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Management Strategies

11:39 AM
By David Dean and Todd Purcell, Ernst & Young
By David Dean and Todd Purcell, Ernst & Young

The Emerging Role of the Chief Digital Officer

The CDO should be a champion for growth and innovation.

Over the past two decades, technologies have significantly transformed the business landscape, and developments in the digital space are moving forward with exponential speed. Surprisingly, however, the financial services industry has been slow to adopt digital compared to other industries. Many organizations do not see themselves as digital leaders and are instead trailing the spectrum in customer engagement, analytics, mobile and social media because they are focused on changing regulations, fluctuating markets, security threats and political instability. The financial services industry has recognized it needs to step up its efforts to drive the digital agenda despite these headwinds.

This recognition is primarily due to a renewed focus on--and competition for--the customer. Financial services customers have not lagged in taking to new technology. There are almost as many mobile subscriptions in the world as there are people--6.8 billion compared with the global population of 7.1 billion--and 40% of the world is online. And there are no signs of slowing. It took Google six years to reach 50 million users, while Google+ needed just 88 days to reach that number. It is estimated that 40 million apps are downloaded a day.

With the unprecedented level of access to information that digital enables, customers expect a new level of service. Relatively new innovations such as cashing checks via smartphones and filing claims online are the new normal and demanded of all providers. And the entire financial services industry is reassessing their business models. The threat of not keeping up makes a firm susceptible to losing entire lines of business to more agile competitors. Addressing the digital agenda is no longer just a novel differentiator to gain a slight competitive edge. It is a priority to survive.

To drive progress on the digital agenda, companies must remove internal barriers, such as corporate structures that are structured to support legacy business models and technology adoption approaches that are reactive by design. In an environment where technology becomes obsolete as soon as it is developed, agility is the key. Financial services organizations require a leader with vision who can embrace the fast-paced opportunities of the digital enterprise and overcome traditional reluctance to change in an industry where risks associated with chasing trends is high.

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