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Q&A with Allstate Benefits
Chief Operating Officer Paul Montanari

Above all else, people seek out an executive leader who is a genuine champion for their company's mission and purpose, and an advocate for the company's #1 most important asset: its people. At Allstate Benefits, this champion is Paul Montanari.

After joining the company in June 2021, Paul jumped into his role as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. He quickly established a foundation based on continuous improvement to increase customer value and create an Allstate Benefits of the future, all in support of Our Shared Purpose.

We recently sat down with Paul to learn more about him and his vision for Allstate Benefits.

Headshot of Allstate Benefits Chief Operating Officer Paul Montanari

What inspired you to follow your career path in operations and strategy, specifically within the insurance sector?

I'm sure there's a better "official" story I could tell, but the truth is it started as a happy accident. I was graduating college with a degree in Psychology but no desire to continue in that field. Meanwhile, I had developed a passion for process improvement and Lean Manufacturing throughout multiple jobs and internships in that space. Something in me told me I could leverage those Lean principles and apply them in a field where they weren't prevalent yet: "big business."

I had developed a career coaching relationship with someone I met through church (thank you, John Madigan, I will always appreciate your guidance) who introduced me to someone at MassMutual simply to get me in the door. However, once there, everything ignited in me. I was able to apply my professional passion—to improve today what we just improved yesterday, all to deliver customer-defined value—in an environment that connected to a personal passion, being there for someone when they need you the most. And that was that!

I've now spent almost the entirety of my career trying to combine those exact two things: customer value and customer need. And fortunately for me, that career path led me to Allstate, a company that embodies customer value.

Your Leadership Purpose starts with inspiring others to achieve their own goals. How are you translating this Purpose to your work at Allstate Benefits?

Let's be honest: work is hard, and not always fun. The work we do is complicated, often thankless, and when you're in the industry of helping others in their time of need, it can be emotionally challenging. So, the question everyone is trying to solve is how to attract and retain talent, and how to keep them motivated.

Throughout my career, I've seen people try and fail at this. Whether it be by relying on compensation and benefits alone, or by trying to create pre-defined career paths, or creating a hierarchy that we think people will want to climb. And as I sit here today, none of that has ever hit the mark.

"This is the broader calling of leadership: enable people to be as passionate and engaged in their work as I am in mine."

I think it's missed for two reasons: 1) each of us is unique, having different passions and desires in life, and 2) no one wants to be told what's important or valuable; they want to be asked. And because of that, how are we as leaders supposed to pre-define what will motivate and inspire someone? There is no one-size-fits-all, but there certainly is a one-size-fits-none.

So, what I've learned throughout my career, as both an individual and a leader, is simply to ask—and then to enable people to achieve those goals, whether or not they align with my own. Even if someone leaves my organization, or even my company, to pursue their true purpose, by helping them on their journey, they will be motivated and inspired while they're here.

This is the broader calling of leadership: enable people to be as passionate and engaged in their work as I am in mine. And so, everywhere I've gone throughout my career, I've tried to do exactly that. Ask people, "What do you want to achieve? How can I help you get there? How can we get you there, while we're delivering value in the now?" And ultimately, in every role they take, ask people to think about what unique skills they are bringing to the role AND what unique skills—or experiences—are they going to get from the role. When someone can find balance between both of those questions, just watch how motivated they become.

We are in the midst of a major digital transformation. Briefly describe how you envision the Allstate Benefits of the future.

This one is easy—well easy to define, not so easy to deliver—but here it is: Allstate Benefits will be the carrier of the future, while we're also the carrier of today.

What does that mean? Glad you asked! Allstate Benefits aspires to be an innovative solutions provider, passionately focused on creating value for agents, distribution partners, employers of all sizes, and most importantly, nearly 5 million customers who trust us to deliver on our promise. In order to do that, we must remove every barrier that gets in the way of that mission.

If a process is too manual, time and energy will be spent on the task, not the outcome. If a broker or enrollment partner finds our systems clunky or our engagement model confusing, we'll spend more time fixing and explaining instead of servicing. If a customer can't figure out how to file a claim, or finds they need to call and ask a question because they are confused or concerned about something, then we haven't met their needs in the moment they need us most. So, instead of trying to slap new tools or systems on top of the current technology to make it look pretty, or adding fancy curtains in front of a dirty house, we decided to take the bold step and re-think the entire process from quote to claim.

Once deployed, we will have the fastest, smoothest, highest-quality experience the market has ever seen—for brokers, partners, employees of Allstate Benefits, and most importantly, our customers. Not because we want to, not because it's easy, but because if we're going to live in the Good Hands promise, nothing less is acceptable. But here's the key, and this part is important. I stated earlier we want to be the carrier of the future, and the carrier of today. Customer needs change, constantly. And none of us like waiting for the future, as we have needs right now. Our goal is to never call our transformation "done." We will continue to improve the today, even though we just improved it yesterday. And we will do that in perpetuity.

As someone with a lot of industry experience, what do you think makes Allstate Benefits truly stand out from the competition?

This one is easy, too, as it's the reason I decided to join the organization: Allstate Benefits cares about the customer first. Period. End of story.

"We want to cover more situations so that you don't have to question whether you're covered; you simply know you're covered."

Yes, we're in the business of making money, but that's not what drives our strategy. That's the outcome that only happens if we do right by our customers first. The general emotion you hear on the street is that insurance companies sell products they hope you never use (we've all heard the term "sell it and forget it"). Or when you do use them, they make it hard to collect on them so that they make more money.

At Allstate Benefits, we have the exact opposite strategy. We're designing products that make it EASIER to use. We want to cover more situations so that you don't have to question whether you're covered; you simply know you're covered. We're replacing our technology in order to pay claims faster with less customer effort. We've developed partnerships with industry experts to push the envelope as far as we can to find the best ways to serve our customers.

Our belief is that if we pay more claims than anyone else, and make it easier than everyone else, we'll have happy, more connected customers. Those customers will tell their friends, and in turn, we have more customers to delight. The customers will also know their employer brought them this coverage, and will feel the value of that plan, helping create more engaged employees. And that employer will know their broker recommended the partnership with Allstate Benefits, creating tighter alignments there as well.

I mentioned earlier why I chose this career path: it was to connect my professional passion and my personal passion—to deliver customer value in the moment of customer need. And I'm so fortunate to have found an employer whose business goals exactly match my personal goals. If we delight customers in ways they don't expect from an insurance company, we all win. And how great is that?

You are a family man first. What is your #1 piece of advice for striking a balance between work and family?

The work will be there; the time with your loved ones will not. I remember early in my career, I'd make daily to-do lists. I'd start every day with a list of what I felt I needed to accomplish in order to call my day done. What I quickly learned was that wasn't going to happen.

I might check that list off for one day, but the next I wouldn't. I remember feeling so stressed that I couldn't let the work go. Then the addiction to the list I wrote was replaced with an addiction to my Blackberry (remember those?). I had to check that email constantly to stay in the know and ahead.

And I distinctly remember the day when it all changed. I was in the middle of a multi-month firefight trying to fix a problem at work. I'd be on the phone texting and talking to my leader every night, trying to find solutions and stay ahead of the noise. One night, I was giving my daughter a bath and the phone rang. It was my leader, so of course I answered. Hazel looked up at me, only a couple years old, and said to me, "Daddy, can't you ever not be on your phone?" Boom—dagger to the heart.

My leader heard it, and my soul heard it. Phone call over. The thing Antoinette (my leader at the time) and I were talking about could wait. It wasn't going to be solved in that moment, but that time with Hazel, enjoying her nightly bath and play time, could not wait. While there would be more bath and play times in the future, there wouldn't be that exact time, bonding and smiling and laughing together.

And that's what I still think about today. There will always be emergencies and work issues that will take you away from home time; that's part of this life. But I now choose when those times are; they don't choose me.

I try to decide in that moment, where is my emotional energy better spent—where is my heart and mind needed most. What's the risk if I don't check my email/answer a text/respond to a phone call versus what's the risk to where I draw my energy and passion—my family.

Sometimes the answer is work and sometimes it's family. But either way, I'm in control of that decision, it's not in control of me. And that's my advice.

Follow Allstate Benefits on LinkedIn and read our post introducing Paul as COO as part of our Meet Our Leaders Series on LinkedIn..

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