Blog: The death of the chief digital officer

Dodo
Are chief digital officers going the same way as Dodos - from CDO to CDodo

  • Aviva this week revealed Andrew Brem will not be replaced as chief digital officer
  • Allianz had already decided not to replace their CDO Solmaz Altin
  • Do these moves signal a move away from insurers recruiting and retaining CDOs?
  • As insurtech becomes mainstream does it highlight that CDOs are no longer needed?

As dead as a CDO-do; terrible pun, but with Andrew Brem departing as chief digital officer at Aviva and not being replaced, Jonathan Swift mulls whether this job title will soon be going the way of this flightless bird.

Earlier this week Post revealed that Aviva’s chief digital officer Andrew Brem has left the insurer to join British Airways.

That in itself was not the real story though. That was the fact that the group were not replacing him. For Aviva the role of CDO was one-and-done.

I remember when Brem was recruited in 2014 being a little bit excited about the fact that Aviva had given someone such a shiny and exotic title of CDO.

He had pedigree too, given he was credited with driving the creation of Hive at British Gas; and the then-group CEO of Aviva, Andrew Wilson remarked: “The insurance industry punches below its weight when it comes to digital propositions that customers are looking for. Coming from outside the insurance industry, Andrew will bring a fresh perspective. I am confident he will drive Aviva’s digital transformation.”

But there was always some who scoffed at the job title; noting that if a business wanted to make digital past of its DNA, all senior managers should be expected to seize this agenda, not one man or woman.

No business has a chief internet officer, they would joke. That technology is part of the fabric of every insurer.

The suspicion was that the CDO would be a fad.

That the role would be absorbed into other parts within the business as digital became business as usual.

I did not disagree with this; but perhaps what has surprised me is the speed with which the CDO is becoming an endangered species.

At the first Digital Insurance Collective meeting in 2015 Brem voiced the opinion that to succeed in the digital space insurer boards need to have the “guts” to make it a strategic priority, pull capital in from elsewhere to prove it, give it its own profit and loss “teeth” - and finally build a few icons to underline a commitment to the cause

Well Brem’s former employer certainly built a few icons with its garages in London and Singapore, and they talked the talk in terms of digital being a strategic priority building marketing campaigns around its Aviva Drive app and Ask it Never initiative.

But ultimately I suspect one of the reason the CDOs are a dwindling species is that Aviva, like many others, have not given digital its own P&L line for shareholders/investors to view.

And ultimately there are good reasons for this, not least putting too much scrutiny on the returns that can be expected in the short term when investing in these technologies.

And anyway, should it not be the case that every department is investing in digital; so why should it stand alone?

In March this year Allianz’s CDO Solmaz Altin moved to become the CEO of Allianz Asia. He was not directly replaced.

So with Aviva also deciding to kick the CDO into touch are the days numbered for this role? Not in that what CDOs are doing is not worthwhile, but that their workload will simply be divided among a wider spectrum of employees.

The role might have been good to alert everyone within an insurer that digital is to be taken seriously; but once they had all woken up to that fact, its time was past.

No insurtech I can think off has ever had a CDO; and if insurers all aspire to be insurtechs, then why should they recruit one?

Brem is now the chief commercial officer of British Airways; on his LinkedIn profile the only CDO role he has had to date was at Aviva; I suspect that will be the case when he retires.

In terms of Allianz and Altin, announcing Iván de la Sota appointment in April as chief business transformation officer, the CEO of Allianz SE, Oliver Bäte said: “He will be able to build on the strong foundation laid by Solmaz Altin, who as CDO implemented our digital agenda over the last two years.”

I look forward to the ex-CDO reunion in five years time and will be very interested in what roles they are doing then. And whether we find any current CDOs in 2023 to join them. My suspicion is no. A few transformation officers maybe, but CDOs, no.

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