Wellabe’s agile transformation

Using greater collaboration to meet customers’ changing needs

By Michael Crumb

Wellabe, formerly American Enterprise Group, has been on a journey to become a more agile organization to create an environment where its leadership and employees can be more collaborative to achieve better results for its customers.

The insurance company started its journey towards becoming more agile around 2017 with a pilot project that David Keith, president of insurance solutions, said “bore some fruits.”

“We recognized we saw some fruits out of that, so could we then apply this across the organization?” Keith said.

A consultant was brought on, which led to the addition of April King, an agile coach and director of employee engagement and development, to help the company focus on building an agile culture.

AEG recently underwent a “unified brand strategy project,” which leaders described as “an innovative, transformational opportunity,” and on June 26 the company became Wellabe.

“We have experienced significant growth and change since our company was founded in 1929, and it’s important to ensure our brand continues to evolve as well,” said Debbie DeCamp, chief marketing officer.

Wellabe serves the senior market with Medicare supplements, dental insurance, hospital indemnity, short-term care, pre-need or burial insurance, and final expense coverage.

Keith, who will become Wellabe’s CEO on Jan. 1, said that being agile is about a change in mindset.

“The thought was, how can we create a mindset that would allow us to look at new things to move at a different pace to operate, and to operate in an environment that allows for change to occur, and even for innovation to thrive?” he said.

It started with agile training for Wellabe’s leadership team. The process then spread vertically down to all levels of the company and horizontally across the company’s various functions, he said.

The early signs that an agile mindset was worth pursuing were found in that initial pilot, Keith said, which showed improved collaboration between various functions, such as technology and marketing or technology and service.

“They were now interacting on a daily basis about the things we were trying to generate. We were putting a solution together to improve our overall customer experience,” he said.

According to Keith, the goal was to create a tool set that allows Wellabe staff to expedite the process of building a product for a customer.

“Typical technology goes into a tank or development phase for months at a time. We wanted a solution set that we could bring to life sooner and then refine as we go,” he said. “That required day-to-day collaboration because as the tool set was getting built we wanted that daily interaction, so we started seeing more collaboration. Many people say that’s one of the most exhilarating capabilities we put forward because it was truly a team effort working on a solution set as we went through.”

That resulted in opportunities where people could meet in a room for 15 minutes a day to say what they had built from the day before and describe some of the hurdles they were encountering. Others could then offer solutions to those hurdles to move the solution forward.

“We produced that capability in months versus years, or whatever period of time, and it continued to get refined as we went forward,” Keith said.

It provided an “aha” moment for Wellabe, he said. 

Keith said that prompted leaders to ask, “What if we applied this kind of thinking across nontechnical areas of the business? Could finance leverage this? Could marketing leverage this?”

That initial tool was the development of software that Wellabe’s service center could use. Today that capability is being leveraged in product design and development to bring insurance products to the market faster, he said.

April King, director of employee engagement and development, said Wallabe’s focus on an agile transformation really began in 2019, right before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pandemic was really the catalyst of adopting agile leadership, and we really embrace the key principles of teamwork, transparency and trust to move our team forward,”  she said. “So there was no better time to really adopt those concepts and use them when we’re leading a team through a turbulent time.”

King said being agile is the ability to “motivate people to be stretchy, the ability to be flexible and lead a team and provide opportunities for growth, but a lot of autonomy in the work. Really, that change in mindset. It’s everyone working together to build the most impactful team possible.”

While Wellabe can’t control regulatory guidelines, deadlines and work patterns, which can affect the company’s ability to be agile every day, being agile allows the company to learn from mistakes and change faster, she said.

“But the way we coach our teams and lead through change can absolutely be agile,” King said. “We can be flexible. We can pivot when needed. We can choose to fail forward and hopefully continue to fail faster … because the world of technology is not slowing down anytime soon.”

She said there are challenges Wellabe is tackling on its agile journey.

“We have a lot of new ideas, so we’re testing the waters,” King said. “Our innovation unit is a natural extension to what we’ve done in the past. But innovation kind of lives on the edges, so what we’re trying to do is to bring it into our current products.”

So what’s next in Wellabe’s agile transformation?

“It’s a continuum,” Keith said. “We’ve made a nice journey but we’re not done. I’m not sure what the definition of done is anymore. Just think of the world and what it was like pre-pandemic. It was rather digital, but think of it now. In three years we’ve taken a 10-year leap in terms of how we think about digital. For us to continue down this path we have to work even faster. We have to be a little bit bolder, and we have to continue to embrace this mindset.”

He said a lot of work still needs to be done to deliver solutions to customers and agents to conform to the way they operate. 

“We must move to meet that need and it’s not slowing down,” Keith said.

He said the company’s vision is to focus on building solutions that will meet its customers and agents “where they want to do business.”

“The objective is that it has to be digitally based, easy to use, it must stay in line with our core business and that the company delivers new products and solutions to meet customers needs,” Keith said.

There was also a goal of putting out four new insurance products in one year.

“And we did,” Keith said. “Last year we achieved that. It took a lot of change in mindset to do that. One outcome was all new business had to be no-paper. It had to be all electronic, and we did that.”

King said the early days of the journey were a little blurry but it created a good road map for the future.

“There’s no stop sign,” she said. “Once you figure out what’s working at this moment, the next moment comes along. We’re always looking for ways customers want to do business, and that will continue to evolve.”

The rebranding of AEG

On June 26, American Enterprise Group (AEG) transitioned to its new brand, Wellabe, to better represent the growth of the company and the products it has provided since it was founded in 1929.

Rebranding brings the company’s products under one unified brand, and makes it easier for customers to do business with Wellabe and better understand its complete product portfolio, officials said.

“With a clear and consistent message and distinctive brand, everyone will recognize us better and be more aware of who we are and what we do,” officials said.

According to the company, Wellabe comes from the phrase “We’ll always be.” Rebranding helps strengthen its team and tell its story more effectively to increase its visibility and to better serve its customers, officials said. 

“In addition, the new name provides an opportunity for us to move forward with a brand that is relevant, distinctive, memorable, and reflects who we are, who we’ve been, and who we’ll always be,” officials said.