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A New Breed of Financial IT Exec

AXA Financial's Charles Curcio is a new breed of insurance technology executive

I&T: I understand that your responsibilities include being the "IT controller" for AXA. Is that a new position at AXA? If so, how did you go about outlining your objectives?

Charles V. Curcio:

My responsibilities are pretty broad and have grown. In addition to responsibility for the financial side of IT, I am also responsible for service delivery-that is the processing in the customer service centers for new and existing business.

I also have responsibility for enterprise governance for IT and non-IT projects. On top of that, I have responsibility for business continuity and disaster recovery planning for the entire company. And I am responsible for privacy.

I report to Bill Levine (AXA Financial's executive vice president and chief information officer). My role is similar to the way our CFO reports to Kip (Christopher M. "Kip" Condron, president and chief executive officer, AXA Financial).

I&T:: Sort of like an IT CFO?

Curcio: Yes, exactly. I am the CFO reporting to Bill Levine, and I could be considered the IT CFO.

I&T: Why was this position created? Why was it needed?

Curcio: The role has evolved. In the late '90s we were investing heavily in technology and there was a lot of growth in technology spending. But the executives wanted to pay more attention to what was going on with IT spending. That is how I ended up in this role.

I moved into this role three years ago. I happened to be at AXA already. At the time, I was responsible for finance in the service delivery area.

The executive management team wanted to pay more attention to what was going on. Some of the major expenses were in IT and we needed to pay more attention to it.

I&T: Since it was essentially a new role when you took over, how much input did you have into your responsibilities?

Curcio: Since it was new, I absolutely molded much of the role. As the lead financial person in IT, I dotted-lined into the CFO. As a finance professional, there are a lot of things that you do that involve good financial management techniques. And these sound financial management techniques apply to any IT or business function. I was able to bring these practices into the IT organization.

I&T: As a financial person in an IT organization, what were some of the challenges that you faced?

Curcio: First, there are the challenges of translating financial best practices to IT people. Technology is a different animal.

But when I first came on board, like all new executives, you want to look "under the covers" and do analysis. This is rarely met with open arms and people tend to push back. But I have been able to show understanding about the complicated nature of IT and I have been able to translate IT to non-technologists.

I think I add value especially when I meet the business executives, or when I meet with Kip. I am able to present IT in a way so that they understand how it impacts their business. I think that has added a lot of value to the organization and they have a better appreciation of IT.

I&T: Your position seems fairly unique. Do you know of similar executives at other companies? Do you interact with them to share ideas/best practices?

Curcio: I do think that my position is a little unique, since I have the IT organization, the service organization, as well as the governance, the disaster recovery, the business continuity and the privacy.

I do meet with my peers, CFOs and CIOs, at larger companies on a regular basis. We benchmark and share best practices.

I&T: Being an "IT controller" sounds like you need to understand both technology and finance. What is your background?

Curcio: I would consider myself a CFO who advises the CIO, akin to the way the CFO advises the CEO.

I spent 10 years in retail at JC Penney, in operational accounting and administrative budgets. And that gave me a good technical background.

I&T: How do you help the IT governance committee prioritize IT projects? And how are projects prioritized? ROI? By corporate objectives/goals? Price?

Curcio: The answer is a little of everything. One of the things that I bring to the table is a very fact-based, disciplined approach to our IT portfolio. The evaluation process doesn't start when the people ask for funding for a project. It starts well before that. We are starting to meet with the business partners now to look at the projects that they will need for 2004. We look at the corporate objectives that Kip has set, and we do the prioritization. Projects that don't align with the corporate strategy are not considered. That is the first test.

Then we rank the projects based on priority. We do it for the IT governance committee and we present them the portfolio (of projects for approval).

The formalized business review for IT projects is put together in a consistent format. We look at things such as costs, ROI, cost reduction and impact on sales. These issues are covered before we go to committee.

I&T: How much say do you have in approving IT funding? How closely do you work with Bill Levine?

Curcio: The bottom line is the governance committee. By the time the project gets to them there is good solid information and the project has been vetted across the organization. Because of the pre-work that we do, they are presented with the right information.

We have a very structured process. We don't want to waste peoples' time. By the time they see a proposal, it is ready for primetime. At that point the reason for not approving a project may be resource allocations, or staffing resources.

Bill Levine and I are joined at the hip. We spend a lot of time together.

I&T: AXA has dramatically reduced the use of consultants. How has that been accomplished and what role did you play in it?

Curcio: We were spending a lot on consultants. We examined our data and the vendors that we were using. We wanted to source the projects more to the employees than to consultants. Our goal is to only bring in the consultants when we need a special skill. When we do bring in consultants there is a set time limit and we have developed a knowledge transfer process (from the consultant to AXA's employees). That improved morale significantly. [email protected]

Charles V. Curcio could be considered a new breed of insurance IT executive. At New York-based AXA Financial, a subsidiary of AXA Group ($863 billion in assets under management), Curcio's responsibilities seem to grow by the day. Currently he oversees IT governance, business continuity, disaster recovery, privacy and operations. As Bill Levine's (AXA's EVP/CIO) right-hand man, he advises both Levine and Christopher M. "Kip" Condron, AXA's president & CEO on IT spending priorities.

Charles V. Curcio, Senior Vice President, AXA Financial

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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