• Mon. May 20th, 2024

Top Financial Service Leaders Drive Success Through Culture And Innovation

Back in 1994 when I read the book Build to Last by James Collins it opened my eyes that the truly greatest companies had a two elements: the core of a consistent great culture and the ability to reinvent itself while keeping – and strengthening – its core. So in 2024 I researched and uncovered in financial services, an industry driving much of our economy, four companies who exemplified these traits: John Hancock, Marsh, Cognizant, Voya. After sitting down with these leaders on March 18, 2024, I found that great success all boiled down to four principles: 1. Redefine your industry 2. Lead purposely by starting with yourself 3. Build the right team 4. Utilize technology to reinvent.

And while these concepts were from companies with expertise in financial services, I believe all four principles have deep relevancy for most all companies regardless of industry.


Redefining an industry means transforming the strategy by looking through a different lens. A dramatic insurance reframing came from a 162 year old company John Hancock who postulated that the insurer and the client actually have the exact same goal … a long life. Yet, this concept is incredibly hard to create and implement.

Brooks Tingle, President & CEO of John Hancock explains their model to transform the company and the industry, “We engage customers to help them live longer, healthier, better lives. When launching John Hancock Vitality, we set out to transition from a passive claims payor to a dynamic and engaged active risk manager, providing our customers with education, support, incentives, and rewards for the everyday things they do to be healthy – from exercising to buying fresh produce to getting preventative screenings.”


Corporations have gone through four phases: 1. In the 1930s Alfred Sloan created the concept of the corporation with General Motors 2. In the 1950s Peter Drucker codified management 3. In the 1980s Japan brought in quality and teams 4. In the early 2000s enterprises linked purpose with profit.

After hearing from Heather Lavallee, CEO, of Voya Financial, I am seriously considering the fifth phase of the corporation will be advancing from company purpose to integrating individual purpose. Purpose-led companies are driven by a shared understanding that what the company does matters to the world. Voya’s purpose is “To fight for everyone’s opportunity for a better financial future.” It’s part of the organization’s DNA and the reason why its customers choose Voya, why people join the company, and it motivates everyone across the organization to fulfill its mission every day.

Lavallee explains the concept, “Designed to help each one of us better understand, articulate and live our own personal purpose, across Voya our people participate in personal purpose workshops that empower them to directly connect their work to our shared purpose and customer passion.” And Heather isn’t just leading an organization focused on purpose, she has her own personal purpose which she shares – and lives by – with her team, “To use my power and influence to help others to unlock their own inner superpowers.”


After personally interviewing over 1,000 CEOs I can affirm that the single theme I hear the most is along the lines of, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Building an exceptional culture is easier said than done. And arguably the first important step is hiring the right people. Michelle Sartain, President of Marsh, US and Canada, shares two fundamental — yet profound — questions that will quickly uncover someone’s true character and if they’ll fit in your culture. “Steeped in our culture is this idea of ‘The Greater Good.’ At the heart of that idea is ensuring we are making the right decision for our clients, as they are at the center of everything we do.

As such, I always ask in interviews, ‘What have you learned in the last six months?’ It’s about this idea of being constantly curious and a continuous learner. At Marsh, we deal with clients in all different industries. If you don’t have a curiosity about what they do, you’re never going to be able to understand their needs and what industry dynamics are impacting them today and in the future. The second question I ask is, ‘Describe a difficult situation where you had to make a decision on what to do or not do and what was the process you used to make that decision?’ What I’m really trying to get to here, of course, is an understanding of the process someone uses to determine the right course of action.”


At the core of innovation is technology. In fact a CEO of a top 10 global bank recently told me that their data actually had more value than their entire banking business. Sarat Varanasi in his role as North America Insurance Leader for Cognizant, overseeing 32,000 staff and 50 million participants, explained the historical relationship of how technology drives innovation in insurance, “The fundamentals of risk management in insurance have remained the same for hundreds of years. But there are occasional leaps in technology that we call S curves that enable reinvention, like the introduction of mainframes in the 50s, Internet in the 2000s, and iPhones in 2007. We believe GenAI is one of these generational opportunities. For example, we’re currently helping a client tackle the industry problem of ‘Not in Good Order’ in claims using GenAI. We are significantly improving agent and customer experiences, while simultaneously lowering costs.”

And so, in summary when I am asked what the similarities are of the future great companies – regardless of industry – I sense it will be a combination of: redefining your industry, driving change through purpose and starting with yourself, building the right team, and utilizing technology to reinvent. The recipe for the visionary companies will be blending these four ingredients with your company’s core identity.

To listen to these and other CEOs go to The CEO Forum Group


By admin