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Delivery on digital: chief digital officer Chris Du Bois is blazing the trail for Allianz Llife's enterprisewide digital transformation.

Chief digital officers often wrestle with getting senior management to buy into digital.

Chris Du Bois, who was named to the newly created position of chief digital officer at Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America in 2016, has some thoughts about that.

"For us, getting buy-in on digital involved taking a step back and identifying the low-hanging fruit and where the opportunities were to strike hard and fast," Du Bois said. "That allowed us to drive results for customers and the business in order to gain acceptability and establish momentum," Du Bois said.

Much of that came from creating service capabilities and mobile tools to help facilitate marketing and sales interactions, he said. "That's where we really started to turn heads and get everyone to see the value of digital. And that helped me and my team gain some trust and credibility.

"So now when we have a more abstract idea we usually get a head nod indicating,'OK, you've done enough so we can trust you to take the next step because we're confident it will be successful.'"

Du Bois now has the added advantage of digital being a Top 5 agenda initiative for Allianz Life's parent company, Allianz SE, based in Munich. "That affords my team the opportunity to tap into 170,000 colleagues around the world to help propel us to our transformation," he said.

Du Bois joined Allianz Life in 2010 to lead its interactive marketing efforts, rising through the ranks internally to become the chief digital officer. Before joining Allianz Life, he was with Ameriprise Financial, building its client acquisition and interactive strategies.

While he may be new to the role of chief digital officer, he's been gaining experience for this for much of his life.

The Yardley, Pennsylvania, native's deep dive into digital began when he joined American Express' global digital team in 1999--a time when the CDO role hadn't even come into vogue.

Even his undergraduate degree in German studies, which he earned from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has been a stepping stone into digital. "To me, that was about analysis and problem-solving.

"Believe it or not, that translates well into my current role of trying to connect the dots between what technology can do and what makes customers' lives easier," he said. "That requires a bit of both qualitative and quantitative analytical thinking."

CDOs--who are often seen as hybrid technology-marketing change agents--wear many hats to create a unifying digital vision and integrate digital into all aspects of the business, from processes, data and culture, to the entire experience for financial professionals and customers, Du Bois said.

"As CDO, I'm responsible for building awareness consideration about what happens during that experience--starting before the point of sale all the way through everything that happens after a contract is put in force," he said.

"The role as it exists today is to be maniacally focused on individuals and groups who will be the digital changers and then marry that with the business strategy so you are supporting both," Du Bois said. "I'm not focused purely on stakeholder value or internal business metrics. If I was, I might lose sight and create a bad experience for someone."

One of the keys for analog companies--like insurers--that are planning to go digital is to have a unifying presence.

"They can't have disparate teams and departments doing what I call 'Frankensteining' digital.

"If every group is acting on its own that creates a discombobulated experience for financial professionals and customers," Du Bois said. "So there has to be some sort of lens through which it all can be seen so that at the end of the day you are building for someone a seamless, rich and easy experience.

"If you're trying to transform but doing it in isolated pockets across the enterprise everyone may be indirectly moving together but you'll create a confusing experience for customers," he said.

"One of the keys to transformation is having a center point. Quarter by quarter, I'm the one who's called to the mat to report to our CEO about the company's digital health."

But there are some hurdles to making that happen.

"We now live in a world of infinite possibilities but finite resources," Du Bois said. "That's the challenge and what now keeps me up at night because I have to find a way to drive that," he said. "I want to do more but sometimes I have to say, 'No, not today,' so I can stay focused on the things we're doing."

Effective digital leaders also need a relentless focus on users, Du Bois said.

"You have to really get to know what broker-dealers, professionals and customers are trying to achieve with any sort of digital interaction they have with you. Then, educate colleagues across the organization about what you're seeing around those behaviors."

Of the many lessons he's learned along the way, Du Bois said: "I think the most important thing was sitting side by side with internal stakeholders and intimately knowing who we're building for."

Communication and collaboration also need to factor into the mix. "Any digital group that gets too high and mighty on themselves will fall short. At the end of the day, we just need to be embedded and integrated into the business. We're not the business, but we're trying to make everything we do better."

Finally, Du Bois suggests CDOs empower their teams to do some "test and learn." Recognize that it's OK to fail because failure is learning, he said. "You don't want to fall flat on your face, but it's alright to go out and try to deliver what's right for users and the business and try things out with agility and flexibility."

Through the Years

Du Bois said he is excited that digital leaders-who don't always carry the CDO moniker--are gaining prominence and attention.

No longer is that role exclusive to big companies or other sectors. They're gaining a seat in the insurance C-suite, he said.

Du Bois, who holds Series 7 and Series 24 securities licenses, said it's been helpful growing up in the industry and understanding the internal workings of his organization.

His career in financial services began in MetLife Brokerage's mailroom, followed by stints at Prudential Select Brokerage and Oppenheimer & Company.

Du Bois said he and his team have accomplished a lot over the years.

"We've helped make digital prominent and created awareness up, down and across the organization that this is a discipline and not a passing fancy," he said. "There are roles that exist today that didn't five years ago because of digital and this has become a priority that has to be cultivated and invested in. That's a strategic win for everyone."

But there is still plenty left to do. "The mature state we're striving for is probably two to three years out. And we're challenged because technology is constantly changing," he said. "But that's why I love what I do--it's ever-evolving."

Changes Abound

But, as the adage goes, all good things must come to an end.

At least that's what Du Bois foresees for his role after Allianz Life completes its enterprisewide digital business transformation.

"The day I was named CDO I realized that if I do the job right, my role is gone," he said. "You can see that already in digitally-born companies. They don't have CDOs; that role is already embedded into the business."

Du Bois, however, doesn't expect things to change immediately. "In our industry, it's probably about a five-to- 10-year horizon away."

Then the question becomes: How does the CDO role evolve? "I think there will be a role-whatever it's called--to ensure that we create for our companies a unified front, both internally and externally, and that we're constantly and consistently providing a great experience for financial professionals and customers," he said.

Digital teams will also remain a vital part of the industry, Du Bois said." It's not that they'll get fully decentralized and the left hand will no longer know what the right hand is doing. There is for the foreseeable future--beyond the next 10 years--a nucleus for digital talent that's responsible for doing the brush stroke across the enterprise."

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Allianz Life Insurance Co of NA A.M. Best #006830

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Lori Chordas is a senior associate editor. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Digital Transformation
Author:Chordas, Lori
Publication:Best's Review
Date:May 1, 2017
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