Episode 37

Simplifying Life Insurance Through Digital Transformation with Nick Rohan and Kevin Cummer, TruStage

Host Anthony O'Donnell sits down with Kevin Cummer, Director of Life Products, and Nick Rohan, Director of Partner Management at TruStage Insurance to discuss Trustage's digital transformation journey, from rebranding to product innovation and distribution expansion.

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Time Stamps

  • 03:17 The importance of unifying under a single brand for consistency and digital capabilities
  • 04:21 Achieving major milestones in API suite for real-time purchasing experience
  • 07:00 Strategic integration with partners and the importance of a compelling business case
  • 10:56 Embracing data-focused decision-making and expanding distribution 
  • 13:04 Integrating product and capability roadmaps to enhance distribution and accessibility
  • 17:04 Utilizing instant decision underwriting to streamline the customer experience
  • 18:08 Ways TruStage is thinking about reaching customers
  • 22:17 Significant growth and success in new distribution approaches


Host Anthony O'Donnell welcomes back Kevin Cummer, Director of Life Products, and Nick Rohan, Director of Partner Management at TruStage Insurance to share the remarkable journey of TruStage’s digital transformation, which has not only redefined their brand but also set new benchmarks in the insurance industry.

Kevin and Nick take us through the evolution of TruStage, from its roots as CUNA Mutual Group, primarily serving credit unions, to its current position as a major player in the direct-to-consumer insurance market. They discuss the strategic rebranding of TruStage and how it has unified its offerings under a single, powerful identity, making it easier for customers to navigate and for the company to communicate its mission of making brighter financial futures accessible to everyone. They share industry insights to guide you toward more intelligent and effective strategies for digital transformation within your organization.

Key Takeaways:

    • Simplifying the insurance process through technological innovations, such as developing comprehensive API suites, can significantly enhance customer satisfaction and improve conversion rates.

    • Securing strong senior leadership support is essential for overcoming organizational inertia and resource allocation challenges, ensuring successful digital transformation initiatives.

    • Implementing innovative distribution strategies and simplifying the insurance buying process can lead to substantial business growth, as demonstrated by TruStage's success in doubling its life insurance business and reaching $5.6 billion in in-force coverage.

We're shifting from focusing solely on a product roadmap to an integrated product and capability roadmap, ensuring our offerings and capabilities are easily accessible to partners and consumers.

Kevin Cummer

Director of Life Products, TruStage

Our Guest

Kevin Cummer and Nick Rohan

LinkedIn LinkedIn

Kevin Cummer is Director, Life Products with TruStage. In this role he is responsible for leading product development efforts and assisting in the oversight and management of TruStage Life and Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D) products. Cummer joined TruStage in 2005 as an Accounting Manager. Prior to 2018, he served in various Senior Manager and Director roles in the Finance organization, providing financial support to various consumer insurance product lines as well as leading the company’s Financial Planning and Analysis team.

Nick Rohan serves as the Director of Life Distribution at TruStage, where he spearheads strategic partnerships and initiatives aimed at expanding TruStage's reach to middle-market consumers. Since joining TruStage in 2001, Nick has held several leadership positions across Project Execution, Process Improvement, and Product Management. Prior to his current role in building the partner distribution business, he collaborated with various TruStage Ventures portfolio companies to integrate their innovations into the TruStage ecosystem.


Anthony O'Donnell: I'm Anthony O'Donnell, and this is Life Accelerated, a podcast for insurers striving to achieve digital transformation.

TruStage Insurance has been a successful and respected institution in the insurance industry for decades, known for its dedication to providing financial security and peace of mind to families across the United States. The company was formerly known as CUNA Mutual Group and was created to serve the needs of Credit unions and their members.

The TruStage brand debuted about a decade ago as a foray into direct to consumer distribution and just last year, 2023, it became the company's single brand, Kevin Cummer, Director of Life Products, and Nick Rohan, Director of Partner Management at TruStage are making their second appearance as life accelerated guests having previously spoken with us in 2022 about their efforts to simplify insurance.

In this episode, they share with us how their strategy has played out, and what they have planned for the future. Nick speaks about recently reaching major milestones in the roadmap he and Kevin laid out when we last spoke, and how their completion showed pent up demand for the innovations they've made in the purchasing journey.

He stressed the completion of an API suite that enables distribution partners to give customers a real time purchasing experience. Here's my conversation with Kevin and Nick.

Life Accelerated is old enough now that we can revisit past conversations and see how things have turned out. We spoke back in 2022.

So our conversation is going to be something of an update. However, before we look at the particulars of your ongoing work, I think we should first address the fact that TruStage has gone from being a consumer brand within CUNA Mutual to being the company brand. So I wonder, Kevin, if you could tell us about your single brand transformation and how it's related to the overall company's digital transformation.

Kevin Cummer: Yeah, thanks, Anthony. Excited to chat with you again. So we are about a year into that brand transformation. You know, over the years, we've evolved in order to bring our purpose of making brighter financial futures accessible to everyone to life. And our offerings have expanded and grown with the goal of being there to support consumers through every stage of their lives.

However, That expansion and growth also resulted in a situation where we found ourselves with numerous brands out in the marketplace, and that often caused confusion out there. So unifying under one brand was important because it really creates consistency in the market for both our distribution partners, our B2B credit union partners, and the consumers we serve.

As well as for our employees and our community partners, we do truly believe a brighter financial future should be accessible to everyone and everything we do and the solutions we offer deliver on this purpose, our single identity makes it easier for customers to navigate our offerings and for us to communicate what we do.

TruStage is a successful brand that we built for consumers more than 10 years ago. So it made sense to elevate and expand that brand to all the people we work with and serve. In terms of digital transformation, having that single brand makes it a lot easier to manage versus multiple brands and it makes much easier to build digital capabilities that can be leveraged across our enterprise, including managing our website to be a key part of how we serve customers digitally.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, it must give you great satisfaction to have been involved in this project and for it to come ahead as the brand of the company. I mean, what greater endorsement of your success could you have?

Kevin Cummer: Yeah, absolutely.

Anthony O'Donnell: All right. So Nick, the main theme of our original conversation was simplifying life insurance, and you talked about your integration strategy, combining product experience with ease of integration.

How's that going? And I would make the observation that back in 2022, when we first spoke, you mentioned that your API suite was the focus of the preceding 18 months work.

Nick Rohan: Really well for us might be an understatement. So as we look at the roadmap, we set out the execution against that. And then the results we're seeing thumbs up all the way around.

And we've often encountered the thought that roadmaps are kind of the things people talk about in the future and they never reach those points. And what's been really exciting just in the last few weeks. Is we've reached major milestones in that roadmap. So we're actually seeing the delivery of the things that we talked about when we were here before and the results of that and the immediacy of the results showing the pent up demand that existed for it.

So really proud of the strategy we laid out, but the team that actually executed against that. And now with the APIs that we talked about before, we can integrate that entire life insurance journey from simple quoting, taking the applications and really all of the parts that were messier at the backend, where you're doing the documentation, taking the payments, the things that were overly complex before we've really torn down and made simple through the APIs that we have, and then can serve that up.

To a partner to integrate into their experience. So no more handoff. And then you combine that with the simplicity and the product set that we've built. There's no case management. There's no handoff into the home office or anything like that. It all occurs in that real time for the consumer and for our partners.

And when a consumer is already opted into that partner's experience, the results we're seeing from keeping them in there in the funnel, you know, it might seem like an obvious thing, but we've seen that funnel improved by over 50 percent just by not having those experience jumps that the old way required.

Anthony O'Donnell: It occurs to me, Nick, that it might be worth reiterating a little bit about how TruStage grew up in the first place. So you had described that you had the ability to do small experiments with potential partners and you tested a partner and then it ended up appealing to other B2B partners for distribution.

Nick Rohan: It did. And that theme somewhat continues. And so we've taken an approach towards that roadmap of looking for that next use case, that next natural way. And that if we build the functionality, there's actually demand and a use for it versus building it and then hoping to cost justify it and make it appealing in some way.

And so we've kind of inched our way through those different phases of the buying journey with Kevin's team and some other teams to make that available. And it just created that demand for the next step and the next step. And that last part, which we called purchase journey, but the last part required a pretty sizable investment.

That was a lot to untangle. And we had the opportunity with one of our partners to line up together. We didn't really co build it, but they built their experience while we built the backend side. And then we were able to link them together and kind of prove it out as we went. Versus again, having to wait till the end to find out if you were on the right path or not.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah. So Kevin, I wanted to ask you how some of this work that Nick's been describing has helped you to reach new prospects.

Kevin Cummer: Yeah. You know, to date, it's really been about expanding our focus as an organization to think about ourselves as not just a D2C offer of insurance. That's really how we started, but really leveraging that B2B2C approach as well.

Where partners are doing the marketing and they're bringing their solutions are solutions alongside other carriers to the consumers that they attract. And so it's really a two pronged approach that has served us well in growing our business. And also increasing the number of consumers we can protect.

So really looking to expand our reach as we look ahead. And we'll touch on this probably a little bit more later in the conversation. We see opportunities to think about how can we embed our products into some of those key experiences in a consumer's life.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, it sounds like you guys are killing it, but I know nothing comes easy.

So I wanted to go back to you, Nick, and ask you about some of the challenges you faced in getting this done. And I recall that one of the more interesting observations you made during our first conversation was that your biggest competitor wasn't another carrier. It was procrastination. It seems you've done a lot to overcome that challenge, but tell us about the hard work that you've had to do.

Nick Rohan: Innovation at a large insurance company can be a challenge at times just because of how full our backlogs are, right? There's always a regulation to be making updates to a lot of legacy systems that need to be kept up and kept connected. And then just our thirst for data along the way. So our backlogs are always full.

And so great ideas can't always be executed in a fast way. Not because there's any flaw in the idea, but just because funds are limited, people, resources are limited. So it's not just about telling a good story and our new CEO has definitely brought an approach towards a data focused decision making process.

And so we were able to, with our partners lay out what sort of market there was for that. Complete integration and what the opportunity was and writing a compelling business case is something to be proud of, but what was really neat was our leaders took a different approach. We were kind of out of that annual planning cycle.

And so we needed to find a way. To execute now, our partner was ready to go. And so one of our leaders made the decision. We took money out of our media budget. So those dollars we're using to have a digital presence in the marketplace and our direct mail teams take those media dollars and pay for some extra resources to come in and execute this work in just a shorter timeframe.

It wasn't anything with the staff we have in house. It would have been great to give that opportunity, but. They were booked with other work and we had a shovel ready initiative, ready to go. And so I remember telling my wife. I think we just accomplished something today that will probably never be approved to do again, which was take money from one pool and move it over to another, but it was that compelling.

And there's that much belief in the API and integration capabilities making us part of the future conversation.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah, I think this is something that's hard to overstress. You used the word procrastination, but obviously that wasn't personal procrastination or procrastination, your team, but rather a kind of organizational inertia that's really famous in this industry.

It seems as if you've reached a level of commitment and these great stories that we have on Life Accelerated always involve a degree of commitment on the part of senior leadership to make it happen. And I assume that when your new CEO, Terrence Williams came on board just about a year ago in late June 2023 that he supported your initiatives.

Nick Rohan: He did. It was a bit unnerving to start, you know, right as we were just building the momentum for this is when we learned we were having a CEO change. And we knew we had a strong strategy, both within this part of our business, but the whole business overall, and we're mission driven.

So we were well positioned, but you know, there's always just that little bit of uncertainty of what a new leader will bring, had the opportunity early on to just Terrence took an interest in the work we're doing to do a deep dive with him on this business, got great questions. And you could feel the support and you could feel what his history and his past had brought to how he planned to lead our organization.

And he's spoken externally, but also internally to employees. And it was really neat to hear the themes resonate when I was one on one with him, but also broadly of, as Kevin mentioned, being able to provide financial protection to that middle market America. But also driving home that it needs to be affordable.

And so how do we expand our distribution? How do we reach more consumers with products that are affordable across their life cycle? Right? So we talk about life insurance here, but as an organization, we offer products that exist in the lending space, auto and home. Wealth management. We have this really wide breadth of products that can really follow a consumer through their life journey.

And what he's really brought is how do we remain relevant in all those stages of life to those consumers? And how do we start to thread some of these things together? We've existed. I don't want to say siloed, but we've existed somewhat as these individual businesses, as Kevin mentioned, that unified brand helps us start to come together in that way.

And Terrence is really just driving home. How do we keep that relevance as the preferences of generations shift as well? Right? So how do we keep that along the way? The work we've done here, I think makes us really relevant in the life space, both from the product offering, but also, Being able to meet people wherever they might be in those stages.

And so as we think about when do the life insurance products become relevant to someone, you know, maybe after they bought their first home and they've maybe interacted with us with a home offer, and then maybe they're ready to move to a life conversation. And then maybe a few years later, they're ready to move to a wealth conversation.

And so we've got a ways to go to thread all of those products together. But I think with what we've executed here really aligns with the vision Terrence has been painting for the organization over the past 10 months or so.

Anthony O'Donnell: It's interesting what you said about the mission and I'm reminded of a conversation we had recently in a recent episode of life accelerated where we talked about the passion that employees associates had for the mission was very much present but it had to be redirected from the classic.

Organization around the contract to organization around the customer experience. I wonder if there's something analogous where success involves a kind of pivoting or balancing in TruStage story in that it began with a shift in distribution strategy, and now it has evolved into a combination of innovation in both distribution and product.

What's next in that regard, Kevin.

Kevin Cummer: It's a great point, Anthony. And I think we've definitely been seeing ourselves kind of live through that over the past couple of years. You know, I think back and a couple of years ago, we were in the midst of a product development effort and we had some really good ideas around what we wanted to do from a product perspective, but as we looked at what we wanted to deliver, we felt like, you know what, we don't have the right capabilities around that today.

And that's getting into some of that technology and the digital aspects and how do we support what we do. And so. We made an intentional decision to say, Hey, let's put that on hold and let's really focus on investing in our capabilities, you know, to Nick's point earlier, prioritization is a challenge and there are limited resources that we have available.

And so sometimes we have to set aside, being the product guy, sometimes that's hard to say, all right, you know what, we're going to set aside product development in order to focus on capability development that enables us to better distribute our products. But it's been really good because I think now as we look ahead, we're trying to move from.

That historic practice of maybe where we speak pretty much in terms of a product road map to more of thinking about an integrated product and capability road map that recognizes the importance of both the product offerings and the capabilities we deliver to make our products easily accessible to either partners.

Or directly to consumers. And so we can continue to serve that D2C model, continue to serve the B2B2C model, but it takes the right combination of products and capabilities to do that. And so while the last couple of years have focused on enhancing our capabilities for serving distribution partners, building out the APIs that Nick's been talking about and really setting that stage for us.

And it's been exciting to see the results. We've seen from that. Now we feel that there's some opportunities for us to maybe better optimize our product portfolio to serve this space. And so while we can't really share specifics yet at this time about what we're building from a product perspective, and when we save that for our next conversation a year or two down the road, there's some key themes that we're considering as we develop that strategy.

Anthony O'Donnell: Let's hear about those. What are the questions you're asking yourself?

Nick Rohan: One of them is around just value to the consumer. And as Kevin mentioned, as we lean heavier into the B2B2C model value to that middle B partner as well. But how do we balance that convenience and simplicity of the product offering and the experience that we've created with the benefits that the products offer back to the consumer, but also the price, right?

We mentioned Terrence has really brought forward, how do we as an organization operate in a way that if. Today we sell it for 100. What would it take to sell it for 90? And some of the efficiencies we gain from the capabilities and things really help us be pre positioned as we think about what's next for a product to start taking some of the legacy costs out of insurance products that most carriers bear just from the old infrastructure and stuff and be able to kind of leverage that new capability to really drive.

Value to the consumer. And that doesn't always mean price, but it's definitely a component.

Kevin Cummer: Yeah. And then next up, we're looking at experience. And as we look at the experience, are there things we can learn from the insure tech evolution? So obviously, you know, insure techs have been a big part of evolution and new capabilities in life insurance space over the last several years, but it's really interesting, we've been watching closely what's been happening in this space.

And while. The initial focus of a lot of the insured techs seem to be on, Hey, is there a way we can provide end to end solutions and set up our own insurance companies and really kind of overtake the whole value chain, what we've seemed to observe is that those barriers to entry in the industry have seemed to force a shift towards focusing more on experiences and data rather than that full end to end fulfillment and so as we look at it from our seat, that insured tech shift in focus towards sustainability and profitability.

Is increasing and driving more towards those B2B2C models that we're partnering with and less of a focus on trying to solve the insurance gap through D2C approaches. So we do feel as we look at what others have brought to the table, that we've built an onboarding experience that we feel is very competitive with what other insure techs out in the space can offer.

But maybe there's opportunities for us to continue to extend those capabilities through owning and servicing. So that might be the next frontier that we see from that perspective on the experience side. And one of the other areas we're looking at is products. So I talked about it earlier, you know, asking ourselves, do we have the right products in place to meet consumer needs?

We feel we've enhanced our capabilities for the partner space through the enhancements that Nick talked about. Now we're shifting towards those product enhancements to better meet partner and consumer preferences. Some of those changes, they could be based on improved information that's available to our instant decision underwriting process.

We remain fully committed to that. All of our sales. being on an instant decision basis. So there's no sending it off for medical exams, no sending it off for manual underwriting. While you're online, while you're on the phone with one of our sales reps, you're going to receive a decision. Are you approved or declined?

And so that's going to continue to be a key differentiator for us. But even as we talk about products, it's not just about the products themselves, but making them available to consumers At the right time and in the right place. So Nick, can you talk a little bit about the ways we're thinking about how to reach consumers?

Nick Rohan: Yeah. So what we've talked about so far is generally been in a somewhat traditional space where you'd expect to find life insurance and we'll continue to grow there. That's where the success we've had has been. I use the analogy of if you fly off and, and look in the back of the airline magazine of the airline carrier route map, there's all these hubs and there's Hundreds of lines coming out of all of those hubs.

And you realize if you can get one place, you can get anywhere in the world. Once you have the hub network laid out and that's what we're sitting on now. So we have a series of large hubs and capabilities that allow us to get to where we want to be. So. The discussion is no longer about how we execute any of these strategies.

It's where, what do we want them to be, which is a great place to be in. And so Kevin teased us maybe a third visit. I'll do so as well here. But as we think about embedded insurance opportunities, it's not something happening very much in the life space right now, there's a pretty heavy regulatory environment.

And the natural places to do that have been a bit complicated and then layer on the products and the complexity of selling the products, given what we've done to break that up. And the simplicity on the product, I wouldn't be surprised if on that next visit, we're talking about an embedded life experience, that's truly an embedded insurance experience, right?

Not kind of a halfway thing, but that traditional B2B2C model will be a winning combo for us, our own D2C model. These capabilities are sitting on the backend to help those teams internally with their testing and learning when it comes to consumer experience. And then maybe a few surprises next time we give you an update.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, that's great, Nick. It's been great updating our conversation and seeing the evolution of some of the major themes, the mission of serving the middle market, remaining relevant, developing products to serve the needs of customers throughout their life, dedicating resources for both distribution, innovation in a partner context, and also better optimizing your product.

Product portfolio, and as we were discussing a moment ago, increasing your availability and market reach. So I thought maybe we could conclude with a reflection and perhaps a reiteration to a certain extent of what TruStage has become and what it is becoming as a result of its technological transformation that allows it to evolve that mission.

I guess a way of putting out is what kind of company is TruStage today as a result of the work we've discussed.

Kevin Cummer: Yeah, it's, uh, really interesting to look back on that, like you say, Anthony, too often. I know Nick and I'll talk about this. Sometimes it's easy to get so caught up in what we're doing and what's right in front of us that we don't stop to pause and look back and realize just how far we've come.

And so as we reflect back and look at it. How we've gotten to where we are today. It started back in 2016 with the idea of making our products easier to buy with a primary focus on the credit union market at that time. And can we leverage technology to automate the underwriting process and simplify the application process?

And we found success there. A lot of. Great response, but we could see that, you know what, there's consumers outside of the credit union market that have similar needs. And so how do we reach them? What can we do there? And so that started off with kind of watering an existing relationship, expanding an existing partnership in 2018.

And then Nick and team did a great job of going out, cultivating new opportunities, and brought some new partnerships to us beginning in 2020. That helped us to expand the reach with that initial product set. So I'll maybe let Nick talk a little bit about what we kind of did from there.

Nick Rohan: Yeah, it's been really cool.

I can't think of a better way to describe it. And I'll maybe just take a moment to just highlight the teams that have been involved in this. And the timing is interesting of when this really kicked off was right at the same time we all went home for COVID. And so the amount of this that has been done from people's bedrooms and things is amazing.

And the resiliency of the teams that brought this to life. shouldn't go unhighlighted. But that success we had in the partner space, as we've talked about, drove the needs for us to adapt as an organization. It's been really neat to see maybe a company that wasn't known for being so technologically advanced 15 years ago to be now on a podcast talking about some of the cutting edge stuff we've got.

But also to have a voice and have the way we distribute the products become Information for how we develop the next product and to just see how the teams work together and how the life cycle of product development works. So well with what we're doing here results. I know I talked about big growth last time.

I was here still big growth. It's been really something to be proud of as a whole organization. So since. That kind of fateful day in 2019, our entire life business productions just about doubled. And so some of that's come from natural growth in the businesses we've traditionally been in, but most of it came out of this new approach to distributing insurance.

And so we're coming up on just over five and a half billion dollars of enforced coverage to consumers through this channel. And What makes that extra impressive is if you remember, we don't work in high face amounts, so that's 5. 6 billion of insurance where the highest policy we write is 300, 000. So that's more impressive.

Maybe even then it sounds just on its own. So we've been really proud of those results. We continue to fulfill our mission, which is protecting that middle income consumer, making those products accessible to them. Wherever they may be. And I really do actually look forward to the next time we're here.

And we talk about 2025 and 2026 and 2027.

Kevin Cummer: Yeah, maybe to that point, Nick, you know, you talk about the 5. 6 billion, it's about a hundred thousand policies. So a hundred thousand people we've reached through these channels that we wouldn't have protected otherwise. And so that's why we do what we do. That's why we get excited to come to work and work together each day and our teams do too.

We remind our teams, the IT teams that build these capabilities for us and build the products. We remind them, Hey. This is why it matters. You know, you are making a difference for hundreds of thousands of people and just, you know, that impact of life insurance. And so it's really coming back to remembering why it's important in that making these products more accessible.

That's why we're doing the things we are.

Anthony O'Donnell: Well, that's great. Congratulations to you both on the success so far and both from a business standpoint. And I'm really delighted to hear you, Kevin, emphasizing the mission that way. Insurance for all the bad press it gets is such an important benefit to society.

And anyway, I look forward to that next conversation, whenever that might happen. And I'm sure you'll have a great story about embedded insurance, Nick.

Nick Rohan: I bet I will.

Anthony O'Donnell: Your predictions have come true so far. I look forward to the next one. Thank you, gentlemen. This was an extremely gratifying conversation where our guests were able to talk about how their plans have come to fruition.

Kevin stressed how innovation in both distribution and product has broadened TruStage's reach. From its beginnings as a D2C play, TruStage has evolved into a B2B2C success, reaching more distribution partners and protecting more consumers in the middle market. Nick talked about some of the challenges of innovating within a large insurance company, and he and Kevin shared how senior management's support has helped to minimize them.

Their teams developed considerable momentum through last year, and they enjoy particular support from the company's new CEO, Terrence Williams, who took on the role in June 2023. Since Kevin and Nick's work began in 2019, TruStage's life insurance business has doubled, and in significant measure because of the company's new approach to distribution.

The company now has 5. 6 billion in in force coverage, which is all the more impressive given that TruStage doesn't work in high face value amounts. So what does the future hold? Kevin and Nick both talked about the next frontier, both in continuing to expand their distribution partnerships and reach, and also to continue innovating in both experience and product.

Nick also hinted about the possibility of having a really good embedded insurance experience story when we speak again. We look forward to that. If you want to know more about creating your own digital transformation, visit equisoft.com/lifeaccelerated.


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