready to make a. So you have to be that quick.

That's one. Two is an interview, is a conversation. Empathy is critical in any interviewing decision anymore. You have to be able to meet the candidate where they are versus expecting them to come to you. And when I say that, that's again, appreciating different personality styles, extroverts, introverts, different kinds of people, and being able to converse and then interview them at a style that they can appreciate, understand, and be a part of.

That's the best way to attract candidates cuz otherwise you're leaving talent on the table. So that's number two. And the third I would say is a culture, right? I strongly, personally believe that I want to create a culture in our technology environment where it's really hard to. And it's really hard to leave.

Anthony O'Donnell: Very interesting. So let's move on to execution now. What does the term mean as one of those three pillars of national life strategy, and should we understand the term as combining business and technology execution?

Nimesh Mehta: You know, as I think forward, when you look to 2030, I truly believe that. Technology and business will become interchangeable.

I'm not sure the IT organization as it exists today will continue to exist 10 years down the road. There's so many things that are becoming more user friendly, user centric, that we're gonna have a different type of technology organization and execution's going to look different. Again, the concept of teaming is gonna become even more important cuz you're not going to be the IT team.

Working with the business team, working with the pmo, working with somebody. And coming together to do something, it's going to be coming together through all aspects of the company to solve problems. And I

Anthony O'Donnell: Certainly, understand the collaboration between business and technology analysts, so I'm wondering whether there might be division between the CIO realm and the CTO realm that there be some maintenance of the basic infrastructure and then this whole application creation and development.

Nimesh Mehta: So I think there's a couple of things. When we think about infrastructure and security, those are very bare bone technical things. They need to happen and they will be a part of any organization, whether it be the CTO or the CIO, or infrastructure security IT that I believe will continue to exist. Then we start thinking about applications and application development.

In the past, technologists built very monolithic systems or even smaller. But they built systems and they used systems. They coded them, they developed them, and they had to be experts at doing that, and that's what made them valuable and successful. I think today as we think forward, there are platforms, so as applications get created, us as technologists of today have to create platforms where people can actually create these applications and work in them.

And there's no unique expertise apart from understanding the business that will be require. To configure and create these applications, and I think the world of it will move away from software development to becoming master integrators. And therein lies the difference between IT today versus it in the future is that whole concept of moving to becoming master integrators and finding things that you can stitch together to create competitive advantage.

Anthony O'Donnell: And as you create the architecture of stitching those things together, it's really more of a strategic conversation than a programming conversation.

Nimesh Mehta: Yes, it is more around understanding where you want to go, and again, appreciating that true north. You know, a lot of times I've done a lot of these large scale projects, and I'll share with you, you know, we have the great vision of building a car when we.

And through the course of a couple of years, we build a boat and then we get really enamored and we start appreciating that boat because that boat looks really good. But we forgot that we were trying to build a car. And I think the importance as we move forward and do these things is keeping that true north, very clear in our front and center.

Anthony O'Donnell: And part of that is a more agile approach to the overall creation of your capabilities or the integration of capabilities and within your projects, being able to work on an iterative basis.

Nimesh Mehta: Agile is another concept. And I think every company, there's no rule book that has exists that you could take and read and say, I've become agile and I jokingly call it, everybody's in water scrum, fall of some kind.

So there's a little bit of waterfall, a little bit of agile. There's a little bit of something else going on. And each company has created what is best for them and works better in different situations. Cause I don't think there's a one size fits. Let me give you an example. If I were to build a skyscraper, I need to know if that skyscraper is going to be a hundred story building or 150 story building.

I can't build 80 stories and then say, Well, can I just go ahead and add another 40 more or 50 more? I can't do that because I'll have to change the foundation. So there's some things you really need to know what that building looks like before you start.

And you still don't need to understand what the decoration inside each of those offices in that building need to look like when you start. So we need to still have some idea of what this is. So that's the waterfall aspect, and then deliver it in increments so you're getting value over time and you're not going underwater.

But also you don't need to know everything when you start and you can change it because whether you have a blue couch or a green couch, it won't matter at.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, this has been a really great conversation from a theoretical level as well as the historical parts about yourself and the company, but I thought now we should talk about examples of execution.

Maybe you can tell us about some of your most important recent initiatives. I know you've got quite a few that are very interesting.

Nimesh Mehta: I’ll share two, one during the covid time, because everybody always thinks about what worked that really happened during. And for us, one of the things was when Covid hit, our agents could not deliver a policy to the customer.

They couldn't go visit him. They couldn't deliver it, so it became a part of almost standstill. So we had to figure out a way to get the customer a policy that was electronically delivered. We think about that, a project like that in normal times. When I say not so covid times pre covid. That would've taken us about nine to 12 months to get done.

And because of this concept of teaming, we brought a team of people together that understood the project, what we needed to get done, and they were able to deliver that in 32 days. We actually went from not being able to do electronic delivery to doing our first version, and we call that our MVP or minimal viable product.

Out there in 32 days. So it's very possible if you get the right people at the right place at the right time, and that's the talent, you know, anything's possible if it doesn't defy the laws of physics. So that was one thing that I felt was a great accomplishment for the team outside of, you know, looking at this over a long period of time and saying, when you wanna serve middle America and make your relationship with that customer as frictionless as.

So there is no excuse not to have an insurance policy. You have to think through from the front end, which is the application. So if any of you have life insurance, and you did that about 10 years ago, you probably filled out about 40 pages of paperwork, and we asked you the same question about 19 times in those 40 pages.

That was the world. But now today, we actually took this concept of master integration and we took electronic applications. So everything is done electronically. There's no need for fill out any paperwork signed digitally. We don't take any more blood and fluid for certain size of policies, which is up to $3 million.

It's all done by databases, and the magic happens with data. So data has really become the new. And we figured out a way to understand our risk using data. Then we use an underwriting engine, which is also completely automatic, and we issue the policy and e deliver it. So today with stitching together all these platforms, and we just launched this on June 13th of this year, we're able to issue an indexed universal life, which is one of the most complicated life insurance policies you can buy all the way from your electronic application to the person getting the policy.

Instantly with no human touch, it's purely technology. Ron Laish,

Anthony O'Donnell: What advice would you give to other executives about how to achieve these kinds of deliverables in the kind of time that you've been able to achieve them? You've spoken to me in the past about the importance of storytelling.

Nimesh Mehta: Yeah, I have, and I strongly believe that.

So I think it just as us technologists sometimes we have the greatest ideas, but we can't put it together so anybody else can understand. And we had this mantra at National Life, you know, simple as hard, cuz when we want simplicity, we tend to talk in a whole bunch of complex things. So I think storytelling is really important, not just to be able to express yourself, but be able to make the right decision for the company and get people to understand where we want to go.

So three things I would leave again, your audience with, from my experience of things that help the teams deliver at their best. And the three things I'd say is one, you said it learn to story tell. I think it is absolutely critical that all of us technologists know how to tell a story around what it is that we're doing, how are we doing it, and what is the art of the possible to get us there.

That's the value we bring to the table. Second one I would tell us is, let's just stopped being comfortable. Now we get very comfortable in the way we do things, and I think the best learnings are when we get uncomfortable and we can lean into. Leaning into the discomfort sometimes causes failure. And learning from that failure, appreciating that failure, even going as far as celebrating the failure, will get us a better design, a better result the next time around.

So learning to do that I think is critical. And the third thing I'd say is, look, if your dreams and your vision doesn't scare you, it's probably not. So dream big and think big because if you wanna do something big, you gotta be petrified that you're not gonna get there. And I think that's the level of living in that and leaning into that discomfort, which is so important.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah, well certainly living in a lively way rather than a complacent way. And a lot of the greatest creativity happens under those circumstances. Nimesh, it's been great talking to you. It's been great getting to know you, and I wish you and national life continued success.

Nimesh Mehta: Thank you very much.

Anthony O'Donnell: It was interesting to hear how Nimesh was originally trained as a technologist, then acquired a variety of kinds of business experience.

He eventually went back to technology, but in a way that he was prepared to apply technology in a way that was very integrated with the business. Thank you for joining us for the Life Accelerated Podcast. For more relevant content to help you achieve digital transformation, visit equisoft.com/life accelerated.


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