TIAA Takes Hybrid Digitization Approach


With the proliferation of financial technology startups that are nipping at the heels of the established players, moving a 100-year old not-for-profit firm like The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America into the digital world would prove difficult.

Not according to Roger Ferguson, president and CEO of TIAA and who spoke at the Digital Transformation Summit hosted by Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business in New York City.

Roger Ferguson, TIAA

“We are not going to be driven from the field by these new upstarts,” He said. “What I think will happen is that we will work with, co-op, and partner with, and learn from them.”

TIAA started its digital transformation two to three years ago when it hired its first chief digital officer, according to Ferguson.

Critical to the firm’s digital strategy was that it aligned itself with TIAA’s focus on creating financial security and retirement security for its clients.

“It is very hard to think of a digital strategy that is different from where the company is going,” said Ferguson. “All has to be aligned since a digital strategy has to enable the business strategy and not be something separate. It has to be associated with our clearly articulated values and goals.”

The company decided to make the move to the digital world a priority across the enterprise.

“We have set a digitization score for our company, and it is pretty rough days,” he said. “I was talking with our trustees just yesterday. We are still in the infancy but the thought of introducing a digitization score is so that 16,900 colleagues all start to think of us as a digital organization by driving this digitization score.”

Since beginning its initiative, TIAA has rolled out a mobile experience for all of its clients.

“We’ve launched smart apps for phones, tablets, and smartwatches for those who need to check their retirement savings on their wrist,” Ferguson noted.

The firm also rolled out its robo-advisory service, which it acquired when it purchased MyVest in June 2016 to jumpstart its robo-advisory offering.

In a similar vein, TIAA has also acquired EverBank in June.

“We wanted to have banking services as something we could offer to our participants,” said Ferguson. “More importantly, EverBank is a digital online bank. Instead of building this capacity slowly, we decided to acquire the capability.”

From an internally developed perspective, TIAA has received a patent for its TIAA Hyperdata Online Repository.

The technology provides TIAA with real-time information on its participant’s online experience and lets the firm optimize its infrastructure accordingly.

“We have 120,000 participants in our storefront daily,” said Ferguson. “Through the store app, we are looking at 200 million pieces of data every hour and optimizing our infrastructure every hour for a better, smoother experience.”

The final piece of advice Ferguson gave his audience was to stop thinking of digital as being a channel, but more as a storefront in the same manner that Amazon does.

“This change in perspective is important because it puts the customer experience at the forefront in how we think about digitization,” he said. “Just as you go into a store, people are thinking about your experience; we want our digital experience to have a customer-first perspective.”

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