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Q&A: AXA Equitable CMO Amy Radin on Growth Through Customer Experience

Radin relates how technology will play a huge role in driving growth within a more multi-channel future for the life & annuities business, driven by changing demographics and customer behavior.

Last week AXA Equitable announced the appointment of Amy J. Radin as the company's new chief marketing officer (CMO) and the seventh member of the insurer's executive committee. AXA Equitable chairman and CEO Mark Pearson related Radin's appointment to the company's plans to "build the AXA Equitable brand around the customer experience." Radin's has extensive experience at the task of driving growth through customer experience. She was most recently chief innovation officer at E*Trade Financial Corp., and has led marketing, digital and customer service initiatives at Reader's Digest Association and spent nine years at Citigroup, most recently as an executive vice president of the Global Consumer Group where she led numerous marketing, innovation and digital transformation efforts. Late last week she spoke with Insurance & Technology about the importance of a technology-driven customer experience to AXA Equitable's response to the market opportunity for life and annuities created by changing demographics and customer service expectations.

Insurance &Technology: Tell us a little about why customer experience is important today.

Amy Radin: When you're in a services business, the experience should be a huge point of differentiation. I've been a client of several insurance companies, but as I've started to dig into how this business delivers on customer needs and fulfills its promise to policyholders, it's a pretty complex experience touched by many people. This is a highly regulated industry, we work with intermediaries and we also provide customer service. We have to ask ourselves whether we are delivering a great experience for both the customer and the advisor. We have to ask whether we are helping the advisor close the sale and have helped the customer feel that they've solved a financial problem. That's especially important today, because people are dealing with heightened uncertainty and many face a retirement less stable than they might have thought it would be as a result of the financial crisis, and even related to the increased risk many Americans have felt since 9/11. Under those circumstances, the experience matters a great deal.

Amy Radin
Amy Radin, AXA Equitable
I&T: You're new to the insurance industry but you have a great deal of relevant experience from previous positions at financial services companies. How might you begin to apply that experience at AXA Equitable?

AR: I'm excited to develop a deep understanding of where the levers are in this business. In my experience within other sectors in financial services -- such as retail banking, credit card and brokerage -- if you leverage your digital tools well, you end up generally with a higher quality customer experience and better relationships. It comes down to understanding what your customers want and need, and delivering it better than anybody else.

I&T: What is the role of IT in helping to make that happen?

AR: I recently met with Mike Healy, who runs technology, and the first thing I said was, "These days marketing is driven by partnership with technology." The traditional elements of advertising and branding are very important, but during the past 12 years I have spent more of my waking hours working with IT to enable marketing goals. Of course, while technology is critical, it's not sufficient; both the people in your organization and intermediary channels and technology are the key enablers bringing any customer experience vision to life.

I&T: What insights have you gleaned through interaction with other people at AXA Equitable during your first week or so?

AR: Well, I'm humble about what a complex business this is and very much in a learning mode. I've been meeting with cross-functional teams, and one thing that comes up again and again is the importance of ease of doing business with us. We all have a favorite brand in our personal lives, and when we ask ourselves, "Why do I love that brand?" the answers include things like: "They do what they say they're going to do -- they are reliable. I can access them where it's convenient for me. There is consistency -- I know them, and they know me." All of these things happen because companies are making use of technology to enable employees to create a great experience.

I&T: An industry-leading focus on customer experience at AXA Equitable isn't new. I&T recently reported on AXA's use of video game technology and mobile customer interaction. The company's senior VP of internet strategy and development, Connie O'Brien gave the keynote address on social media At I&T's 2011 Executive Summit in November. Given that background, is it fair to say that your appointment reflects a maturing focus on customer experience rather than a new departure?

AR: I would say that my appointment is just one element of a broader plan underway. This is a very collaborative effort that touches every element of the organization. It includes a strong recognition of the importance of technology, of service and of whom you hire. It comes down to culture, and having had the opportunity to meet with the entire executive team, I can report that there's a powerful belief and recognition of how important customer experience is here.

[For more on AXA Equitable's innovative use of technology to engage today's insurance customer, click here.]

I&T: Have you heard the old expression that life insurance is sold not bought?

AR: If I had a dollar for every time someone has said that, I'd be retiring tomorrow! Clearly, that is the case within the current model of how insurance is manufactured and distributed, against the demographics to whom its targeted. When considering the AXA Equitable opportunity, I was very excited by the culture and leadership, including a commitment to leveraging all our assets to differentiate the business and take advantage of the tremendous opportunity in the market. Studies show that a very small percentage of Americans are positioned to have a retirement close to the lifestyle that they're accustomed to, and that people are seeking protection against life's uncertainties. This is a company where the leadership sees the opportunities to serve customer needs in innovative ways, and is prepared to drive the culture, technology and experience needed to solve these problems.

I&T: What role might technology play in potentially altering how much insurance is sold and bought?

AR: There is a terrific opportunity against the way things have traditionally worked. We have seen strong performance in life and annuities but we have to ask questions about customer needs may evolve. How much are people using the Internet to research the kinds of products we sell, before and after they meet an advisor? How many would prefer to self-service? Technology will play a huge role in what I think will be a more multi-channel future. The trick is using segmentation, and using your channels effectively based on each segment's needs and behavior.

These days it's very important to understand how people are behaving. People say that they're preparing for retirement, but there's a gap between what they say and do. I'm interested in how people behave around channels. I've observed in other financial service sectors that you can develop terrific loyalty and preference for your product by optimizing technology use within your distribution strategy. People want advice, so advisors are critical; customers want to be able to go online and easily check accounts, make inquiries and receive alerts.

So providing a compelling customer experience is a matter of thinking end-to-end, managing an experience that gives people the comfort and confidence that they're making a good decision, as well as making sure that we as an industry are delivering what customers need. It's a mistake to think one-size-fits all, with regard to customer experience. As the demographics shift, and as the challenges of retirement, wealth accumulation and protection questions intensify, it's safe to assume that people will engage more on the question and that they'll use technology to get answers.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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