Every day more companies are embracing new technology in order to keep up with the competition. Some are integrating new methods and programs and some, such as TIAA, are creating their own. Scott Blandford, Chief Digital Officer at TIAA talks about his quest to find and create innovative ways to make TIAA a digital company.
Can you give us some background about your role as Chief Digital Officer at TIAA?
I joined TIAA six years ago as CIO for the Retirement and Individual Services business – a position where I gained exposure to all aspects of the services and products available to our plan participants and plan sponsors, particularly through the lens of technology. Now as Chief Digital Officer, my job is to elevate our capabilities in the digital and automation space, honing our focus on the user experience. While my role is to lead the online, mobile and eBusiness storefronts, I am constantly in touch with all parts of our organization – executive leadership, client, business and IT teams– because digital transformation is about more than just new technology; it’s about taking the firm’s self-service capabilities to the next level and leading TIAA to a more active digital future.
Tell us a bit more about THOR and how it fit with TIAA’s recent rebranding?
THOR – the state-of-the-art web analytics system we developed in-house – is a great example of how TIAA is harnessing innovation to provide best-in-class service that supports customers at every step of their financial journey and helps them achieve their definition of financial well-being. The THOR system enables us to monitor web traffic in real-time by collecting aggregate data on customers’ interactions with our sites. Our IT, client support and business teams now have the ability to access information about customers’ digital behavior in an easy-to-digest and near-instantaneous form, streamlining how we respond to user issues, manage resources and improve customer service.
With our recent rebranding, we challenged ourselves to change the conversation surrounding the topic of planning for retirement and affirm to our current and next-generation customers that navigating their finances doesn’t have to be complicated. THOR is one of the many tools we use to make the mission of our rebrand – and our shift to a customer-centric model – reality.
You spoke about “shifting the mindset of a nearly 100 year old organization.” What sort of challenges did you face when trying to implement this new mindset?
TIAA’s commitment to putting customers first has not changed in the nearly 100 years since we were founded. However, the process of accelerating our digital infrastructure has required a concerted effort and teamwork on all fronts. We’ve had to change from being “customer aware” to “customer led” across the firm, and that has required a serious shift in how we have traditionally operate. Our teams are engaged in developing more agile processes to be able to quickly respond to customer preferences and implement appropriate solutions.
How do you feel TIAA has benefitted from “managing with metrics”?
We believe our data-driven approach to monitoring performance is a key to success because it allows us to tailor our services to our customers’ diverse needs and preferences. TIAA has always understood that a one-size-fits all approach to financial planning does not work, and with our real-time metrics, we now have a toolset of actionable resources to evaluate the impact our digital services have on our customer’s day-to-day activity.
What is the next step for TIAA and THOR?
Just as our engineers developed THOR to fill a void in existing technology, our quest to find new and innovative ways to improve our platform of capabilities is never going to end. We are proud of our 100-year-old legacy as a mission-driven organization, and we will continue the transformative process that’s already underway to build our clients’ trust through simple, user-friendly solutions.
Scott Blandford has an extensive track record of successful large program delivery, user experience design, product launches and transformation efforts. He joined TIAA in 2010, bringing nearly 25 years of experience in innovative technology systems, financial services and executive leadership.
As Chief Digital Officer for TIAA, Mr. Blandford leads the firm’s online, mobile and eBusiness automation program. In this position he is charged with taking the firm’s self-service and automation capabilities to the next level—leading TIAA to a digital future where technology fully realizes the customer-focused mission of the company.
In his first four years with the firm, Mr. Blandford served as Chief Information Officer for the Retirement and Individual Services business, where he was responsible for all tiers of the retirement, insurance, education savings, brokerage, banking and wealth management platforms. In this function he led the strategy, design, delivery and ongoing operations for TIAA’s client systems utilizing innovative, patent-pending technologies.
He also successfully launched new secure participant and plan sponsor websites—providing users with simple, modern and intuitive online experiences and a full 360-degree view of their financial lives. DALBAR, an industry group that rates web properties for financial services firms awarded this work with accolades: TIAA is DALBAR’s #1 rated site for life insurance & annuities, #1 rated for plan sponsor retirement, #2 rated for mutual funds and #1 rated for participant retirement (as of 4Q15).
In addition, Mr. Blandford was responsible for a multi-year, ground-breaking re-imagining of the sales and service desktop experience, yielding substantially improved productivity and customer service in year one. TIAA is now delivering more, better capabilities to clients faster than ever before. For this work he was recognized as one of Wall Street & Technology’s “Elite 8.”
Prior to joining TIAA, Mr. Blandford served as Managing Director, Head of Online and Retirement Technology, at Bank of America Merrill Lynch for four years. During his tenure, he delivered the $150M rebuild of Merrill Lynch Online and served as a key thought leader in envisioning and delivering Merrill’s next-generation integrated banking/brokerage web and mobile capabilities, Merrill Edge. Mr. Blandford was also the CTO for Merrill’s Institutional Retirement business, running the technology that supports the retirement plans of some of the country’s largest employers.
Before his time at Merrill Lynch, Mr. Blandford spent 11 years at Fidelity Investments, where he served as Senior Vice President for Fidelity eBusiness and was responsible for all of Fidelity’s Total Retirement and Benefits Outsourcing web and mobile applications.
Mr. Blandford holds B.E.E. and M.S.E.E. degrees from the University of Dayton.