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.

Senior Product Actuary Nkenge Blue shared a cup of coffee with me over Zoom recently to chat about how her team is infusing traditional actuarial science with clinical research, technology and data science to help make Assured Allies’ Successful Aging mission possible. 

Nkenge Blue at apple farm
Nkenge at a company apple-picking event.

Why did you choose to join Assured Allies?

The mission is really what moved me.

Before I joined Assured Allies, I spent my entire career as an actuary at life insurance companies. I learned a lot about the fundamentals of the insurance business and actuarial principles, but was looking for an opportunity to innovate and make a real difference in people’s lives. Assured Allies’ mission to help people age successfully inspired me, and I was excited by the idea of pairing an evidence-based wellness program with life and long-term care (LTC) insurance.

What does Successful Aging mean to you?

I think about the elders in my community and how my grandparents didn’t want to lose or to leave their house; how they wanted to be able to do things on their own. That had a big impact on me. So for me it’s about aging in place and maintaining agency over your life as you age.

What is your role at Assured Allies?

I head up the actuarial team. We do a lot of different things. We work really closely with carriers to develop, design, and price innovative go-to-market life, annuity, and LTC insurance products. Since life insurance is a heavily regulated industry, we also help support preparing the filing materials that must be submitted to regulators. 

We also manage risk internally for Assured Allies, particularly with respect to our wellness program. Policyholders who participate in the wellness program can earn additional LTC insurance coverage that Assured Allies backs. We believe so strongly that our program will improve participants’ aging trajectory and health status that we take on the risk of the additional coverage for the carrier. So my team does a lot of analysis on this. What’s the impact to Assured Allies bottom line if we overestimate the impact of our wellness program? What if we underestimate it? Things like that. 

What’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of actuarial work?

Most people think that all we do is just calculate when people are going to die. But that is such a small part of the work we do. We are in the business of assessing and managing risk – any risk. Sure, mortality is one risk, but there’s also morbidity and aging risk, interest rate risk, regulatory risk, even corporate reputational risk. So it’s a lot more diverse than people think.

What’s unique about the actuarial work being done at Assured Allies?

Two things. Traditionally actuaries look at a snapshot of a prospective policyholder’s health – their BMI, A1C level, blood pressure, etc. – and compare it to historical data to calculate risk. But my team works with Assured Allies’ clinical and R&D teams to try and quantify how we can step in, intervene with a cutting-edge wellness program, and change the aging trajectory. So number one that’s a very cool, different way of approaching this. Number two, we are also a technology company and my team gets to use all of the data science tools and technology that the Israeli team is building to facilitate and deepen our actuarial work. That’s pretty unique too. We are merging the clinical side and the technical side to create something that actuaries haven’t really done yet.

What is most challenging and rewarding about your work?

Working in uncharted territory. Building something from scratch is really exciting. If we deliver on our promise to help people age in place and stay healthy for longer, it will feel really great. It’s like the North Star that we’re all working towards. It’s also the biggest challenge because there’s nothing else out there that matches what we are doing; there are no maps. We are leveraging data sets when we can find them and building new bridges between clinical research and traditional actuarial practice at insurance companies. We also have to be able to sit down with a client and translate what we’re doing in a way that inspires them to come on board with us, which can be challenging! 

How would you describe the company culture?

The culture here is more open and interdisciplinary than other companies I’ve worked for. People jump in and add value wherever they can. There are great development opportunities for staff and I feel like we’re creating the culture as a group and growing with it together.

How do you manage life-work balance?

I like to step away from my desk to take a break and reset, and working from home gives me that flexibility. Cooking lunch for example – instead of dashing out from the office to grab a bite (I used to work in New York City), I take the time to make myself a nice hot meal. Today was sauteed spinach and feta!  And I have a basketball hoop here so I can shoot around and take a break when I need to.

Interviewing Nkenge on Zoom (with basketball hoop)
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.

Michal Shahal brings 25 years experience to her new position as VP of Human Resources at Assured Allies, an insuretech start-up that completed an $18.3M Series A funding round in July 2021 and is currently on track to more than double its current staff by the end of 2022. She recently spent an hour on Zoom, the brilliant Tel Aviv skyline behind her, to share ideas about how HR can navigate recruitment and retention in today’s tough labor market and how she is already beginning to pivot in anticipation of more changes to come.

Assured Allies increased staff by 10% last week. Surely that’s a record for Assured Allies and impressive for any company in today’s labor market. How did you do it?

My heart goes out to everyone. We are all in the same boat. There’s a war for talent. And it is true what they say, that post Covid the world of work has changed. I have always been a freak of data and of learning from smart people in my domain, so during the first few months of Covid, being locked up in my home, I searched for words of wisdom from seasoned HR professionals. I came across a super smart guy – Steve Cadigan, First Chief HR Officer for LinkedIn and author of a book called “Workquake.” Covid has indeed caused a “work quake,” and Cadigan was one of the first to notice that job seekers today care first and foremost about finding meaningful work. Happily, our company’s mission to support successful aging is just that. There’s not one person whom I talk to about my new job whose ears don’t perk up and go Huh! Tell me more.

Secondly, sell your company’s uniqueness or edge. We get a lot of traction from candidates because of the “twist” in mindset around aging and how there is a way to tackle it from a different angle. We have a very unique value proposition. Helping people age in place by adding a wellness component to long-term care insurance is a domain that is not flooded with competitors, so it is relatively easy for us to brand and position ourselves.

Last but not least, put your best people out there to interview candidates. Leverage your existing leaders and subject matter experts to sell themselves. Candidates choose us for our mission but also for our people. They want to work for people who will respect them, listen, and care. We are very diligent about the soft skills of the people we hire — in addition to skills and experience, we look for people who are soft at the edges, open minded, and creative: the qualities we want our company to project to others.

That sounds a lot like marketing.

Yes! In 2021, you want each employee to exercise their marketing muscles. I urge our people to leverage daily conversations to talk about the company. The lady in the supermarket, my neighbor, my mom’s best friend, my daughter’s best friend’s dad — I talk to everyone as I never know who will spread the word around. We are all ambassadors of Assured. Candidates who don’t end up working for our company, are likely to talk about Assured Allies with their friends, family, parents, and kids. One of our sales channels is our candidates.

Speaking of interviewing, do you have any tips for doing it remotely?

You only have one hour to build trust, to listen with intent to what you’re being told — and what you’re not being told — and to try and observe body language on Zoom. It’s challenging. One way to broker open communication and trust is to expose your own vulnerability. For example, when I start interviewing I say, “Here’s a disclaimer: I’ve only been with the company for two months. My perspective, therefore, is all very fresh.” The fact that I’m a newcomer makes people feel closer as we have something in common. It often triggers a conversation on why did I choose to work here, what do I like about the culture? I put myself out there in the interview and candor from my end inspires the same from the candidate. Start-ups can be demanding at times, so I emphasize how I prioritize work-life balance for my own wellness. I talk about how we are passionate and opinionated – and how that sometimes causes clashes, which in my mind, is the beauty of working in a fast-paced, multi-functional company. We move fast; not everyone can handle it well.

In short, when interviewing remotely, you, as the interviewer, need to work harder on projecting the company culture into a Zoom screen. There’s no other context — no office space to show around, no coffee machine, no faces that the candidate meets when he/she sits in the lobby to wait for the interview. Just a one man/woman, one-hour show on videochat.

How does Assured Allies support diversity?

I came from a company [Dell EMC] where the vast majority of the employees were engineers. At Assured Allies, due to the nature of what we do, there are engineers, actuaries, marketers, social workers, a neuroscientist, and an occupational therapist. All of these people in one room: that’s innovation! And we are multicultural by definition as we operate in cities across two countries, U.S. and Israel. Until last week’s hires we were 51% women. Now we are 49% but we will fix that.

I can honestly say that upon hire – I was puzzled by how everyone here feels safe and comfortable being who they are. We talk about diversity in the open. As we operate in the space of caring – it seems only natural that we should care for each other. I was at one of our teams’ offsites a few weeks back, and no one in the room was from the same age group, ethnicity, location, or family status as the other. Who cares? It was a non-issue. That’s the beauty of it all. I wouldn’t choose to work for a company where I need to explain or justify diversity. Sorry, it is so 2017. Not to say we don’t need to continuously raise awareness, but we are at such a great point now, and I would like to maintain it.

How has onboarding and retention been affected by remote work?

I wish I had new news on this topic. Let me be pragmatic: remote onboarding takes double the time of in-person. We try to focus on little things that make people feel like they’re part of something bigger. We send them a company T-shirt and swag, a box of chocolates, the little things that make one feel welcomed. We try to make onboarding seamless in terms of IT, and we ensure that new hires have a buddy to walk them through things that they might not feel comfortable asking their manager about. Care and personalization go a long way. We try to touch people and personalize their onboarding process.

There is a decline in engagement when people do not go into the office. My way of dealing with it is to focus on training the leaders. Team members feel engaged when they connect to their direct manager and to the company’s leadership. Since Covid, leaders accustomed to touching base with staff in the office or seeing people over lunch have had to develop a different set of leadership muscles. Leaders have had to compensate for needs that were met by driving into a physical office and meeting people. Our work “identity” was created seamlessly via daily routines. We did invest in engaging people — retention is not a new HR focus — but now we need to teach leaders to embed that in their weekly routines. Not all leaders were born with a natural talent to sustain and nurture individual and team productivity, social interactions, group dynamics, and continuous innovation — all done remotely, whilst dealing with their own hardships at home. Come to think about it, when you open your laptop in the morning, in your living room, what is really the difference between working for Amazon, Apple, Uber or Assured Allies? It is most probably your manager, your team and the connection you create with them. This is where HR is focused today. How do we manage and optimize these “connections” to enable productivity and engagement?

These topics keep HR executives up at night. We are learning as we go and from each other. Caring and transparency are key. Leaders need to do what feels like overcommunication. Even if it feels artificial, it is on leaders to continuously excite people and show them how their work relates to the larger roadmap of the company’s success. We need to be crystal clear about tasks and provide ongoing feedback.

TBD whether this will work. The average tenancy in some companies is only 2-2.5 years and a huge factor is the decline in engagement. Remote work is less “social,” which leaves people even more focused on their daily tasks and how their job will contribute to their career and their employability. Since Covid, my thoughts are that people have little tolerance for tasks they don’t like. Once upon a time, even if you disliked your job, you would look forward to coming into work if you enjoyed the people. For many of us Covid took that away.

So we try to make sure we give people interesting work and provide opportunities to meet socially with fun company events like apple picking, a catered event featuring an expert lecture and a chat with one of our investors, a Christmas party. These special occasions energize people like batteries so that when they go back home and open their laptops, they feel connected to something bigger.

And the Workquake is not over yet. Looking out from where you sit today, what do you see as the HR challenges of the next year? Five years?

We will all need to adjust to multiple ways of recruitment and employment. It’s a constant battle and more and more very talented people are choosing to opt out of full-time employment. They want to work from anywhere; work on what they want to; they want to take charge of their own schedules. I am anticipating more people will choose to work part-time and/or as contractors. We need to adopt a flexible mindset to operate fluidly with hybrid teams that consist of a mix of full-time, part-time, and remote employees and contractors. We’ll be seeing a spike of professionals hired as contractors in the next five years. We need to find ways to engage these people, to leverage their talents and expertise and let them move on. By all means we will still need the core competencies of full-time employees, but their longevity is going to be shorter, too. Younger generations are going to have shorter tenures of 1.5-2 years, so we need to onboard and train them really fast to get an optimal ROI. It’s an art and not a science. The best HR minds are on it!

Another trend is we will need to break away from the traditional models that we’ve relied upon. Reality is much more complex now. For example, consider the standard performance review process: does it really contribute to overall performance? Should we have more iterative performance reviews embedded in the work culture versus the rigid traditional processes?

In addition, investors care increasingly about diversity and sustainability, so HR must be an activist in terms of pushing these directives into the company’s strategy. This is far more than just a check-the-box effort. It means really embracing progressive change because it will continue to be a differentiator for companies who want to do well in the market.

Work culture has been upended by Covid. I read articles and listen to podcasts, trying to figure this out. For HR, the past few years imposed a mindblowing revolution. What is the culture of Assured Allies? If most of us work from home, what is culture at all? Is it an aggregate? Is it a meeting on Zoom? Let’s break all the boxes. If flexibility is the winning theme, then let’s not try to impose a “one size fits all” strict way of doing things. If our company is spread in different GEOS, and consists of multiple functional teams, we should listen to what people need and want, we should focus on what works best for specific teams in specific countries and personalize the work schedules and models. Hybrid work and flexibility should be practiced as we keep in mind the end game: staying focused, meeting business goals, winning the market and achieving our mission. Lastly, it is on HR leaders to trigger ongoing “sanity checks” to validate the new ways of work. As we are writing the bible of a post-Covid era, it’s best to stay as humble as can, keep tracking data (hard and soft), share experiences, assess our new practices, and modify them as needed.

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.

After twenty years of working passionately in the field of dementia and aging in the non-profit sector, new Wellness Director Dr. Michal Herz selected Assured Allies, a fast-moving insurtech company, as one of the best ways to instantiate a global pilot project for successful aging.

One month on the job as Wellness Director, is it too early to describe your vision for your role at Assured Allies?

It’s an emerging role. My main role is to look at the current Age Assured program — which helps older adults with long-term care insurance to age successfully in their homes for a longer period of time before they require institutional care — and pull together existing learnings so that, from a vision point of view, we can take the product forward. It’s a good moment to come on board because the company already has a stable product clinically and technologically as well as a team of professionals forward-facing with our members. We are still learning a lot and the growing number of insurance carriers who have contracted with us —  with a combined total of 20,000 policyholders — will allow us to draw more and more powerful inferences that enable us to scale in a very smart way.

Given your background in academia and the non-profit sector, your arrival here seems like an especial validation of what I’ve heard many say, that they chose Assured Allies because the company’s business model is aligned with its mission to do real good in the world. 

I have been in the field of aging my whole career, celebrating 20 years this December. Nineteen of those years I worked in the non-profit sector across a variety of roles, from academic research to project management to policy work. Assured Allies is the first time that I’ve seen a business combine the speed, funding, and technological abilities of a for-profit with the systematic and altruistic thinking of a non-profit. The combination is fascinating. I was tired of big organizations that move slowly. 

I also think there’s a unique opportunity for Assured Allies, which operates mainly in the United States, to be a kind of catalyst for other countries, or a global pilot project. 

How so?

I spent a lot of my career in the U.K., Israel, and at the World Health Organization (WHO), and the philosophy — how we perceive human rights, caregiving, and healthcare — is very different in the United States. The private sector plays a much bigger role than in other countries. As a for-profit start-up, we can move quickly and take calculated risks on a smaller scale than a government can. And it’s a blessing that private insurance carriers in the United States have the money to see if our model of long-term care policyholder engagement and non-medical intervention works. And ultimately there’s no reason why a government wouldn’t decide to adopt our service — they’re aspiring to do the same things. It’s what everybody all over the world is saying they want, and research globally supports the idea that aging in place is the best option for individuals and society. 

What makes you confident that Assured Allies will succeed at finding a way to help people age in a healthier way and to finance longevity that can be adopted by governments around the world?

The field of elder care is often not very data driven, and Assured Allies is very data driven. The fact that it has invested considerable resources in its proprietary predictive analytics  — that apply both to optimizing human-based care and improving actuarial forecasting — is key to its success. 

Also, learning here is very open-ended and valued. Data is not only numbers. Qualitative data, transcripts, thematic analysis — talking to people and getting the broader picture —  is part of the data as well. Data without context alone can be misleading; it’s how you connect the dots. Anyone who has worked clinically, knows that a lot of the knowledge gleaned from working with patients in healthcare doesn’t manage to get through research publishing to be classified as official data. But it is still really important.

I am looking forward to studying the ample qualitative data we have accumulated so far, listening to transcripts; interviewing the Age Assured Allies [professional aging experts] about their subjective impressions; maybe shadowing home visits to observe our members in the context of their homes and families. A deep dive that can reveal some new types of data that we may want to use in the future. For example, we may know when a claim has been activated but what is the story before that, in the months leading up to that claim? “A fall” for example is often a lagging indicator, not a prime cause of decline.

Do you think as a society we are in denial about aging?

Yes, as a culture we avoid and push away deterioration and death, and the denial costs us. For example, the vast majority of people want to die in their own beds, but in high income countries most die in the ambulance or in the hospital. Between point A and point B, we’re getting something wrong. Data from Israel shows that health expenses in the last three weeks of life are equivalent to all health expenses up to that point. In effect, in many cases we might be using resources incorrectly. People often reflect on how painful the last days of a family member’s life are with an over medicalised approach to end of life. To be clear, I’m not saying we should withhold care; I’m asking that we get better at making late-in-life decisions. In the U.K. caregiving facilities get rated by how many residents achieve a good death. Part of their job is to help people to plan for their death and be ready for it, to think ahead about pain management, infection control and communicating with relatives, decide if and when they want a DNR, or do-not-resuscitate order. Facilitating those timely conversations in advance provides people with so much dignity and comfort versus knee jerk reactions in a crisis that they have little control over.

How can Assured Allies help?

What we can do is use our expertise and experience and predictive analytics to help older adults and caregivers map the situation, plan ahead, and then try and finetune so that our members age successfully in place and enjoy the highest quality of life for as long as possible. I’m excited about how I can combine my 20 years of experience in the field with Assured Allies’ predictive analytics to create solutions for people that are backed by large datasets and yet also customized for their particular situation.

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.

As Vice President of Research & Development at Assured Allies, Gilad Braunschvig thrives at the challenging intersection between clinical research, data science, actuarial science, and product development. On a two-week trip to the company headquarters in Boston from the Tel Aviv, Israel office, Gilad sat down to chat about what drives him as a leader, why he chose to work at Assured Allies, and why the predictive analytics and digital underwriting that his teams are developing have the potential to revolutionize both the insurance industry and the ability of people to age successfully.

What attracted you to Assured Allies?

The mission. It’s trendy today to say you want to do good, but I believe Assured Allies is sincere in its mission to help older adults age successfully and that its business model reflects this. This mission is so important. Most of us have parents and grandparents. Like many, I have a place in my heart for older people. They are so easily forgotten, invisible. Especially in the tech industries — it’s not so cool to take care of older people. That’s part of why there’s such a big void in that space, a void that we are helping to fill.

Gilan Braunschvig

You are at the crossroads of data science, clinical research, and product development at Assured Allies. How does the data science piece do good in the world?

Our proprietary predictive analytics allow us as a company to do several beneficial things. First of all, we can take a specific candidate or policyholder and, based on population-wide clinical data and their individual information, say something smart about them. If a person turns out to have a greater risk for decline or fall in the future, for example, we can suggest things that they can do now to try and prevent that.

Secondly, we use data science models to optimize the actuarial science of insurance companies, which frees up capital to do good things. For example, because we can more precisely quantify and predict risk, we assist insurance companies in creating new products and bringing them to market, allowing more people the opportunity to be covered by long-term care insurance. It’s a win-win. More people can get better coverage, and insurance companies can better manage capital because they can more accurately calculate risk. 

You are also leading the research and engineering behind Assured Allies’ new digital underwriting offering. Why are insurance carriers so excited about this?

Digital underwriting is revolutionary for the insurance industry in many ways. First of all, it reduces friction for new members.  Traditional underwriting involves elective medical processes like blood tests that take time and effort to complete, especially in COVID times. By contrast, digital underwriting involves a simple video-recorded series of physical and cognitive tests that can be done in the comfort of your home. It reduces the days and weeks-long timeframe of traditional underwriting to a mere 30 minutes.

Secondly, digital underwriting for long-term care insurance unlocks new possibilities for more accurate assessment of risk. Standard underwriting is based on a list of disease-related questions derived from old models. It does not really quantify the functional level, both cognitive and physical, of the individual. The diseases are considered to be proxies for that, but while they are reasonable proxies for mortality, they are not for disability. Some of it is because so much has changed in how people age with these diseases and how we treat them. By testing for cognitive and physical function with scientifically validated tools, we produce a more precise actuarial risk level for each candidate.

Last but not least, we’ll learn which parts of digital underwriting are more or less significant and adjust the weighting accordingly. Our models will only get better using this online feedback loop.

Can you compare and contrast your existing program, Age Assured™, which helps older adults who already have long-term care insurance age in place, with the new products in development?

In Age Assured, we are trying to mitigate risks that are right around the corner for older people. But in the newer programs we are developing, we are trying to incentivize intervention far upstream of risks that are 10, 20, 30 years away. There are a lot of things people can do to reduce the risks of aging early on to enjoy both a longer and a healthier lifespan. It’s very exciting. 

You were nominated as one of your company’s top leaders for #NationalBossDay. It can be a difficult leap for top engineers to have the people skills to lead a team successfully. How did you do it?

I was interested in learning how to be a good manager at my first job at XtremIO Dell-EMC, where I led small teams of a few people all the way up to a team of 30 engineers. I sought out leadership positions whenever possible after that both as a tech person and as a manager. It was partly for career considerations but also because my own best work happens when I have a strong team around me. 

There is an art and a craft to being a good leader. People are most efficient and productive when they feel relaxed and in a safe place, and getting them there can be a very subtle and personalized process. “Personalization” is a buzzword in tech but we also need to personalize the work experience for employees, which can be pretty hard. You need a quick and deep understanding of where that person is at each moment. You have to think strategically about how you are communicating as a manager and what you are asking them to do, exactly. 

Can you unpack that last idea a little bit?

Sure. In software engineering there are different ways to solve any problem; there’s no one right answer. My job is to communicate clearly what the problem is, make sure that everyone has the tools to make the right decisions, and then trust my team to come up with the solution. Then I need to get out of the way. Otherwise I’m a blocker for everything.

When you’re not working, what else do you like to do?

I love being a dad and have two amazing girls 8 and 9 years old. I am a fan of my home town soccer team, Hapoel Jerusalem. I also work out a lot. I run more than 75 KM (50 miles) a week and am currently training for a marathon.

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.