I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nadeem Khan, President of Aflac Corporate Ventures (launched in March 2017) in their newest office situated in the Packard Place building in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. Nadeem leads Aflac Corporate Ventures including all operating and investment subsidiaries such as Empowered Benefits (acquired by Aflac) and Aflac Ventures. Prior to joining Aflac, he held various leadership positions with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Siemens, and Lucent Technologies. Nadeem holds a bachelor’s degree in commerce with a specialization in accounting & economics as well as a master’s degree in business administration. He serves on the boards of TTV Capital, Better Business Bureau of Columbus, and other nonprofit organizations.
Designed to help the company enhance its strategic and innovative focus in both the US and Japan, Aflac Corporate Ventures partners with technology accelerators to create the agility required to quickly identify and invest in early-stage companies, helping them accelerate innovation across the insurance value chain, including digital solutions that enhance the customer experience.
Josh Goodman: Nadeem, thanks for joining us today. To start things off, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Nadeem Khan: While I spend a great deal of my time in Charlotte, I live in Columbus, Georgia, which is home to Aflac’s worldwide headquarters. I started my career with Aflac in 2004. Although my background is in technology, my career at Aflac has been very diverse. From an entrepreneur to a corporate employee, my twenty-plus-years career has been wholly gratifying and enlightening. I’ve been fortunate to be with amazing companies like Aflac, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Siemens, and Lucent Technologies. My exposure to a wide array of corporate cultures, people, and business sectors has broadened my perspective. I’ve learned the value of self-discipline – and I’ve gained enormous confidence that enables me to face challenges head-on. In my current role, I lead two companies: Empowered, which is Aflac’s digital innovation center here in Charlotte, and Aflac Ventures, a $100 million venture fund.
JG: So what exactly is Aflac Corporate Ventures and this venture fund?
NK: From an organizational standpoint, Aflac Corporate Ventures is an independent legal entity under Aflac Inc., our holding company. While this venture arm sits outside the insurance operations, the two organizations are closely and strategically aligned. Aflac Ventures and Empowered are two subsidiaries of Aflac Corporate Ventures.
This venture component came about organically – a natural extension of Aflac’s commitment to invest in innovation, both in the US and Japan. We focus on early-stage companies whose ideas and capabilities are relevant to Aflac’s core business. By taking direct ownership in these burgeoning companies, we can create something mutually beneficial: we form commercial alliances and exchange intellectual capital and research.
JG: Got you. And can you go into more detail about the main focus and key goals of the ventures you pursue?
NK: As I mentioned, we focus on early-stage companies that align with our core business. In the US, that’s the employee-driven voluntary insurance space. In Japan, it’s supplemental health markets. For both geographies, it includes alternative distribution.
We source opportunities – both in the US and Japan – through existing industry-driven contacts as well as financial/insurance technology accelerators and incubation platforms. In addition to direct investments, we invest indirectly by forming partnerships with third-party VC funds that have specific knowledge of insurance and Aflac’s strategic focus. In general, our investments will seek to leverage our global brand and core franchise position: ensuring one in every four households in Japan, and touching over 400,000 small businesses in the US.
JG: How do you deal with regulations when you’re dealing with all these startups and all this innovation?
NK: As you know, insurance is a highly regulated industry. We work very closely with our internal compliance department and regulators to stay in lock step with ever-changing rules and regulations. The regulators are also interested in leveraging technology to simplify their processes. They want to prevent compliance bottlenecks, and they’re open to learning new ways of doing things to become more efficient. We also make sure our portfolio companies and startups are fully educated on current regulations – that way, we can be certain all new capabilities and solutions meet regulatory standards and requirements.
JG: That makes a lot of sense and obviously there’s a huge benefit to all of these early-stage companies getting that kind of feedback early on – so you don’t have to deal with that on the back-end. That also leads me to my next question – and this may be a little redundant – what is Aflac’s approach to innovation?
NK: Aflac has always been known as an innovative company. We want to stay that way by continually finding ways of doing things better, cheaper, and faster. By incubating and leveraging the capabilities of Aflac Ventures portfolio companies, we’ll empower digitally-native insurance operations to be perpetually innovative and relevant. We want to persistently ask the question, “What if?” We want to push beyond perceived limits and imagine entirely new possibilities in the world of healthcare, insurance and beyond. Our collective team has the creativity, experience, and skill to create new tech solutions that benefit our customers, our distributors, our employees, and our communities.
JG: What is the biggest challenge facing InsurTech right now?
NK: Right now, the pace of technology is out of sync with regulatory changes. The regulators are showing interest and signs of change, but again, they’re not at the same pace with changes coming in technology.
JG: I can only imagine.
NK: Exactly. When you’re working with 50 state regulators, you may have two or three states that are very open and adaptable to new and innovative ways. But then there are 47 other regulators that have to get onboard. So I’m hopeful regulations will become less complex and more accommodating to tech innovation.
JG: Yes, I imagine you’re not alone in that sentiment.
NK: Everybody faces that same challenge. And it’s beyond insurance, I would say.
JG: So, we’re sitting in this lovely office in Charlotte, and being a native of Charlotte, I have to ask, why Charlotte? What brought you guys here?
NK: Not everyone realizes Charlotte is a thriving hub for innovation and technology. There’s a very diversified workforce here that drives innovation across many industries; and our community and city leaders support entrepreneurialism through a range of accelerator and incubator programs. Just recently, Inc.com named Charlotte the No. 2 city of “Four Cities You Didn’t Know Were Startup Hotbeds.” Here in the Queen City, we have access to an enthusiastic and growing community of innovators. It’s the ideal location to create and grow our digital innovations.
JG: So what’s next for Aflac Corporate Ventures and Empowered? Are there any upcoming milestones or anything that we should know about?
NK: I can hardly contain my excitement about the milestones that lie ahead for us. We’re in the process of developing truly disruptive digital technology that will open up new possibilities across the industry spectrum. Aflac Ventures creates new opportunities for early-stage companies, then Empowered takes the groundbreaking ideas and develop them into functional, marketable solutions. It’s a win for Aflac, a win for us, and a win for Charlotte.
JG: All right, well, thanks a lot Nadeem, it’s been a pleasure.
NK: The pleasure’s mine. Thank you so much.