Exploring What Matters: Our Take on 2021 Innovation Trends

Josh Pollack, Assistant Director, Innovation Research and Insight

Dec 17, 2020

What new insights can a 160-year-old life insurance company add to the conversation about the future? You might be surprised.

Forecasting annual trends can be a daunting activity for any organization. A yearly cadence, combined with the push to say something new, can lead to some outlandish claims (remember how much hype there was around blockchain in 2016 and chatbots in 2017?).

This, however, is where our long history plays to our advantage. As a time-tested mutual company, we succeed by differentiating between the fads that quickly fizzle and the durable, business-changing trends on which we should act. As we look to 2021 and beyond, there are several topics our Innovation team will be exploring more in-depth – because we believe they will be increasingly critical to our continued relevance for the next 160 years.

A better business is built on diversity

This year has been one of racial reckoning in the United States. While companies are reevaluating their roles and taking stances when it comes to equality and equity, the trend is clear: The United States is becoming much more diverse with each new generation. In fact, Millennials are the most diverse cohort in the country, and Gen Z shows a similar composition. Meeting the needs of a multiracial and multicultural society will require businesses to rethink their products and practices that were originally built with a singular customer in mind.

Teams that effectively bring together diverse perspectives will be better equipped to serve the next generation of consumers. A multitude of perspectives can help teams tackle problems from a variety of angles, and this interaction can generate novel solutions. Research continues to demonstrate that diverse teams produce better results. (An example of Northwestern Mutual’s recent work supporting diversity can be found in the article “Bold Business Leaders Can Accelerate Racial Equality” from Abim Kolawole, Vice President of Digital Innovation.)

Consumers expect an increasingly converged experience – no matter the industry

Many 2021 predictions reflect on how COVID-19 has forced digital adoption across industries. The pandemic has accelerated the move toward digital customer experiences – whether it’s shopping online, interacting with clients on Zoom or executing contracts via DocuSign. As norms and expectations change, channel distinctions (i.e., apps, websites, IRL) will matter less as consumers move seamlessly between them. For financial representatives, this could lead to fewer in-person meetings, ultimately increasing productivity while providing clients better service via digital tools. 

Health underlies our sense of security

COVID-19 has been a stark reminder that health is at the center of our lives. Not only has our health been top-of-mind these days, it also has a strong relationship with life satisfaction and financial security. Never have so many people had so much access to manage their health – from health trackers and streaming workouts to telemedicine and meditation apps. We believe such access is a precursor to living better. Just as our current products bring financial security to families, potential future products may increasingly involve health & wellness.

At Northwestern Mutual, we innovate to deliver new value for our current and future clients. Prioritizing diversity, customer experiences and wellness in our efforts will help ensure we can provide another 160 years of helping clients live their best lives by choice.

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