Listen, learn & lead.
This is the philosophy of James Betton, senior vice president of life services and chief information officer for life insurance company ivari (formerly Transamerica Life Canada). It’s a mantra that has helped him prosper in more than a dozen years with the Toronto-based company.
Leading a team of 270, Betton feels it’s important to surround himself with talented people and he focuses on building high-performance teams.
“Make sure that you get the focus of the organization through the strategy; it should feel like we all have the capability to deliver on it,” he says. “It’s important to define the difference between leadership and management. At ivari, we tend not to manage—we engage and empower individuals to make decisions provided that it aligns with the company strategy.”
“Our fresh new story reflects the culture and values of our organization….It was fresh and new in the market and being part of a much larger organization than in the past created a new opportunity for us to create our own destiny.”
As Transamerica Life Canada, the company supported a national network of accredited advisors who provided financial solutions to Canadians in the middle market. None of that has changed.
That approach came in handy last year when after 80 years, Transamerica was acquired by Wilton Reassurance Company, and the decision was made to rebrand the company as ivari, bringing its lines of business back from the United States, and formulating a unique, fresh identity for the Canadian market.
“The sale of the company was the trigger for the rebranding,” Betton says. “We had a short period of time where we licensed the name so we had to come up with a new name and brand story without really impacting our business. It was a significant undertaking.”
The entire company was fueled by adrenaline to get behind the change and in October 2015, the name was officially ivari.
“The entire executive team was actively involved in the rebranding initiative, right from the selection of the new name to colour selection to the new story. Frankly, it was a unique opportunity for a midsize insurance carrier in the Canadian marketplace,” he says. “We really got to reinvent ourselves with a fresh and approachable image while maintaining our focus in the middle market.”
Among his day-to-day responsibilities, Betton is in charge of all information technology and life operations for the company, as well as leading the three-year transition plan.
“The rebranding required 45,000 person-hours to complete,” he says. “We had to look at changing all of our external correspondence because we were only licensed to use the Transamerica name for a short period. We had to mobilize teams across the entire organization and make sure that anything that was external had the ivari name. Internally, we had to ensure we delivered a consistent experience to all our associates via our intranet site so that they could get behind the new name and brand.”
Betton notes that 2016 is a very exciting time to be a CIO at an organization that has dedicated so many resources to innovation as well as the modernization of their systems and business capabilities during this transition period.
“We tend to take more of a bimodal approach to deliver our core initiatives,” Betton says. “We look at a combination of agile resourcing to make sure we have key talent focusing on the things that are more innovative. And we balance that with investing appropriately in our core business capabilities to make sure we remain flexible and have the capacity to grow our business. Our ability to focus and prioritize things that move the needle is a key item for the executive team. Having capabilities and resources to execute is what makes a difference.”
The transition started in July 2015 and will be complete at the end of July 2018. However, customers need not worry. Neither the customer profile, nor ivari’s core strategy has changed.
Simply put, if clients have a preauthorized debit or credit from Transamerica, by the end of April 2016, they will notice the name will appear as ivari; if a policy has investment options, the fund names will be revised to reflect the name change as well.
“Our fresh new story reflects the culture and values of our organization,” Betton says. “We are mobilizing the entire organization to get behind it as it was a significant undertaking. It really energized the organization. It was fresh and new in the market and being part of a much larger organization than in the past created a new opportunity for us to create our own destiny.”
Still, the change has created somewhat of a challenging time at the company.
“There is still a tremendous amount of work required to complete the transition—whether that means people or systems or business processes— it all needs to get effectively moved as we will no longer be supported by the US,” Betton says. “We anticipate 600–700 people being involved in the transition over the course of the next three years. We are focusing on growth and evolving to become more digitally centric as an organization.”
Transamerica Life Canada has always possessed a caring philanthropic arm, and that hasn’t changed with the name change.
“As a life insurance company, we understand a lot of health issues that affect Canadians, so that is the knowledge we bring when we approach charitable giving,” Betton says. “We call it ‘in the spirit of hope,’ and we focus on organizations that target diseases that affect Canadian families the most, with the top four being heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.”
The company also has a robust United Way Giving campaign where the company matches employee donations.
“The bottom line is that we’re making a positive and lasting difference,” Betton says. “I feel very fortunate to work with great individuals and a great company. I’m really excited and engaged as we set out to do great things for our customers and the community.”