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Manetta Uses Problem-Solving Expertise at Phoenix

Sherry Manetta draws on past business experiences to successfully apply technology changes to the business.

Because problem solving is the part of her job that she enjoys most, it's no wonder that Sherry Manetta, senior vice president and CIO, e-business and information technology, The Phoenix Companies, Inc. (Hartford, $22.5 billion in assets), is active in solving social problems through a number of Hartford-area services organizations. Although members of the affluent and high-net-worth market—the demographic that Phoenix targets with life, annuities, investments and trusts—are quite different from those benefiting from the work she does with Community Partners in Action (a group promoting prison alternatives), Manetta remains committed to both. And what she likes least about her day job probably holds true for her philanthropic endeavors as well. "The ability to set aggressive targets and move forward towards them is important," relates Manetta—who finds impediments to such goals an especially frustrating part of her work.

Business Background

Her ability to meet aggressive goals has acted as a catalyst for Manetta's advancement in technology at The Phoenix Companies, even though her background is primarily in business. After graduating from College Misericordia with a B.S. in mathematics, she joined VISTA (an organization similar to the AmeriCorps), before receiving her M.B.A. from Indiana University. Shortly after, she joined Ernst & Young (New York) and eventually became a partner in management consulting.

It was at E&Y that Manetta was teamed with technologists and charged with contributing her business expertise in order to solve problems through the use of technology. Aside from gaining a technology education from the experience, the teamwork served as a valuable lesson in business/technology communications. Manetta's insurance experience was gained during her CFO roles at two Aetna (Hartford) divisions. Her work experience also includes a stint as CEO of HealthRight, Inc. (Meriden, CT), a specialty managed care company that no longer exists.

Manetta's IT/business background came in handy during the December 2001 restructuring of The Phoenix Companies' IT organization, when she was named enterprise CIO. Previously decentralized, Phoenix had separate IT operations for its investment management and life and annuities groups. The operation was centralized, according to Manetta—who previously headed the life and annuity side—in order to maximize IT investment dollars and human resources. As a result, "The company has been made more effective because it has eliminated duplicate technologies," she says. The Phoenix Companies is also taking full advantage of Manetta's skills to do more with an IT budget that, since the restructuring, has increased by 10 percent.

Manetta is afforded a comparative abundance of resources because, as part of the consolidation, redundancies have been eliminated within the infrastructure area, program management office and architecture group. Lines of business are now being managed synergistically in these three areas. However, application development by line of business still exists. And, in order to foster a smoother transition to the new structure, there is one IT staffer representing each line of business. Each is charged with interacting with a corresponding business head on projects geared toward specific lines.

A major priority for Manetta in her new role has been the enablement of sales force efficiencies through the use of technology. Since The Phoenix Companies is a manufacturer/wholesaler, the core of its business deals with the manufacturing of products. However, insurance, annuities,mutual funds and managed investment accounts are distributed through channels including wirehouses, such as Merrill Lynch (New York) and PaineWebber (New York), independent broker/dealers, banks and insurance companies such as State Farm (Bloomington, IL).

In addition, Manetta is creating services for a decentralized sales force, meaning that online access to information must be available all the time. B2B interfaces with wholesalers are also critical. "Applications are submitted, commissions are settled and account positions are transmitted through secure electronic interfaces," she says. "Additionally, advisors representing wholesalers can run sales illustrations, check the status of pending life applications and other information." Although the level of integration varies by distributor, The Phoenix Companies continues to expand its online capabilities and B2B interfaces with functionality such as Web services and standards such as XML, reports Manetta.

To ensure a cost-effective approach to these strategic initiatives, Manetta stresses the importance of limiting the number of vendors the company does business with. "If a vendor does enough business with The Phoenix Companies the vendor and the insurer can begin to match goals," she says.

As Manetta embarks upon future initiatives, which will include improved service models and enhanced operational efficiencies (such as those associated with straight-through processing), she will take a very calculated approach to project management. "You need to continually monitor and assess progress and reposition yourself based on these assessments," she says.



Senior Vice President & CIO, eBusiness and Information Technology, The Phoenix Companies

SIZE OF IT STAFF: 400. Additionally, 80 support staff are part of Phoenix Global Solutions (PGS, Bangalore), a wholly owned subsidiary.

INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Skiing, jogging.

WORK HISTORY: Before beginning her work with The Phoenix in '99, Manetta held executive positions with HealthRight Inc. (Meriden, CT), Aetna (Hartford) and Ernst & Young (New York).

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