10 lessons learned from CI Financial’s major digital transformation

CI Financial, one of the largest diversified global asset and wealth management companies in Canada, has undergone significant digital transformation (DX) in a number of areas over the last three years.

The initiative was a sophisticated and detailed three-pronged approach: Modernize asset management and expand the wealth management platform in an attempt to create a company that could compete globally.

It was also a mammoth project involving the likes of external firms McKinsey and Company, Deloitte and BCG Consulting that resulted in an assortment of advances being introduced that ranged from implementing intelligent document processing to bots that can process and execute tasks 24/7.

At the 2022 Digital Transformation Conference, Kambiz Vatan-Abadi, the CIO of CI Financial and president of CI Direct Investing, shared the lessons learned and mistakes to be avoided in everything from a technology implementation itself to who does what.

Lesson One:  You need to know where you stand currently and what efficiencies exist. Start your journey with a comprehensive gap analysis, be honest and be ready to earn a low mark. “It’s totally fine to get the low mark and very typical,” he said. The trick is to not become disappointed, and of paramount importance is to bring in a professional and impartial third party in the diagnostic phase.

Lesson Two: Allocate a reasonable amount of time for the review. Depending on the size of the company, it could take anywhere from three to six months, which is fine. Vatan-Abadi likened it to having a medical exam before surgery: “X-ray your organization from tip-to-toe,” and be sure to have the support of top management. Without their buy-in, the whole review process will be pointless.

Lesson Three: Define and create a definition of DX that is applicable not to another organization, but to your own. You can do this after carrying out a number of tasks such as reading articles and books on DX and paying close attention to case studies that highlight not only successes, but also failures.

Lesson Four: The latter ties into the fact you need to understand why 80 per cent of DX programs fail. If you know the root causes in advance you can be prepared. For example, one McKinsey report revealed that more than “70 per cent of failures are driven by what we categorize as poor organizational health – either employee resistance to change or lack of top management support.”

Lesson Five: Take change management seriously, because it is serious. The very first thing that needs to take place is highly compact two-way communications with the work force. Studies reveal that DX programs in which employees feel engaged and energized as a result of being informed and involved are four times more likely to succeed than programs that do not. Also, if employees’ compensation is not tied to the success of a program, the likelihood of implementing a successful change management strategy will be low.

Lesson Six: Be sure to mobilize influence leaders, as the senior executive team is not the only one that employees listen to or take the lead from. If they are excited about and on-board with any change program, they will have a disproportionate effect on the energy levels of everyone else. Influence leaders are people who, regardless of their official title or status, have a wide circle of personal contacts.

Lesson Seven: It is extremely important to build an effective governance and monitoring structure around your transformation program. That means making sure top-level executives are directly involved, stay in the loop, and are constantly receiving updated reports about the status of the program. This requires having an energetic transformation champion for all governance and reporting structures.

Lesson Eight: Never jump into a full execution of a DX initiative without first having a successful pilot. As for the pilot itself, there are three ways in which it can be implemented: The Big Bang method, Systematic Sprint or Slow Rollout, all dependent on the time it will take and the operational risk that is involved.

Lesson Nine: It is critical that a DX exercise generate more energy than it consumes. It’s all too common that even if a pilot is 100 per cent successful, employees may lose sight of the bigger picture and feel they are being placed in an “all pain, no gain” scenario.

Lesson 10: Last, but not least, be prepared for a long journey, one that, if you handle it correctly, will be both rewarding and successful.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. His work has appeared in a number of technology magazines and online with the subject matter ranging from cybersecurity issues and the evolving world of edge computing to information management and artificial intelligence advances.

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