Northwestern Mutual’s Souheil Badran wins the 2019 AFTA for the best technology executive on the buy side. It’s fair to say that Badran has had a banner year: He was appointed CTO at Northwestern Mutual after joining the company as its chief innovation officer in January, and has since been promoted again to the role of COO.
Badran joined Northwestern Mutual from Ant Financial, a startup focused on payments, set up by internet juggernaut Alibaba, which at one point had a greater valuation than Goldman Sachs. He headed up Ant Financial’s rise in the US.
Badran aims to fully transform the insurance and asset management firm through innovation and taking cues from the startup world. He is guiding the firm’s move away from its legacy infrastructure to more cloud-based applications and platforms. He is also working with teams to provide more artificial intelligence (AI)-based projects, specifically for its insurance clients. To date, he has overseen the implementation of AI in call centers for personalized services, underwriting, fraud detection, and claims processing.
But Badran’s biggest project has been investing in startups and pushing a culture of innovation in his adopted hometown of Milwaukee, Northwestern Mutual’s headquarters. The company’s venture fund has invested $35 million in 15 initiatives. This is the second round of funding headed up by the firm; in 2017 it invested $43 million in 14 startups. Its goal is to fund companies that might become service providers or even customers.
Northwestern Mutual also helped create the first data science institute in Wisconsin, shared by the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University, by investing $40 million in the project. It is also working with the Wisconn Valley Venture Fund—a group made up of Wisconsin-area firms—to attract technology investments into the region. The company invested $25 million in the fund.
“We’re driving collaboration between the business, technology, and innovation teams to ensure that we are aligned about where we need to be 18 to 24 months from now,” Badran says. “Over the last five years, Northwestern Mutual has been on a path to transform the way people experience financial security. Now I’m able to introduce the kind of expertise I bring, which is a more agile mentality. We need to be able to try fast, fail fast and keep on going—nothing can slow us down.”
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