At the apex of his 25-year career as a leader in the insurance and financial services industry, Chief Growth Officer Larry Nisenson raised eyebrows by waltzing away from his laurels to join Assured Allies, a small insuretech startup. Larry, pictured above with his three lovely daughters, sat down recently with a glass of Cabernet and a nicely plated charcuterie to chat about his unexpected move, and why he believes that the company’s newest product, NeverStop, is going to revolutionize the long-term care insurance industry.

Why did you leave an impressive career in the global Insurance industry to join a little-known start-up like Assured Allies? 

As a society, we must modernize the financing of aging, or how individuals pay to age on their own terms. To point to just one fact, 50% of Americans will require long-term care at some point in their lives but only 7% of adults over age 50 have a long-term care insurance policy. When I tried to address this issue inside large insurance companies, I found it difficult to gain much traction. Eventually, I was drawn to the nimbleness of a smaller company and loved that Assured Allies was also trying to solve the same problems I was. When I met the team and felt their enthusiasm and passion, I knew I had found my new home!

You’ve spoken publicly about the crying need for better retirement financing. As an experienced leader in this industry, what excites you about NeverStop’s innovative approach?

NeverStop excites me because it clears the path towards aging in place that tens of millions of unprepared consumers desperately need. The big risk today for consumers is that they will outlive their savings. Most would prefer to age at home if possible but have no long-term care safety net. NeverStop helps to solve this dilemma on both ends of the equation and that’s innovative. We show them how small, incremental lifestyle changes can have a dramatic impact on their ability to live independently. We then incent them with dollars that can be used for their long-term care needs as a way of keeping them motivated to live healthier. We co-create with each NeverStopper a customized journey for Successful Aging that inspires them to live their best life and afford the care they may need in the future.

Given that 10k people a day are turning 65 throughout the rest of the decade, we know there are over 60M consumers who could use our help today—and that number is growing. That is VERY exciting,  

What has surprised you most, so far, about the launch of NeverStop in the marketplace?

The attention we’ve garnered in such a short time in the market has been a really pleasant surprise. We launched NeverStop on November 15, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, a season that many would argue is the slowest time in the insurance business. We saw incredible agent and distributor interest on day one and it hasn’t waned much since. Thousands of agents have been engaging with our marketing material and wanting to learn the NeverStop story.

How is leadership in a start-up environment different from what you’ve experienced in corporate environments?

There are so many differences that it’s hard to cover them all. Perhaps the biggest difference is the “owner” mentality of every employee.  Our employees are so passionate about their job and the company mission that they truly inspire me everyday. We also believe in honest and direct conversations. These two aspects of our culture create a different environment for success than anything I experienced in a large corporation.

What have you learned on the job? 

In a startup, everyone rolls their sleeves up and gets in the mix. From the cofounders to the newest employee, everyone comes to the table with the same mindset of ‘all hands on deck’ and ‘let’s get it done.’  In my 18 months here, I’ve never heard anyone say, “That’s not my job.”  Instead, I hear, “How can I help?”  

What’s the biggest hurdle that agents face in selling long-term care insurance to customers? How does NeverStop make that process easier?

On the road with VP of Marketing Andy Freedman.

Agents face several hurdles that make a long-term care sale really hard. Traditional long-term care insurance policies can take up to 60 days to get underwritten and approved—if they get approved at all. Our first NeverStop product is a guaranteed issue, meaning that everyone who applies is approved. Our state-of-the-art process is simple, low-friction, and fast. The underwriting is 100% virtual and the applicant receives their underwriting risk class within an hour, from start to finish. This is a game changer and much more inline with what consumers expect today. 

Consumers have also been negatively affected by the industry-wide legacy of unexpected rising long-term care insurance premiums. Our actuarial team, which has responsibility for building and pricing our products, really learned from the mistakes of the past and we don’t expect that same type of premium volatility. For all of these reasons, NeverStop will benefit consumers and agents alike.  

What do you predict for 2023 in terms of older adults and retirement financing?

Unfortunately, I think 2023 is going to prove an even harder year for aging adults, particularly if they’re on a fixed income. Social Security may have had its largest cost of living adjustment since 1981, but it still isn’t keeping pace with inflation. This means that older consumers have diminished buying power. Secondly, stock market volatility is going to continue in 2023 so older investors are going to have more sleepless nights worrying about their retirement portfolios. And sadly, bankruptcies for older adults will continue to climb as healthcare, food, and housing costs rise while housing prices level off or decline, reducing any equity they have to borrow against. 

What are three predictions for Assured Allies in 2023?

Assured Allies will continue to scale and grow in 2023 as we take on more clients for the company’s flagship product, Age Assured, and its newest innovation, NeverStop. NeverStop will launch at least two new products. Age Assured’s results will continue to prove our hypothesis on the effectiveness of low-cost, precision-timed interventions for reducing claims and helping consumers to age in place. 

You’re 56 years old. What does Successful Aging mean to you personally, and what are you doing today to get there? 

Successful Aging for me is staying healthy enough to thrive in my next stage in life. My wife and I have raised three beautiful, smart, almost independent young women and now it’s our time to enjoy life. Whether it’s going away for a long weekend, continuing to work in our careers, volunteering, or grappling with whatever else life has in store for us, we want to be able to do it all.

To stay healthy for the long-term, I usually walk on my treadmill for 2-3 hours a day. I also try to eat fairly clean and I’m an intermittent faster, except over the holidays. 

What’s a personal talent most people don’t know about you?

I owned a restaurant for many years and am a decent cook. My favorite foods usually involve my smoker, but I also make some kick-a** breads.

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.

Guy Hawes brings over 15 years of product management and team-building flair to his role as Head of Product – NeverStop Underwriting and Research at Assured Allies. In any meeting he’s known to ask, “What is the problem we are trying to solve here?” Recently he sat down with a pint of Guinness and a small plate of lumpia to chat about his work on the company’s latest product, NeverStop

In your own words, what does a product manager actually do? 

Product management is often confused with being a gap filler: 20% engineering, 20% design, 20% support, 20% business development, 20% marketing, 20% legal, 20% project management, etc. (yes, that’s already 100+%). But the true purpose of the role is to build great products that customers and markets love. So we tend to end up knowing how a lot of those different disciplines go together in order to deliver on that.

What traits, personality or otherwise, are good to have in this role?

Generally, I find that good product managers share two major traits. The first is curiosity, or the desire to understand the ‘why.’ The second is problem-solving, the ability to abstract the particulars of any one problem and identify how it can be resolved upstream of where it occurred. Ideally, you’re not just fixing the same issue over and over again, but adjusting the whole system of people/systems/flow in your organization so that a problem doesn’t happen again, or at least not in the same way. Also, personally, I find that all great product people are quirky in some way.

What excites you from a problem-manager perspective about the design of Assured Allies’ latest product, NeverStop?

At the crossroads of talent: Guy (center) and NeverStop teams celebrate the 2022 product launch.

NeverStop represents an entirely different and practical way of thinking about aging, while at the same time protecting the future for yourself and your loved ones. The potential for how and where NeverStop can grow as a business and in service to its customers is amazing! 

What do you most enjoy about your job and what is most challenging?

I enjoy the people I work with here. There are many personalities, backgrounds, and personal stories, but we are all inspired by the company’s mission to make Successful Aging accessible to all.

The most challenging aspect of my job is making sure we start with customer problems first, and our problems second. Also, everyone has great ideas, but we can’t climb every mountain. I try to make sure that we stay pragmatic and focused on the most important things for the customer.

You work at the crossroads of many different teams in the company—marketing, engineering, clinical, legal, and research. Which team(s) do you spend most of your time with? 

I try to spend time with each team as much as possible. Different teams have different proficiency levels in terms of understanding the goals and competencies that are needed to get their piece of a project done. Some are more independent than others, but sometimes those same teams need more help. I like to think of my role as the conductor of a cross-functional orchestra. It doesn’t matter if one group is playing well if another team is struggling; everybody needs to support each other to make great music.

How do you manage work-life balance?

I don’t believe in work-life balance. I believe in a work-life blend. You spend about one-third of your life working, so it might as well be something you enjoy and find meaningful.

Where does the weekend find you, typically?

Running household and family errands.

You’ve worked at a lot of start-ups. Why do you like them?

I actually enjoy the pressures that come with working for a start-up. Essentially, you might be operating with little to no safety net! Yet, no matter where I’ve worked, I also look for some element of ‘helping out the little guy.’ Which is one of the things that attracted me to Assured Allies. Beyond the whole insurance and financial aspect of it, ultimately we’re working to help people secure their own and their families’ futures.

Seems like standard product dev these days is deep into a trend of launching an intentionally “light” product or MVP (minimal viable product), and then iterating quickly afterwards based on customer feedback. Can you err too far in this direction? 

You can err in the direction of either too heavy (i.e. extensively built out, researched, and detailed) or too light of a product when you launch. It is impossible to get it perfect all the time and it also depends on the product. For example, I wouldn’t feel comfortable launching a “light” electric car into the marketplace, but I would feel comfortable launching a light dog-walking app to see how people use it before investing more in particular features. 

Whether light or heavy, however,  the most important thing is to ensure that you have the ability to test, learn, and change quickly based on incoming data. I’ve seen Assured Allies do that time and time again, and I’m confident that we will do that with NeverStop too. 

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.

Erik Wenzel Senior Product Actuary at Assured Allies, recently lowered his 6’9” frame into a chair to munch on his favorite snack, popcorn, and to chat about how his team’s innovative work is foundational for exciting new products like NeverStop.

Actuarial science isn’t one of the better-known fields. In your own words, what do actuaries do? Why are they important?

Without actuaries, there would be no insurance! Traditionally, actuaries use math to determine how much money insurance companies should charge for policies and keep in reserve to pay for future claims. At Assured Allies, our actuaries perform this work, sure, but we also do so much more. We work with software developers, data scientists, and clinical experts to develop the innovative modeling capabilities and underwriting algorithms behind new products like NeverStop, which will really help to address our country’s retirement crisis.

What is innovative about NeverStop? How does it help fill unmet needs in the long-term care insurance and retirement financial product marketplace today?

NeverStop is a wellness program for adults 55+, offered in partnership with financial companies, that helps people to extend their healthy life years, prevent dementia and other diseases, and improve their financial security. It’s innovative on several fronts. First, our Assured Digital Underwriting shrinks a process that used to take several weeks into less than 30 minutes. Second, our members earn increased long-term care insurance (LTC) coverage by taking simple, evidence-based healthy actions on a personalized Aging Map. Third, our unique combination of actuarial and data science, technology, clinical expertise, member engagement, and wellness enables us to design new products that not only provide financial protection, but also enable people to extend their healthy years. Last but not least, our products are priced using super-fast and flexible actuarial software (we use the programming language Rust). 

In sum, NeverStop is a product that goes far beyond its individual pieces to optimize value and reduce risk for the insurance company, the insurance agent, and the customer. It’s a win-win.

Actuary team on tour in Jerusalem (L to R): Erik Wenzel, Nkenge Blue, Paddy Horan, and Bob Yee.

The actuarial team seems very tight, hard-working and also fun. What’s unique about the NeverStop actuary team? What is your role and that of others on the team?

Our actuarial team is entirely remote, but we remain a tight group largely due to the warmth, inclusiveness and passion of our team members. We’ve had team offsites in Boston, Tel-Aviv, Raleigh, and Chicago where we often talk late into the evening about the nuances of underwriting, actuarial modeling, and product innovation. We also have fun! Our team outings have included cooking classes, escape rooms, apple picking, bowling, touring Jerusalem, and sporting events. 

As a Senior Product Actuary, my role on the team is to evaluate new product designs. Taya Hnateyko, our Pricing Actuary, determines pricing and works with Paddy Horan, our Tech & Tools Actuary, to build actuarial models. Bob Yee is our resident actuarial and long-term care expert. Nkenge Blue is our leader and coordinates our work with other teams at Assured Allies.

Do actuaries have a reputation, and if so what is it? Is it well-deserved?

Actuaries have a reputation for being math geeks. This is at least partially true since you have to pass over seven grueling math-based exams that take over four years to complete. Every actuary loves math, but they are also well-rounded professionals who drive key business decisions and innovation at their companies. This is definitely the case at Assured Allies. Our team is integrated deeply into the new product innovation pipeline.

What do you like best about working at Assured Allies? 

I’m a big fan of the company’s mission to enable all older adults to age successfully. I also love the company culture, which is very employee-centric, inclusive, and engaging. I enjoy going beyond traditional actuarial work, which typically involves repeating the same processes each quarter. I joined Assured Allies in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic, knowing it was a risk to leave a corporate job for a startup. That risk has paid off immensely. It’s very rewarding to do meaningful work that makes a real difference in the lives of older adults.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My favorite way to unwind after work or on the weekend is by making a delicious and healthy meal for our family. I recharge my batteries by playing pick-up basketball at 5 am twice a week at a local rec center. I spend a lot of time with our five kids and enjoy weekly date nights with my wife. I also enjoy actively participating as a teacher and activity leader for children at my church.

How has your view of aging changed since working at Assured Allies? What do you hope for your own aging? 

Skiing through the ages: Erik with two of his kids on the slopes.

Diving into the science of aging at Assured Allies has opened my eyes as to how society’s views on aging are often false and limiting. I’ve watched each of my four grandparents experience different aging paths, from Parkinson’s, cognitive decline caused by a stroke, neurological disease, and cancer. Watching their struggles, I am motivated to learn about these diseases and do everything I can to prevent them, primarily through sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. I am excited about aging and plan to continue skiing, cooking, and playing basketball until I’m in my 90s, while taking full advantage of future medical advances.

What’s something about you that no one would ever guess is true?

On my first day at Assured Allies, I accepted the company’s challenge to do an impromptu freestyle rap over Zoom, a challenge that no one else has ever accepted (luckily we were a small team back then and the meeting was not recorded). 

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.

At Assured Allies, we work all year long to help older adults age successfully. As a group, we are more familiar than most with age-tech, age-gadgets, and aging-in-place devices and home improvements. But when it comes to personal gift giving, our recommendations hue to one fundamental principle: respect the individuality of the receiver. Older adults are an extremely diverse group, perhaps more so than any other age-defined cohort. Give a gift to the person, not their number, and you’ll be on the right track. 

Keeping that in mind, we think you’ll find this list comforting, in that it probably echos ideas that you have considered or given in past years but also expands the familiar with some creative and/or novel ideas that you might not have considered. 

It’s the Little Things

Relatively inexpensive, no-tech gifts remain perennial favorites. Staff mentions include:

Cozy stuff: throw blankets, fuzzy socks, warm slippers (with non-slip soles), therapeutic pillows and/or chairback cushions. Combine all or several of these to make a cozy basket. Add luxe hot cocoa mix and a personalized or funny mug. 

Low-Tech devices: a weather monitor, an electric jar opener. For card players with or without arthritis, an electric card shuffler might be a big hit (“My grandmother loves hers,” says Rachael Lawrie, AgeAssured Ally.)

Stocking stuffers: Night lights, grandkid-made tree ornaments, notebooks, pens, and credit-card sized magnifying glasses to carry in purse or wallet.

No-tech entertainment: adult coloring books, jigsaw puzzles, and books.

My grandmother does not have a computer at home so I always ask for her list of book recommendations and have been able to find older books from her favorite authors that are no longer sold in stores.” ~ Alexandra Pitkin-Morin, NeverStop Service Delivery Leader

No More “Stuff” Please 

Sometimes more “stuff” is not what’s needed or wanted. Why not give an experience and create happy memories instead of clutter? 

Outings and indulgences much appreciated by older adult gift recipients include whale watching, tickets to a play, stays at a bed and breakfast and/or AirBNB, spa treatments, and massage gift certificates.

My siblings and I took my Father (67) to an escape room for his birthday and we had a great time.” ~ Oram Herstein, Senior Software Engineer

Girls’ night out! I booked a hotel for my mother and I to go out to dinner and spend time together. It was so much fun. Did the same for my mother-in-law a few years ago. It was a really wonderful time.” -Anna Annecca, Senior Research Ally

Food Gifts

Food gifts—a specialty item or basket, a restaurant gift card, a date on the calendar to dine out to cook a delicious meal together at home— also remain popular choices in the “no more stuff” category.

“My parents love a good burger, and Holy Grail Burgers makes an incredible burger.” ~Anna Annecca, Senior Research Ally

“My parents (who are almost 70) do not really like receiving physical gifts as they already have enough “stuff”. So I like to get them either experience gifts or food-related gifts. One time I went to Trader Joe’s and made them a gift basket with fun, different food items and they loved that.” ~ Anna Gray, Senior Ally Specialist Team Leader

“Homemade chocolates made by their five grandkids (with supervision).” ~Erik Wenzel, Senior Product Actuary

“A mocktail gift set. My father can no longer drink alcohol due to his medications.” ~ Anna Annecca, Senior Research Ally

Personalized Gifts

A personalized gift can make someone feel really special and strengthen the bonds between you. A few staff mentions stand out for being relatively unique gifts that you might not have considered: VoiceGift tags that you can attach to any object or stuff in a plush toy or pillow, a NewYorkTimes birthday book, and StoryWorth, a keepsake book of your meaningful moments and memories.

We made a VoiceGift with my son’s voice (who passed away) for my husband’s mother and just recently decided to make one for my dad (who has dementia) with his grandchildren’s voices. You can put them in almost anything, a teddy bear, picture frame!” ~ Danielle Zenus, Senior Ally Specialist.

You can’t go too wrong with personalized photo gifts, which take a little more effort to create but pay off in ongoing delight. A digital photo frame is the #1 most frequently mentioned gift to an older adult from our staff. And the second most frequently mentioned is a photo calendar, particularly one chock full of photos of grandkids and/or times together. Last but not least, who knew that a personalized Yankee Candle (see below)  could pull out all the stops?

We got my grammy a Skylight, which is a digital photo frame. Everyone contributes by emailing pictures to the photo frame (each one has an email to set up)! My grammy loves this!” ~ Robin Carpenter, QA, Compliance, and Training Clinical Ally

“We made my grandmother(who lived out of state) a blanket with a picture of all four of her grandchildren. She kept it at the foot of her bed the last two years of her life and it made her feel close to us.” ~ Morgan Pichel, Senior Ally Specialist

“I got my mom a Yankee Candle candle, with her favorite scent. I was able to personalize it with a picture of us on the front with a short sentence.” ~Morgan Pichel, Senior Ally Specialist

“I have also given my Grandma a personalized Yankee candle, and it brought her to tears! This is a GREAT gift!!!” Robin Carpenter, QA, Compliance, and Training Clinical Ally

Tech Gifts

Being aware of your gift recipient as an individual and not just how old they are is key for tech gifts. A GrandPad that delights one older adult can feel insulting to another. Know your audience! Many older adults are (much) more tech-literate than you might think if you’re under age 50. 

Tech gifts mentioned by staff delight adults of any age, not just older adults: FitBit, Apple Watch, Amazon Alexa, Tile, Oculus, and a Firestick with an Apple TV subscription.

We got my mom a Tile for her keys because she always misplaces them. She loves it! You can put the tile on anything you don’t want to lose—phone, wallet, purse, dog leash, etc.” ~ Marissa Badler, Service Delivery Leader

“I got my father an Oculus Virtual Reality headset last year. He can’t golf anymore but can play virtually.  He now does his occupational therapy on it every day. He and my mom actually bought another so they could go on a virtual vacation together. They’re 87 and 81.” Larry Nisenson, Chief Growth Officer 

And that’s a wrap for our 2022 holiday gift recommendations! We wish all of our friends and readers a very happy holiday season.

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.

Amit Alon, Data Science Team Lead at Assured Allies, recently sat down with a steaming cup of Cortado to chat about her work. After only a few months at the Tel Aviv office, she has found her stride as a leader of the small yet mighty multidisciplinary team at the heart of the company’s innovation.

What motivated you to join Assured Allies?

I have always been drawn to medical and medically-adjacent domains. Previously, I worked at a company that automated medical diagnosis delivery to consumers. Assured Allies intrigued me because it has a higher standard than a purely medical one. We want to help all older adults age healthily, yes, but also to age successfully in a more holistic sense. Our latest product, NeverStop, a wellness program for adults 55+ offered in partnership with financial companies, addresses our members’ financial health, physical health, social life, purpose in life, and much more. 

Other than being excited by the company’s mission, I liked the vibes. Everyone I spoke to during the interview process spoke passionately about their work and seemed genuinely dedicated to the company’s mission. 

You have worked in both academia and private industry, with a rich background in computational biology, math, statistics, and computer science. What excites you about data science at Assured Allies? 

Our overall approach is creating some disruption in the industry. Our products allow our clients, insurance and financial companies, to be more efficient, inclusive, and accurate in terms of trajectory prediction than ever before, particularly for long-term care insurance carriers.

Take AgeAssured, a program that helps older adults age in place. Our data science uses historical data (from both individual policyholders and large-scale data sets) to estimate when any given individual might benefit from support, usually in the form of a simple, low-cost intervention that our company provides. By doing so, we’ve demonstrated that we can help policyholders age in place and help long-term insurance carriers avoid or defer claims. No other company has been able to do this yet.

To support our new wellness program, NeverStop, we created Assured Digital Underwriting, an all-new form of underwriting that is done 100% online in less than 30 minutes. It broadens access to long-term care insurance (LTC) and other retirement financial products by being quick, easy, and frictionless in addition to providing almost immediate results. We have also infused standard actuarial calculations in the industry with new data that allow us to configure products for people who normally would be rejected from any LTC plan.

How will data science at Assured Allies continue to foster innovation?

We are already making waves and the future potential is huge. Our ongoing edge is our in-house clinical-data-actuary trifecta and the deeper and broader proprietary data sets that will continue to sharpen our predictive analytics. With our partners, we will develop new and exciting products that help thousands of older adults to thrive financially and age successfully. We will continue to refine all of our products in terms of digital underwriting efficacy and more robust, evidence-based, and personalized actuarial modeling.

What does it take to be both successful and data-driven as a company?

Data science can be more hands-on than you think.

Paradoxically, it takes a leap of faith first of all. And then you need excellent researchers who can bring you the right data for your vision to succeed.

Why a leap of faith?

You have to start out with a strong vision of what’s possible, and then persuade others that you are correct. The financial industry is fairly conservative. When you try to improve any long-lived paradigm, it’s only natural that you will stumble upon resistance. This can be most challenging when regulated services are involved. Ultimately, this is a productive tension, as it raises the bar for us as a company. We must be absolutely sure that our data modeling represents the real world, and communicate that in a clear and effective way to our clients and partners.  

What do you love the most about your job?

I am surrounded by creative people who challenge me every day. My absolute favorite thing is to tackle that one area or problem that everyone avoids. The difficulty forces me to be creative and seek solutions in far-flung places. Which brings me to another thing I love about this company: the multidisciplinary collaboration. My team, for example, is composed of only four data scientists but we each have unique backgrounds that allow us to converse across at least six different fields—physics, statistics, mathematics, computer science, biology, and engineering. When we tackle a problem together, we have such interesting and fruitful discussions! We also work very closely with the clinical research and actuary teams.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to go to the beach and paddleboard with my spouse and daughter. I also love watching movies, especially Marvel comics and action flicks. And, to my surprise, I recently discovered I enjoy baking. I used to avoid it because I was so bad at it, but ever since becoming a mother, I’ve found it to be one of the most bonding mother-daughter activities yet.

What are your hopes for your own successful aging?

I hope to be a NeverStopper when I turn 55!

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.

Our AgeAssured Allies are aging professionals who help our members age successfully in whatever place they call home. Because everyone ages differently and in a unique setting, Allies often have to think on their feet to adapt our evidence-based interventions and practices to individual members’ lives and circumstances. Both Allies and members also bring their own passions and rich histories to each interaction, as you’ll see by listening to this interview with Senior Ally Specialist Danielle Zenus

What do you most enjoy about helping our members age in place? 

I have only ever seen myself wanting to help people, and this is my dream job. I strive to be an active listener and an advocate for those who need one. I love using my “detective skills” to find resources and services for our members all over the U.S. The joy I experience in providing a service to our members every day is more than I could have hoped for. There’s a ripple effect, too, as I often end up providing support to their caregivers and other family members. It’s a wonderful feeling. 

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing over and over again how the smallest things can make such a big difference. The check-in calls and small items that we send our members, from educational resources, grabbers, sock aids or night lights, are so appreciated. Sometimes just listening attentively to what they need and what is going on in their lives has an impact. On one of my check-in calls, a member even said “love you!” at the end.

What’s most challenging about your work?

Sometimes our role is to help connect members to resources in their community that they might not know about. When it goes well, this simple act can open many doors for people and support their desire to remain independent. Recently I helped a couple, Beverly, age 87, and Donald, 88, connect to several local resources in their area—from housekeeping services to meal delivery, caregiver support, and personal energy-conserving tips—that have made their lives a lot easier, especially as Beverly’s health has declined and Donald has stepped in as her caregiver. “I love your approach,” he told me. “The Allies are so thorough and do their job beautifully.”

What’s often challenging is not being able to find a solution to a specific need that a member may have, either because it is beyond the scope of what our company is able to provide, or because there’s a lack of resources in their particular area. For example, in rural areas there can be limited transportation and delivery options. I always try to find the best solution to meet members’ needs and discuss all the possible options with them. Even when there is no immediate or easy solution, there is a lot of value in active listening and brainstorming together. Awareness of what could be is often a valuable first step in figuring out a solution that can be just as good if not better.

What’s something about your job that most people don’t know about? 

Allies work on the frontline with members but we also work behind the scenes on many projects, including implementations, testing, and training to help Assured Allies continue to improve and grow as a company.  

You are about to celebrate your 50th birthday. Has working with older adults affected your views about your own aging? 

Every life has its challenges, and aging can be one of them. I am inspired by the spirit, generosity, and wisdom of many of our members and hope to emulate them as I age. Donald, for example, who I mentioned earlier, is a role model for me. It’s more unusual for husbands to step in as caregivers, but in the wake of Beverly’s health issues, Donald has taken up all of the shopping, cooking, and housework, and helps Beverly manage her medications. His spirit is undaunted. “I love being a caregiver,” says Donald, “It gives me joy.” 

I am also inspired by Beverly, who has accepted Donald’s caregiving with humor and grace. Sometimes that can be even harder than caregiving. “I love this restaurant!” Beverly tells Donald, who now cooks most of their meals. They laugh together a lot.

I am also, always, inspired by my oldest son Aaron, who passed away about three years ago. He always showed kindness and compassion to all and was an avid volunteer. He spent the last two years of his life coaching Special Olympics basketball with our family (my bother-in-law has special needs and we have always been involved in some way). 

Danielle and her son Aaron in 2016.

I am so sorry to hear about your son. That’s quite the legacy.  

His legacy is a big part of how I view my own. I want to make sure no one forgets him, and if he is watching over us, I want him to be proud of me and my family. We created the Aaron Zenus Foundation in his honor and recently opened up a candy store in Milford, MA called Sweet Inspirations that offers employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. 

That’s amazing! And very moving. I imagine that your own life experiences help you connect with members. We all suffer losses in life.

Losing a loved one can be the most difficult time in your life and yes, many of our members have experienced such losses, often many times over. Having a focus to channel some of that grief can make an impact on not only your own life, but the lives of many others in the community. I’ve seen many members find a way to do that on their own, and sometimes talking with an Ally can help. The small steps you take in the face of life’s challenges really do make a big difference over time.

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.

Our AgeAssured program helps adults who have long-term care insurance policies to age safely in place. The heart of the program is the outreach done by our Allies, professional aging experts who listen actively to our members, recognize and discuss opportunities to help them age successfully, and help them to make positive changes in their lives with information, support, and follow-up. While that’s an accurate definition, it doesn’t begin to describe the rich texture of each individual interaction and how rewarding and meaningful they are for both the Ally and our AgeAssured members. Here are three member stories that highlight some of those more intangible or unexpected benefits.

Little things make a big difference

Recovering from an acute event can be overwhelming, and it’s common to be unaware of all of the available products and services that can make your life easier or safer. When Jani, 85, was recovering at home after hip replacement surgery, Ally Angelina sent her multiple small items that helped her to be more agile and comfortable on her own, including a motion light, walker basket, sock aid, personal grabber, long-handled bath brush, leg-lift strap, and more. The cumulative effect of all these low-tech upgrades “made it easier for me to stay home,” says Jani. “Angelina’s been a godsend; she explains everything to me and this makes you feel good, that somebody else is looking after you.”

Finding solutions together not only makes a big difference in the present, it inspires members facing future challenges to be more optimistic and proactive about seeking help in order to continue to age successfully in place. Plus, now they know exactly who to call: their Ally!

Being seen and appreciated

Leesil, a caregiver for her over 90-year-old mother, disabled adult son, and a grandchild, burst into tears when she received a Caregiver’s Daily Affirmation card from her Ally, Robin. Feeling championed for her solitary and unsung caregiving meant a lot to Leesil, who often felt overwhelmed and inadequate. She now keeps the card next to her bed and reads it daily.

Being seen and appreciated by an Ally who empathized with her daily struggles was a powerful release for Leesil. She understood that she was not alone, was more forgiving of herself, and realized that she needed more help.

A caregiving ripple effect

Leesil struggled with asking for help, but Robin coached her to begin by asking trusted family and friends to help with specific tasks. The generous response was more than she’d hoped for. Neighbors and friends began taking turns cooking and delivering dinners. They also helped with hosting playdates for Leesil’s grandchild. Inspired by the community, Leesil’s husband started helping out more with the laundry and grocery shopping.

Thanks to a wider circle of support, Leesil is no longer in a constant state of stress. And she’s able to be a better caregiver to her family, too. She started going on daily walks with her mother, which had been recommended by a physical therapist to improve her mother’s leg strength. Since the walks started, her mother has been more stable and hasn’t had a fall.

Leesil’s story is a wonderful example of the ripple effect. When an Ally helps one older adult, it often helps one or more people in the same household, for many older adults are both caregivers and care receivers.

Validation when you need it most

By definition, an Ally is someone who is on your side, and sometimes this can mean playing the role of a patient advocate. Ellen, 84, suffered from chronic pain and felt that she wasn’t being heard or taken seriously, let alone getting answers from her many doctors. Her Ally, Anna, spoke with her frequently during this period as she was navigating doctor appointments. Anna’s focus was empathy, support, and validation: Ellen had a right to keep asking questions and insisting on better answers. Thanks in part to her newfound persistence, Ellen is now trying a new therapy to help with the pain in her legs. Anna will check back in a few months to see how she’s doing.

It can be hard to advocate for yourself without support. Having an Ally at your back can make all the difference in your persistence and your health outcomes. “When I talk to you,” Ellen told Anna, “it feels good to know that there is somebody who cares and finds a solution.”

Our company is proud of the work our Allies do, and we continue to learn from them and our thousands of members as to how we can best support successful aging. Our goal in the near future is to widen access to many hundreds of thousands more.

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.

Katelynn Dornbusch, OTD, OTR/L is dedicated to her family and her work, in that order, and for that reason we’re doubly grateful that she carved aside fifteen minutes to chat about what she does at Assured Allies, and why she’s so passionate about working to make Successful Aging possible for current and future generations.

Why did you choose to join Assured Allies?

When Covid hit, I had to leave clinical care for health reasons, but still wanted to do the work I love, helping people live the life they want to live. Assured Allies seemed a perfect fit. Working initially as an Ally, or case manager in our AgeAssured program, I quickly fell in love with the company, the culture, and the mission to help older adults age successfully on their own terms. 

What would you say is unique about what Assured Allies is doing, especially compared to other places you’ve worked in the same field?

Marrying research with the actual needs of people – and then putting it into practice – is a really, really hard thing to do. Our company believes we can do it. And that’s one of the attitudes I love here — everyone has this can-do attitude. We are improving older adults’ lives by infusing clinical practice with data. We are data-driven, but we are also sensitive to the fact that life is life and people are people and things don’t always crunch out into numbers. 

What’s your role today?

I’m grateful that the company was quick to recognize the skills that I bring to the table and has given me opportunities to grow professionally. My official title is Senior Clinical Operations & Development Ally. It’s hard to describe what I do because it’s at the crossroads of several different worlds. The connecting thread is that I get to say, ok, here are our big ideas. Now how do we accomplish them from a clinical point of view? 

I get to use all my skills in fun and intriguing ways. On the operations side, I help to define clinical protocols so that when our Allies are on the phone with members we can track what they are doing clinically and make sure we’re accomplishing our company’s goals. On the R&D side, I make sure that the tools we build and the data analysis we do is informed by clinical understanding. Last but not least, I help train the Allies to use the tools and also stay up to date on the processes and procedures of our program.  

Can you give an example of how all it all comes together—the research, data, clinical expertise and hands-on intervention—for members in the program? 

Sure. Members can opt to fill out a questionnaire that helps us identify what’s going on in their particular aging journey. We then run their answers against our data to understand what risks they have. Then we take the next step. For example, we’ll not only say you’re at risk for falling, but now let’s actually help you. Let’s get you enrolled in a fall prevention program. Let’s get you some educational materials. Let’s make sure your house is set up to reduce your risk for falling. So we’re actually taking what we know from the data and what we learn about a particular person’s situation and then doing something about it, which I think is pretty cool.

You’re an occupational therapist. What is that exactly?

Nobody really understands what occupational therapists do, maybe because we’re hard to pin down. We do everything from helping someone relearn how to go up and down the stairs, get in and out of the shower, or get their pants back on after some type of injury or disability. It’s not all physical either. Some occupational therapists work in schools to help students with learning disabilities. Others are involved in industries like construction to make sure that the jobs being tasked are ergonomically sustainable for workers. 

Basically, we are trained to solve problems so humans can get things done. I love solving problems. The most rewarding part of my job at Assured Allies is solving problems with real life consequences for individuals who want to age successfully.

Speaking of successful aging, what does that mean to you? 

Successful aging to me is when people get to live the life they desire as they age. My parents are younger, but my wife’s parents are in their sixties and seventies and we are starting to figure out how they can continue to do all the things that they love to do as they age. It’s the same thing that we’re doing at Assured Allies, making sure people have the resources, skills, and knowledge to age on their own terms.

In your career working with older adults, what has struck you the most on a personal level?

This is a little off script for me, as I tend to be a really optimistic person. But before my job at Assured Allies, I worked in an acute care inpatient setting with older adults who, on the whole, lacked the resources, education, and social support to continue to live happy and healthy, productive lives. It was incredibly daunting and challenging every day to walk in and feel like I was powerless to solve this really big problem that a lot of people in our world have. It still makes me tear up. It is such a big problem.

I guess it’s part of why I’m so passionate about my work at Assured Allies. We believe that we can solve this problem of successful aging for many people, on a large scale. It’s really exciting to get to work and to move the needle on that problem, every day.

What’s the company culture like, in your experience? 

I love this company’s culture. I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to work for a company with a culture of transparency and honesty that starts from the top and filters down through everything we do. Also, the company has repeatedly shown that they value me not just as their employee, but also as a human. My greatest achievement in life is my family. They are my number one priority and Assured Allies has always recognized and values that. It’s easier to balance work and family when your company supports your priorities. It’s a really wonderful and beautiful thing.

What are you looking forward to when you are an older adult?

Ooh, this is a good one. I’d like to be able to share all the beautiful moments of my life with my family. I’ll want to teach all the young whipper snappers new things, what I’ve learned about life. My biggest goal in life now, to make the world a better place, won’t change. And so as I get older, I’ll probably try to pull on the generations behind me to continue to do the things that they think make this world a better place.

Want to work with Katelynn? We’re hiring! 

Interviewing Katelynn (L), on Zoom.

Michelle Spinale, Director of Brand & Product Marketing at Assured Allies, impresses with her kindness, intelligence, and a magic ability to bring order gradually and systematically out of creative chaos. She sat down with me recently for a glass of wine over Zoom to talk about her role leading the marketing for an exciting new product launching in 2022 with the potential to change the aging trajectory.

Why did you choose to join Assured Allies?

I am inspired by  the company’s mission — to make successful aging accessible and achievable for everyone. Every day, 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65. By 2030, this growing population will reach 73 million, representing one in five people, an enormous untapped market with unique needs and desires. There’s overwhelming momentum to celebrate, rather than defy, the number of birthday cake candles. I want to be part of it. 

What is your role?

I was hired to lead the brand and product marketing for Assured Allies’ soon-to-be launched  B2C wellness program, offered with long-term care and other financial products sold by leading insurance carriers. It leverages data, AI algorithms, technology, and our proprietary science-based approach to predict and positively shift the aging trajectory, reduce the risk of age-related decline, and help adults 55+ age successfully. We haven’t announced the name yet, but I’m excited for the big unveil when the product launches later in 2022. 

What would you say is unique about what Assured Allies is doing? 

The Insurtech and Agetech space is rapidly evolving. Covid-19 has only accelerated the growth of technology-driven solutions to improve the health, quality of life, and well-being of the 55+ market segment, who are more active, tech-savvy, and wealthier than any other generation before them.

Assured Allies is unique in how it builds a bridge between financial resources and health outcomes. Our wellness program will be sold as an integral part of financial products offered in partnership with leading insurance companies. Members will be incentivized to earn additional long-term care coverage over time by participating in the program. 

You’re currently hiring for a Lifecycle Marketing Manager. What are you looking for, and how do you look forward to working with this person?

It’s an exciting time to join and help build the customer journey and experience. We will motivate members to take a proactive role in their health with customized tools, a personalized plan, and a health coach to help them navigate the best successful aging path forward. I’m looking for a collaborative, self-motivated person with a combination of strategy, execution skills, and a passion for analytics and data-driven marketing. The Lifecycle Marketing Manager will manage our multi-channel communication strategy, including audience segmentation, messaging, creative design, and copywriting. We will work very closely together on goal setting, engagement tactics, and KPI’s. 

It’s really a fantastic opportunity for someone who has some digital marketing experience and wants to grow, learn and get exposure (one of the benefits of startups) to a multi-disciplinary team of experts. I’m inspired by my colleagues on a daily basis. The Assured Allies’ culture is steeped in collaboration, innovation, and transparency. Good ideas bubble up anywhere and are listened to. The company is growing quickly, and there is excellent upward mobility.

What do you find most rewarding and most challenging in your work?

The stakes are high. Disrupting a traditional industry and tackling one of society’s most significant emerging opportunities and changing the aging trajectory, takes a global team of superheroes. There is no roadmap. We are building something that does not yet exist. Each day requires a bit of grit, fortitude, agility, and humor as we forge ahead with our eyes on the big prize. 

What do most people misunderstand about marketing? 

That is hard for me to answer. Maybe that people sometimes assume marketing is like lipstick, something cosmetic added to a product in the final stages to make it sell. But marketing is much deeper than that. It’s the brand’s heart and soul — the consumer/customer voice — the creative story that connects products with audiences — and the engine that inspires cross-functional collaboration, innovation, and business growth. 

How do you balance work vs. life? 

Since Covid, the two blend more than ever. Working from home has inspired new self-care strategies. I savor my morning coffee instead of grabbing a cup on the run. I also schedule my Peloton workouts and evening chats with friends from coast to coast, which makes me feel both grounded and connected. 

Having a dog that decides when it’s time to take a break and play helps too. Charli, my feisty 4-year Cavachon, likes to Zoom-bomb meetings. When I need an inspiration break to reframe my thinking, I’ll watch a motivational TedX talk. And, I’m planning several summer weekend escapes to great New England destinations like Martha’s Vineyard, the Berkshires, and Kennebunkport, ME.

Michelle and Katharine unwind after a day of remote work with an occasional Happy Hour.

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.

In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, neuroscientist Hila Zadka, PhD, Clinical Research Team Lead at Assured Allies, sat down to share her journey as a woman in science; the influence of positive role modeling; and why she left academia to support Assured Allies’ mission to bring about Successful Aging.

What drew you to neuroscience?

I’ve always enjoyed asking questions. As an undergraduate majoring in biology and psychology, I didn’t have a clear career in mind. I liked asking questions, breaking them down to smaller problems, and then selecting ones that I could actually test and gain insights from. This is what drew me to science and into a PhD program. 

Neuroscience, the study of the nervous system, appealed to me because it isn’t one field. It can be computer science, biology, psychology, linguistics or even philosophy. Since I was having a hard time choosing a focus, the variety appeased my inner debate. Most neuroscience research is basic science, but it’s increasingly able to apply insights to real life, and I was excited by that too.

What effect, if any, did being a woman have on your career path?

I had two of my three kids while pursuing my PhD, so being a woman definitely affected my cadence. It was a very big challenge. But my mother, who had a very successful career as Deputy Director at Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, was a wonderful role model. Yes, I sometimes have had imposter syndrome, lacked confidence, or was afraid to ask questions at talks. But my mother’s model affected me in a very positive way, and she’s inspired me to be a similar role model for my daughters. I want them to see me being successful as a professional, as well as a mother at home. I want them to feel free to tackle anything, to excel at science and math and all those things that in some cases girls feel less confident about.

What advice do you give younger women in science?

Ask all your questions, even if they seem dumb. When I started my PhD, I often felt too dumb or stupid to ask questions. But then someone in the audience would ask my question and the reaction was, wow that’s an excellent question! So now I tell my daughters that if they have a question, they shouldn’t hesitate to ask it, because there are at least two or three others who have the same, and you’re doing them a favor. It’s also important to hear your own voice, speak out loud, fake it till you make it. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”

Why did you move from academia to private industry and Assured Allies? 

It was a gradual transition. When I completed my PhD, I became an expert in a field but it was a very very narrow field shared by a handful of people in the whole world. I wanted my research to have more of an impact. So I worked as a researcher with Israel CDC on infectious disease surveillance and the bariatric surgery registry. My research was more connected, but I still felt that the difference I made was really small. Next I worked in a data science unit at a tertiary hospital here in Tel Aviv (Ichilov), where I worked with department heads and senior physicians to break down research questions, perform analysis, and publish results. One of these studies actually changed some of the hospital protocols in treating sepsis. That was really cool and very rewarding. 

Still I wanted more impact. When I interviewed with Assured Allies and talked with co-founders Roee Nahir and Afik Gal about the company’s mission, I was really surprised. Wow, they want to change the trajectory of aging? They think they can actually do that? It sounded like science fiction. But I kept asking questions and gradually realized, ok, it makes sense. It’s super complicated of course; these are super complex products that we have. But I do believe that we can apply research to have a very direct effect on the quality of older adults’ lives. It’s a very innovative idea, but it’s not unattainable. It makes a lot of sense and has a business value that you can’t deny.

What’s unique about Assured Allies company culture? 

It’s a very multidisciplinary company with offices in Boston and Tel Aviv, and that creates all sorts of communication challenges. Someone who enjoys these sorts of interfaces – between research, marketing, operations, data science, and product development – will really enjoy this environment. I love it.

What surprised you when you first started working here?

When I first came on board, everyone was very professional and very smart but what really surprised me is that they were also super nice. That combination is very rare. Also I hadn’t anticipated the motivation that comes from working with others on such an ambitious mission: changing the aging trajectory. We are doing something big. It creates a very good feeling.

Your job pulls you in many directions each day. How do you prioritize daily tasks?

Like many, I struggle with it. But I have some tips and tricks. One is to look at my calendar at the beginning of the week and close out any open two- or three-hour blocks of time. Of course if something urgent happens I can adjust, but scheduling chunks of uninterrupted work time really helps me get things done. Otherwise my calendar gets completely full with stuff.

My second tip is to have a paper notebook at all times. In Zoom meetings, I take down notes and then every couple days I go through them and pull out tasks so I don’t forget anything. Also I rely on the very intelligent people around me to remind me, without a fuss, that I’ve forgotten something. 

What do you do for fun?

I really enjoy reading, and the Kindle app on my phone lets me read at the kids’ playground or wherever I am. I also enjoy hiking. And I sometimes take online courses. I just started one in javascript because I saw Eitan Mass [Web development Team Lead] doing cool stuff on his computer and thought oh, I want to do that too! So now I’m learning to code in javascript.

Hila in Tel Aviv; Kath in Boston.

We’re Hiring! Join our team. Work with Hila!

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.