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Fortune 100 company Nationwide keeps its #1 position in the US pet insurance market through continuous investment in emerging insurtech and startups, as Vice President Michael Fulton explains Nationwide has a long and noble pedigree as a US-based insurance and financial services provider. A mutual, set up in 1925 to protect Ohio farmers, it’s morphed into a Fortune 100 company through expansion and acquisitions, including, in 2009, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), which had issued the country’s first pet insurance policy to canine star Lassie (or, at least, one of them!) in 1982. Since VPI came on board, Nationwide has grown to become the biggest pet insurer in the States, and it’s where much of the company’s digital innovation is now focussed as it strives to keep up with an unexpected COVID-19-shaped spike in demand for cover.


TheInsurtechMagazine | Issue 4

As a nation, Americans have been slow to afford the same protection to their pets as they have to other areas of their lives – the US languishes near the bottom of the world league for insuring man’s best friend and other animals, at under three per cent for cats and dogs. But a recent survey by Nationwide partner, the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, has found that the bond is getting stronger between people and their animals, as they help them cope with the challenges of a pandemic that has already claimed more than 130,000 American lives. And, perhaps because of the heightened sense of risk, they want them insured. Mike Fulton, an associate vice-president at Nationwide and part of its technology strategy and innovation team, knows that embracing technology such as open application programming interfaces (APIs), will be a prerequisite in its quest to hold on to its mantle as the sector’s top dog across all categories of financial services. “It’s really about making sure that you’ve got the right operational backbone in place, and then you’re able to interact, through APIs, with your digital platform. That gives your digital platform the flexibility to change, to support new products, to do all the things you want to do to be able to innovate,” he says. “If you don’t have an operational backbone that’s API-enabled, that has the

ability for an organisation to connect their digital platform into it, it’s really tough to do the innovations you want to do. “Our pet technology team, led by Nationwide Pet CIO Bill Snider, has just completed a transformation programme where we have re-designed and reimplemented our operational backbone for the pet insurance business. That is now stable, productive and allows us to have a base to work off, so we can connect to a new digital platform for the pet business, which will help us to drive more innovation across the organisation. We’re really excited about what’s to come.” Already, Nationwide’s tie-up with pet care technology firm VitusVet allows policyholders to use a mobile app to file pet insurance claims. Such is its success that, earlier in 2020, VitusVet was able to announce it had surpassed one million pet insurance claims filed through the app on behalf of Nationwide. Fulton says there is firm evidence of what he calls a ‘pandemic pet boom’. “We’re seeing a huge spike in people onboarding onto the product, it’s been a big growth area for us over the last five years, but the pandemic has really caused a rise in new policies,” he says. “It’s starting to cause a big spike in claims, as well. “Our pet claims team, pet IT team, and technology innovation team are