Optimity CEO: Insurance Can Help People Live Better Lives
Insurance can play an important role in people's wellbeing, said Jane Wang, the founder and CEO of Optimity, a wellness and "mission driven" InsureTech.
Q: Can you give us your elevator speech? What does Optimity do?
Jane Wang: We are a mission driven company about the social good, empowering people to have better health and wealth and longevity. We have the belief that we can create a better world where we can all be healthier and wealthier. Insurance is also an essential part of the plan. So we drive good habits [and] behavior change, using micro learning, incentives and nudges that help our members achieve better health and wealth and longevity — which also includes sometimes the right insurance coverage. So that makes us an insuretech company.
Q: Can you tell us about your clients? Do you serve companies or consumers?
Both. So the B-toB-clients — we help them engage and attract — sometimes that's quoting and binding, or straight through processing — it's to keep the policy holders or the plan members healthy.
The consumer clients are also our clients, because we did develop and design programs for them where we serve them. We optimize our content, perks, offerings for them; they can buy our premium programs directly retail, and they can access insurance in a frictionless, accessible and almost more valuable way. So it's a win-win business model.
Q: What would draw a consumer to downloading the app?
I think three things. The first one is the core loop. If you do anything for yourself, or something healthy — so it could be walking or drinking water, or even making your financial wellness contribution, right? Like you save, your budgeting, you're maybe investing all those healthy habits, you get rewarded for all activities. So that's kind of a no brainer, because it's free. And you you get rewards for that. So that's a core loop. And then the secondary loop is this journey to a better you. This is part of our betterment program. These are directive programs that help people achieve better physical health, mental health, financial wellness. That's the part where they have the premium programs, they do the paid programs for. And then lastly, sometimes people download the app because of the community and maybe their husband is on it, or their wives are in there — they're doing activities together. We have a pretty big Facebook following as well as Instagram. People find each other — we have these collaborative challenges where you can find a walking buddy somewhere and it's all virtual, too. So there's people in Texas that's walking with someone in the Valley and/or from Washington or New York. It's so interesting when people find other like-minded people. Sometimes community is also a reason why people join.
Q: You're very passionate about physical and financial health. Could you share your story with us?
It's an incredible journey. First of all, it's something that's relevant every day to myself, as I try to do something healthy for myself, I try to be the best self that I can. I try to optimize — I call myself a life optimizer. But there's also a backstory that unites me and our team on this mission-driven company.
I started my career in tech and health and pharma companies. And we built platforms for patient programs and systems for HIV, ovarian cancer, MS and Alzheimer's. My products and programs were used internationally. So the EU, Asia, Americas, and we were managing thousands of patients in Phase Two, Phase Three clinical trials — and these are high profile clinical trials. It felt really rewarding and meaningful for someone who's in their 20's. And that's why I spent a decade decade in it, and it felt like a blink of an eye. But in that blink of an eye, it was super devastating when in 2011 — within the same week that my team and I won this work award for mortality and morbidity improvements — in my own backyard, my mom, who's 52 at the time, was diagnosed with cancer. And she had to be hospitalized and she received treatment right away. She fought pretty hard — six months — but we lost her really, really young. She was 52, super young, and she couldn't access anything. Like all these great cutting edge things I was working on, didn't overlap with her life. That really was just so devastating to me. It really made us aware — my family — aware of the impact of having a health event on our own... and also our financial wellness together.
My dad, at the time, still he had the mortgage, have a sister who's 12 years younger — there's just so much that was packed in that and, my mom didn't have the right amount of health insurance, she didn't have the right amount of life insurance, either. So we were dealing with both things. At the same time that our whole family's grieving, and through that process, my dad developed diabetes, and he also had a heart issue. So they came all together for me, and I pivoted my passion. I took the skill set that I had, which is building tech tools and patient programs, but started applying it towards something that people that I know and love could access. And that had this ability to affect millions of members. And thankfully, it's been such an amazing journey. I got to really meet people like my co-founders who have similar [story] — I'm sure your family's like this, it's probably a story for so many people. Because we were just an average family. My co-founders have the same story — a lot of the people that we work with on our team have the same story; clients have the same story. We all understand and can want to be part of the solution. And now we have 2.6 million members on our platform. Anyone can join our program, it's free for everyone. It really fulfills our purpose. So it's been amazing.
Q: Thank you for sharing that story. I think a lot of people can relate. And, you know, on a personal note, I'm really sorry you've experienced that, but you really do seem to have found a — redemption? That's not the right word...
It's a healthy outlet. It's an energy. I think once you see it, it's hard to unsee it. So that that's been the magnet that pulls me forward as well.
Q: Could you give us an example of how the information you're gathering could help insurers? And what's the role of data?
That's when everything gets quite practical. So in our health programs, we connect with hundreds of wearables. So that wearable information — the actuaries out there, the underwriters out there know that there's great research — really talking about how steps as a first thing is a great predictor of mortality. These wearables have been very, very helpful.
And then we also get a chance to connect with the users about their health assessments or clinical — like connecting with telemedicine or social providers or EMR. So that also allows us to have this stream of information to do dynamic underwriting or to get ahead of claims prevention. So it's so rich. And then on top of that, for financial wellness — because we do a lot of education around what's the right amount of product? We do needs analysis to see — where is your family at? What are your wealth goals? Are you planning for the second, third child? It gives us really up-to-date information and forward looking life information to get them the right product at the right time. Also sometimes with the right incentives that matches with them. All of that comes under the umbrella of our health scoring, so we have a five pillar approach. At the time when we started almost like 10 years ago, it's quite novel, but I think now it's like it's a universal truth. So it's physical health, nutrition, mental health, social connectedness — that community part — and then financial wellness. We have scores and also sub scores that basically allow us to quantify the mortality or morbidity or even sometimes product recommendation, efficacy in it. And then on the other side, the data — it's got endless uses. So I think we're just at the beginning of even tapping into it. We have about 2 billion data points. too. So it's not scraped big data information. So it's not like creepy information that you're getting from websites or from anything like that these are all permission driven, specific things that are actionable. So that also changes kind of the paradigm.
Q: Why did you want to enter the insurance space?
Probably because there was also a pull into the insurance space. So a lot of the carriers are really kind of rethinking their data strategy, their modernization strategy. We started working on kind of this mission driven organization, but it aligned to some of the good principles of insurance companies [which] really is about protecting health and wealth and longevity — it's so well aligned. And the products are so commercially aligned. There's a lot of pull of that. I remember speaking at the SOA, Society of Actuaries. And I found a lot of kindred spirits who really valued the insights that we had and what we were all about. So it's been really fun here, too, because I learned so much about financial products. And I would say my own financial wellness has gotten better. So I've also upgraded my own execution of that kind of aspect.
Q: Did anything surprise you about working with insurers?
Yes, a couple things. One is the speed of it — or the lack of speed. And sometimes I laugh because I come from pharma, which also takes like 20 years to get something to market. But I think it's still quite scientific and iterative and in insurance, it's gotten way more like that in the last three to five years. But I think it's still a learning curve. And many times, I think it's quite a sequential in the way that people approach solving a problem. So most insurance companies or even TPAs, I find that when — it was surprising to me, how many of them are like, Oh, I'm focusing on like changing my core system. And then after I implement that for five to 10 years, then I'll get into data engagement — and there's a total misalignment. I think, that's the insanity loop in it. And then the more I talk to people in the industry, too it's like, didn't you do that 10 years ago? And then that's why your infrastructures outdated now? I do think that there's some learning in there.
Q: Following up on that, what else do you think insurers can learn from insurtechs?
I think collaboration, this spirit of collaboration has been really great, actually. So it's something it's almost like a yes and lets do more of that. Our B-to-B application — we do think of as almost like a LinkedIn, People come onto LinkedIn for their own purposes, right? There's B-to-B applications of it, of course, but there's such a richness of data, right? There's so many different things, and then finding the B-to-B uses of it is must be quite collaborative, and you must be quite creative. And I found that working with the carriers have been really good, especially on the data side. We don't sell our data, it's part of our principle for members to not do that. But with the carriers, were able to kind of find the use cases for them and create insights and sub scores, things that they can use. And I think that has been so great to work on. And also working with the reinsurers we had some key project efforts with them — and also empowered by other insuretechs — they've gotten more sophisticated and modern, in how they're doing it. So it's making us more valuable partners and also happier partners in building things that are less friction, more valuable to modern customers.
Q: What's next for Optimity?
There are quite a few things that's on the horizon that I'm really excited about. So I'll talk about three of them. The first one is a second revamp of Project Mama. I started it with my first child, who was born about two years ago. So it's a program, a journey, for someone going through their prenatal and a pregnancy journey as well as postpartum. And what's different about it is instead of just telling you what fruit size their baby is, and just some basic information. It also has content and exercises for mental health and financial wellness. And it follows you past your journey. And it's not just for the woman who is going through that it's also for her partner and family to do it. So Project Mama number one was was great. And then now we're working on version two of it, because I am on my second child right now. So I'm three months into it. So I think that's something very exciting. And we are going to bring the holistic view to a population and getting the whole family involved.
I'm very also passionate about project number two and three — both born out of the pandemic. So the pandemic had kept a lot of children at home, and the homeschooling with a intermittent type of things, has really reduced IQ for kids. So I had just been researching this over the last while and there are numerous podcasts that's really highlighting the detriment of the lockdowns and habit changes in the pandemic for children, for teens. Suicide rates are up, the mental health issues have — double digit increases, and sometimes triple digits in specific populations. And the poor families are affected more, but the general IQ — there's a 20 point drop in IQ.
All this is something that we need to focus on. So Optimity originally is currently in this form is only available for adults but we just announced a pilot program to make it available for teens as well. So I think that's something that's a great pilot project. And I think that's something to watch over the next bit. And then the last bit is also out of the pandemic, there's so many canceled or elective like surgeries, and for diabetes, heart disease, and many people have, or just were not able to take a early intervention or proactive approach to health, which is all we're about. And just given our reach and how we're trying to do it, we find that the programming, that we're the journeys that we're offering for diabetes, hypertension — is to not only a something that we must empower people and democratize on their self assessment and improvement and just like getting a handle on it and early detection and intervention. But also, the community itself has probably grown quite a bit. So all three projects are probably very powerful in its own right. And I hope we're going to be able to do a lot of good by doing these different things.