When finding talent, I look for leaders who have broad capacity, are problem solvers, and are also really good with people
- About The Podcast
In this episode of Reinventing Insurance, Meredith Ryan-Reid, the CEO of Versant Health, joins our host Paul Ricard to share her insights on leadership, reflecting on her career, future healthcare trends, new work methodologies, and Gen AI capabilities.
With more than 25 years of experience in multiple facets of the insurance industry, Meredith joined Versant Health as the CEO in 2022, during a time of evolution and transformation for the company. During her career, Meredith has led large scale teams, developed talent, and driven strategic growth and transformational change for MetLife and AIG. We discuss the post-pandemic trends happening in healthcare, teaming and motivating talent, and how Versant Health is harnessing data to deliver preventive care and better patient outcomes.
In this episode, Meredith discusses:
- Her experiences in driving growth and reinvention for leading companies in healthcare, insurance, and financial services.
- Reflections and learnings from her career spanning over 25 years in various aspects of the insurance and healthcare industries.
- Future healthcare trends, new work methodologies, and Gen AI capabilities.
- How Versant Health is harnessing data to deliver preventive care and improve patient outcomes.
As a wholly-owned subsidiary of MetLife, Inc. and part of the group benefits business, Versant Health is one of the nation’s leading administrators of managed vision care, serving more than 40 million members nationwide. Versant Health continues to innovate and find ways to better serve customers — through harnessing data, enabling technology, predict and prevent approaches, and embracing Gen AI.
Paul Ricard: Hi everyone and welcome to Oliver Wyman's Reinventing Insurance Podcast. I'm your host, Paul Ricard. Today, I am excited to welcome Meredith Ryan- Reid, CEO of Versant Health. Welcome Meredith. I'm super excited to have you here.
Meredith Ryan-Reid: Thank you, Paul. I'm thrilled to be here.
Paul: Meredith, would you briefly introduce yourself and also tell us a little bit about Versant Health.
Meredith: Sure. I am the CEO of Versant Health. I started in September of last year, and prior to that I was with MetLife for 10 years, and Versant is a wholly owned subsidiary of MetLife, so that was the easy connection there. It's been a great first year.
Paul: Meredith, you're a leader that I greatly admire. In addition to being a great friend, you've been in a range of leadership positions throughout your career where you've been able to drive growth and reinvention, and I would love to take a look back at your lessons learned and perspectives from your career, and also look forward into what's next in terms of industry trends and innovation.
Meredith: Sure. Thank you for that, Paul. And I feel the same way about you, and it's always been a great experience to work together.
The common interest in the work and the purpose of what we're doing and also really being a good listener are critically important qualities for a leader to have, but also members of a successful team. I learned early in my career the importance of being on a team and playing the role that you're supposed to play, either based on your position or your unique experiences, or the particular talent you bring to the team. And that doesn't mean you stay in that role and in that definition forever, but while you're there contributing, what you can uniquely contribute and seeing how that creates a better overall product or a better overall outcome has always been the part that makes work fun for me.
I learned early in my life that I really liked to be on a team. I played a lot of sports. Growing up, I played (NCAA) Division I field hockey and lacrosse at the University of Richmond, which was a fantastic experience. I recently went to my 25th year anniversary, which is really hard to believe, but it was great to go back. I was never one who liked to go for a run by myself or just go to the gym. I honestly get bored. I get bored when I have too much alone time and I'm not inspired. I get inspired by other people. I get inspired by my teammates whether I'm playing tennis with them or solving a big problem at work. It's what makes it fun and motivating.
So, I learned that in life early on. I still think of things that way, and when I was first starting to manage people or lead a team, it was always about who I had on the team — how I could get them to bring the most of themselves and the most of their talents to whatever the problem was we were trying to solve. And then figuring out how to attract the right people for the right assignments or what they could uniquely bring to the table and how it would make the rest of us better.
Paul: Versant Health is an important player in the broad and active space of healthcare. Over the next three to five years, what are the big trends happening in the health space that you're keeping a close eye on?
Meredith: How we use data is incredibly important. What we can do to help predict certain outcomes, how we can help consumers have more information about their health is really important in general.
This is something we're especially well positioned to do because many people frankly would rather go to the eye doctor than the regular doctor. For the most part, you go to the eye doctor, and it's a very non-invasive easy process. Many of us think about it in terms ‘I need new glasses or these contacts aren't right.’ Most people aren't thinking I'm going to go to the eye doctor for preventative services. We are trying to educate our members and make sure they're aware of that. Instead of viewing (the eye doctor) as a repair shop, we can help people understand the benefits to their broader health. And help diagnose things like high blood pressure or potential cardiac issues, or things that are lurking in the background that people aren't even aware of. It's important to do that before you have a problem that becomes an emergency. And that's something we're really focusing on.
We talk about the sort of in(sight), pun intended, Paul, we can provide for members and patients by simply doing an annual eye exam and sharing that data back, so they can be on top of things like managing diabetes and understanding the potential impact. Data, sharing that data, using that data to drive better outcomes, to help people get control of their health.
Paul: The shift towards predict and prevent and away from repair and replace, which I think is a trend across Healthcare, Insurance and frankly in other industries. I'm sure the car manufacturing industry is another. When it comes to healthcare more broadly, do you think that more specialized predict and prevent for specific population is the way forward? What's your thought on how this is going to evolve?
Meredith: I think a lot of what we focus on is accessibility and making it easy for people to do the right thing for themselves, but we're also looking at new technology. We're looking at telemedicine, all of the things that have certainly grown exponentially during COVID, some were things that persisted, and some were things that went away after people started going in person to the doctor again. But we're looking at all of those and looking at different companies that can help us provide those services because even though we have close to 40 million members, we know that people don't fully utilize their benefits or the care they have access to, and sometimes it's real functional barriers. So how do you make it really easy for them to get what they need, and strike that balance. You need to have multiple different options.
Paul: I heard data, and enabling predict and prevent. I heard accessibility. You talked about technology and technology to enable accessibility and optionality as well. What else is top-of-mind in terms of priorities over the next few months or couple of years?
Meredith: The whole concept of enabling technology — whether that's AI or that's something else. What capabilities can we add so that the providers in our network can do their job more effectively? Or what capabilities can we add so that they can focus on more value-add activities as opposed to administrative things. It's the same thing for our employees. What can we do to make it easier for our team to serve our customers? What can we make automatic versus five clicks? How can we help members get the information they need faster so that people aren't waiting for a call back or waiting to talk to someone? What do we have to do to make it really intuitive? It's really exciting to see how it's (Gen AI) is going to improve not only the customer experience, but also it's critically important to improve employee experience.
Paul: One thing I also like about Gen AI is the element of actually augmenting your workforce’s capabilities. That's probably true in the health space now. In many places, the effort is more art than it is science.
Meredith: Paul, I have one just very quick personal (Gen AI ) example. I coach a lacrosse team in my spare time for my daughters, and I got about a 50/50 hit ratio on practice. I make all the games on Saturdays and Sundays, but there was one trip I had to take this year and I was going to miss our big playoff game. So, my dear husband got the nod to coach the girls’ lacrosse game.
Now he's been a great team manager, an excellent spectator, but unlike myself, never played lacrosse, never coached lacrosse. So I wrote him a really detailed game plan. I gave him the substitutions, I gave him the whole thing. And that probably took me, I probably thought about it for a couple of days in the background and then it took me probably 45 minutes to write it down.
After I sent the game plan to him, he writes back, "Oh, this is great, but I already used ChatGPT. I put in ‘how do I coach a sixth-grade girls’ lacrosse team?’ And I said, "You're joking." He said, “I got back some great tips." But he didn't have the lineup. I provided the lineup, the strategy, but all the other stuff such as the rules, ChatGPT provided that. That made me laugh because I didn't realize how much he was using technology on the side.
Paul: And a good example of how Gen AI has made its way into our day-to-day lives. How do you feel being an executive and a CEO now versus three years ago? Do you feel like the job has changed in terms of what you need to spend more or less time on? How are you are engaging with your workforce?
Meredith: I think that communication is always underplayed. I think everybody knows it's important, but the execution of great communication is really, really hard. And it's going to differ by every organization and culture and all of that. But I think it's incredibly important, and something that I am always struggling with. Personally, I'm a good communicator, but it doesn't mean that I'm doing it at the right pace or hitting all the right audiences. It doesn't mean that people are getting the message they need every day. It's really complicated, and I think that it's hard for organizations to pull off. It takes a lot of discipline and repetition. There are many things we did in the past that don't work in the present and are not going to work in the future. You need to be flexible, and focus on making sure the team understands why we're doing what we're doing — not just what we're doing.
And that it's not one way communication. It's listening as much as it is speaking. And that’s incredibly important. For most companies, your employees have the answers, they are on the frontlines, they know what's working, what's not working. They are hearing from customers. You need to make sure you're in tune with that.
Paul: How do you see the workforce evolving, particularly in the health sector?
Meredith: We are adapting to the flexibility that people crave, what we learned during COVID, and how organizations can thrive under extraordinary circumstances. I think people have a lot more clarity around what's important to them now. And you have to focus on the work, the delivery, the purpose.
You have to start to understand what really matters and what might not be as important. I don't have any predictions on what that means from the tactical part of it, where people are and what they're going to be doing. But if you make the work meaningful and progressive, meaning you're a company that's showing you're fixing problems, you're improving, you're investing, you're building capabilities, you're delighting customers, you're improving the experience. People want to be a part of that.
They also want to be a part of something that is a real community and where people care about each other. I've read a lot on happiness and watched a couple of good documentaries. It's not about being in the right industry, getting the right salary — for a lot of people it's about being a part of something and the right community. That's going to be the secret to success and that's going to be different for many companies.
We're actively looking at ways to bring our employees together for purpose. We're going to have a very clear mission so that we're efficient with our time. If people have to get on an airplane, leave their family and go away for a few nights, you better make it meaningful. There's an element of personal development. Some of the most meaningful meetings I've been to are when I've met colleagues from around the world (and maybe we only see each other every other year), but I remember that experience together. It's about building great experiences, and that takes a lot of planning and discipline. It's not going to happen by accident and it's not going to happen just if we show up in the same place every day. We have to have a real agenda, be thoughtful, and prep before we get together.
And it's just a different way of working, but it's a continual experiment. We're always working on it.
Paul: Meredith, how did your early career experience build a foundation for your leadership journey?
Meredith: When I was in those early sales roles, I knew that I wanted to get into management and have more of a leadership role. When you're a salesperson, you are managing and leading a lot of different teams, and you you have to figure out how to motivate people. This was a great way for me to get really good experience and prove myself early on.
And I wanted develop the right skills to manage broader P&Ls to understand different parts of the business. I still have a lot of mentors that came from AIG, and it really taught me so much about leadership, about opportunity, about innovation, seizing new market opportunities, building new products, taking risk — and really centering around the concept of profit, not just topline growth.
Paul: I'm hearing teaming, trust, taking risks, profit versus revenue. One more question building into this. What are your golden leadership principles?
Meredith: People must trust you if they're going to follow you. And the way you do that is by being authentic. And it doesn't mean you're always saying things people want to hear. In fact, a lot of times you're not. Sometimes people get into leadership positions, and they think they need to act a certain way, and they may lose some of who they are. When you build that trust, you'll get more from your team. They'll give you better ideas and will want to be at the company longer. They'll want to encourage other people to join. And all of that creates the momentum needed to help you get through tough times and through big problems. When hiring, I often look for people who have broad capacity, are problem solvers and are also really good with people.
I've also learned you can't get anywhere by yourself. You really have to bring people along. I really value the relationships I have with my business partners who are on the technology side or my legal partners, or a brilliant accountant. They have very deep expertise in areas that I don't, and I need to trust them. I need to trust that they know what they're doing and that they're giving me good advice.
Paul: A lot of the elements you're mentioning around collaborating, teaming, trust, taking risks, is about challenging each other towards a greater objective.
Meredith: Yes, it completely is. The best teammates are those you can be competitive with, but do not actively seek each other's destruction. It's just not helpful. I've been on those kinds of teams before and the dynamics are exhausting.
When you have a group of people that genuinely care about each other and want each other to do well, you're just going to have more success.
One of the things I've learned is you really have to listen to the people who are interacting with customers. I always believed your salespeople; your service teams will give you the needed answers. They know what's not working well, they know the things that they struggle with every day that could be better — and that's ultimately driving the customer experience.
Paul: What is the mindset of a visionary leader?
Meredith: You always need that learning mindset. You have to be curious. If you're not curious, you're going to miss something. If you have your head down and you think nothing around you is going to change, you're just wrong. Things are always changing. Market forces are always changing. Consumer behavior is always changing.
Paul: At MetLife, you drove innovation, reinvention, transformation in a range of roles over the years. Tell us about your MetLife journey.
Meredith: When MetLife called, I knew it was a great place to work. I worked with all the national and global brokers, had responsibility for supplemental compensation plans, and then was responsible for all our product wholesalers. I got involved in financial wellness and that's when you and I met. We built an app to help people navigate and make progress in their financial lives — and that really interesting.
We did some fascinating research, and we got to collaborate and work with all of you at Oliver Wyman, and that was all terrific.
Paul: With what you mentioned so far — curiosity, teaming, taking risks — all these things are showing up again here, right?
Meredith: Yes. And it was fun and interesting to work with a totally different group. I wasn't interacting with underwriters and sales teams that I normally would. I was working with product designers, developers, and experts in user experience.
Paul: As the CEO of Versant, tell us about your priorities. What are the most important things for you going forward?
Meredith: We are focused on growing the business profitably, delivering even better customer experiences, and investing in innovation. And bringing in key people and talent who can do those things I talked about earlier — talent that has a broad capacity, a passion for the business, and the ability to bring people along.
We are driving a customer-focused culture. What are those things we can take action on? Enabling technology can deliver a better customer experiences and also create better work experiences for our associates. That's critically important.
Paul: As we continue to innovate in the Age of Acceleration, what are the big trends you are keeping a close eye on? What's on your mind as a visionary leader in the health sector?
Meredith: Growth in the aging population, for our particular set of products, is important. There's a lot of potential partnerships for us that really make sense and are a big need. We are focused on that. We are focused on connecting and engaging with our customer base and showing them how to use their benefits to their advantage.
Paul: There's a lot more I would love to discuss with you, but unfortunately we're coming up on time. So my final question that I always love to ask is, Meredith, what words of wisdom could you share with our audience?
Meredith: Words of wisdom. I have a few that I use for myself. One of my favorites is ‘the only way out is through.’ And whether that's in an Alanis Morissette song, which it is, or it was credited to Winston Churchill, we are not sure. Someone can fact check that. But I always like that one, especially if you're going through a difficult time. You just have to go through it and find the way forward. Many times, we think that we are living through the biggest change ever, and there will never be another change like this. And then we realize how wrong we were a few years later.
Also, remembering what you're there to do. The unique role you play and where you can add value. It’s important to not get caught up in things you can't control. For example, I can't control interest rates. But I can understand how interest rates are going to impact my business.
I have to make sure we're as productive as possible. I have to make sure we're innovating. I have to make sure we're taking excellent care of our customers, but I can't get too wrapped up in different scenarios I don't control. It’s important to be very clear about the purpose and the priorities.
Paul: Meredith, it was an immense pleasure talking to you today. Thank you so much for this. I'm sure a lot of folks would enjoy these good words from you.
Meredith: Well, thank you, Paul. As I told you years ago, when we were doing customer research, I think you're an excellent interviewer. I know you're not going to quit your day job, and this is sort of a part of it, but it's always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for inviting me.
Paul: Thank you so much.
That was Meredith Ryan-Reid, CEO of Versant Health. I'm Paul Ricard. For more information about our Reinventing Insurance series, you can find everything on our website at www.oliverwyman.com/reinventinginsurance. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
Reinventing Insurance Podcast
Our Reinventing Insurance podcast explores best practices for taking a CustomerFirst approach to innovation within Insurance. Throughout this series, host Paul Ricard discusses lessons, challenges, and new ways of working with guests who will share their first-hand experiences.
Our podcast host
Paul Ricard is a partner in Oliver Wyman’s Financial Services, Insurance and Asset Management and Digital practices. Paul works closely with businesses to reinvent their strategies, products, and services — and to fuel top-line growth opportunities. Paul specializes in advising leaders on large-scale digital transformation programs, greenfield business design, and digital operating model development. He is also the CustomerFirst platform lead for Insurance and Asset Management, working collaboratively with clients to develop novel value propositions rooted in customer needs. He is actively connected with the Insurtech and Fintech communities, and has facilitated strong partnerships between incumbents and Fintech/Insurtech players.
As the Chief Executive Officer of Versant Health, Meredith Ryan-Reid provides corporate direction and supervises the overall performance — for one of the nation’s leading administrators of managed vision care. Meredith has more than 25 years of experience in multiple facets of the insurance industry. During her career, Meredith has led large scale teams, developed talent, and driven strategic growth and transformational change. Prior to joining Versant Health in 2022, Meredith, held a succession of senior roles at MetLife focused on group benefits product development, innovation, and distribution. During her tenure, Meredith developed and launched the financial wellness app Upwise, established the company’s financial wellness and engagement organization, expanded voluntary benefits distribution, and built the accident and health portfolio. Earlier in her career, Meredith worked on both the brokerage and carrier sides of the business.