What Manulife’s senior tech execs want from new LOFT initiative

Executives at Manulife Financial knew they needed to play more offense when it came to exploring and experimenting with new technologies.

Manulife’s chief information officer “has basically said that the old strategy of watching technologies come out and then throwing money at them to try to catch up is no longer valid,” says Jesse Bean, the company’s head of innovation, digital strategy, and M&A execution. “Exponential growth in technology is just too fast for that strategy.”

moghimi-bean2To speed up the company’s tech metabolism, Manulife last month launched the Lab of Forward Thinking, or LOFT. A big part of the LOFT’s mission, Bean explains, is “to create dedicated teams to filter those new technologies, and figure out which ones we should latch on to, in a cheap fashion by using lean startup and other methodologies.” The LOFT has 15 employees who are based in Boston and Toronto, Manulife’s headquarters.

We spoke with Bean; Ace Moghimi, head of innovation in North America; and Sebastian Blandizzi, a senior vice president at Manulife’s investment division to learn how the LOFT came about — and what they hope comes out of it. (Moghimi and Bean are pictured at right.) Manulife has about 29,000 employees, 53,000 agents, and $41 billion in 2014 revenue. It operates in Canada, the U.S., and Asia. In the U.S., Manulife primary markets its services under the John Hancock brand.

How the team came together

In June 2014, Blandizzi, who is the chief information officer for Manulife’s Investment Division and Group Functions, held a town hall meeting on creating systems that could enhance the company’s ability to innovate. By November, Blandizzi had approval to begin building a team, and Moghimi, who had previously been working in derivatives strategy, came on board.

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