Digital Transformation: A Practitioner's Guide (with TIAA)

What are organizations looking to accomplish with their digital transformation efforts? What are they trying to do? Who's involved? How do you measure the results of digital transformation? Sastry Durvasula, the Chief Information & Client Services Officer at TIAA, explains how a large organization evolves and transforms.


Jul 15, 2022

Digital transformation is no longer an option for most organizations.  The question is how to focus resources and transform in areas such as rethinking business models, improving customer experience or client services, driving innovation, and using data analytics more effectively.

But how do you measure the results of this transformation? What are the benefits? What about planning for technology investment and culture change? Digital transformation strategy must consider all these points.

To gain practical advice, we speak with Sastry Durvasula, the Chief Information & Client Services Officer at TIAA, to learn how a large organization evolves and transforms. With over $1.4 trillion assets under management, TIAA serves about 5 million customers and was founded in 1918 by Andrew Carnegie.

Here are the topics we discuss:

Sastry Durvasula joined TIAA in 2022 as the Chief Information & Client Services Officer, responsible for leading the global technology and client services organizations.

Sastry comes to TIAA having most recently served as the Global Chief Technology and Digital Officer, and Partner, at McKinsey & Company. In that role, he led the strategy and development of the firm’s differentiating digital products and platforms, internal and client-facing technology, data & analytics, AI/ML, cyber and hybrid cloud ecosystem, and served as a senior advisor on client engagements. Prior to joining TIAA, he held Chief Digital Officer, Chief Data & Analytics, CIO and global technology leadership roles at insurance broker and risk management company Marsh and at American Express, where he spent 15 years. He was also a consultant for several Fortune Global 500 companies.

Sastry is a passionate advocate for diversity and sustainability. He serves on the Board of Directors for Girls in Tech, the global non-profit dedicated to eliminating the gender gap in tech, and championed industry-wide initiatives focused on women in tech, including #ReWRITE and Half the Board. Sastry holds a Master’s degree in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, is credited with 30+ patents and plays a leadership role in technology industry/academia consortia.


Sastry Durvasula: Digital transformation not only has to propel business strategy and business mission, but it has to start with clients. But, at the same time, we also need to transform the core.

I think that's the important thing in digital transformation. You can't just do the front-end, as an example, in an experience or in a servicing call. We need to make sure that the back-end of the core processes, the legacy systems, the middleware, they all need to modernize. Otherwise, you might create a short-term impact and delight, but it's not a sustainable impact and delight.

Obviously, we are also a highly regulated industry, and so we have to keep in mind a number of regulations as we do so. Risk is front and center of some of this, so client first and technology modernization with a digital-first cultural mindset really helps.

What is TIAA and how large is the company?

Michael Krigsman: That's Sastry Durvasula, Chief Information and Client Services Officer at TIAA.

Sastry Durvasula: TIAA has been in business for more than a century. We were founded by Andrew Carnegie when he realized that people who serve others don't have retirement privileges like most others do. He wanted to make sure that we create a dignified retirement for teachers, especially focusing on higher education.

Since then, we have reimagined ourselves, reinvented ourselves (over the several decades that we've gone through) to serve beyond higher education. Now we serve healthcare, a number of nonprofits, and other institutions that serve others.

Our primary focus is providing retirement solutions while investing to make the world better. On our asset management side, we are very active with the investments that actually make the world better, especially in climate, ESG, et cetera.

Michael Krigsman: You have an enormous amount. It's like $1.3 trillion to $1.4 trillion of assets under management.

Sastry Durvasula: That's right. We manage over $1.3 trillion of assets in our business and serve millions of participants. If you think about our clients or customers, the institutions that we work with, they are the plan sponsors. It's the participants, which are millions, whether you're a professor or an administrative staff in a university or healthcare facility. It's the various sponsors and partners that we work with, and obviously a lot of institutional clients in our asset management. It's a wide variety of clients that we work with.

Michael Krigsman: You are the chief information and client services officer at TIAA. It's an unusual role, so tell us about that.

Sastry Durvasula: It's a combination of our global technology organization, which is more or less a classic head of technology for a firm of our size. We are a Fortune 100 company. It's a pretty large undertaking.

I also have responsibility for client services. That starts with caring for our clients in the frontline to a number of middle office operations and then back-office operations, plus our business services that we provide in the back-end across the enterprise.

My organization is almost 60% of the colleagues of the firm. So, beyond technology and serving our clients, it's also a big leadership obligation for me to serve our own colleagues that are serving the clients.

What does digital transformation mean for TIAA?

Michael Krigsman: What does digital transformation actually mean for TIAA, for such a big company that has been around for a century?

Sastry Durvasula: Digital transformation in a 100-year-old firm is almost a privilege to be part of, and it's a very complex thing to do. There is a lot of theory on this subject, but you wouldn't be talking, as an example, digital transformation for a digital native business.

At TIAA, as we look at digital transformation, similar to my previous roles, we look at digital transformation on, I would say, primarily four legs of a stool.

The first leg is the business strategy, business mission, business purpose itself, which obviously I touched briefly when I talked about Andrew Carnegie's vision when he founded TIAA and how we progressed since then.

The second is our clients, which I also touched on the types of clients that we serve. As I think about our clients, we serve not only a range of clients and customers, participants, and plan sponsors, but also we serve different generations of our clients, so participants who are just starting to accumulate for their retirement, to participants who have retired and who are decumulating their retirement savings for lifetime income.

The second segment really is focusing on digital transformation on how we service these clients, how we create experiences for the clients, how we are obsessed with the products for these clients. That's the second leg.

The third leg is technology. Obviously, a lot of the digital transformation is being propelled and leapfrogged by technology, which is obviously changing at a much rapid pace than we've seen before. How do we keep up with technology, modernize our technology, and focus on data and how we use the data to personalize some of these services?

The last leg is what I would call the process, people, and culture, which is the toughest leg, especially when you look at a company that has a long heritage and a lot of pride in what we do. Sometimes, we have to learn new things. Sometimes, we have to unlearn certain things. I think there's a lot of focus on people, process, and culture.

When I think about digital transformation in a 100-year-old company, it cuts across all of these legs, and each leg is independently pretty important and, collectively, there are a lot of dependencies also across these legs.

Michael Krigsman: You're chief information and client services officer. Where does that role fit into this digital transformation framework?

Sastry Durvasula: My team is serving the clients on the front line. My team is handling requests when they make decisions to distribute or different servicing requests or complaints that they have and things that need to be resolved to help them in advisory solutions. But that's the second leg I referenced.

Technology obviously is part and parcel of everything we need to do at this point, and we have been doing, so that's the third leg in my four legs. I am responsible for leading that globally, and my team is in the front line of that.

Of course, people, process, and culture, as I referenced, I also have a large colleague organization that is over 50% – 60%, actually, to be precise – of our firm, so there is a lot of cultural transformation and talent transformation and processes that need to be changed. I call this (simply put) transform the core.

Then, of course, all these three legs are there to actually propel our mission, our business strategy.

At a higher level, the way we describe our business strategy is we want to be a leader in lifetime income. We want to delight our clients. We want to strengthen how we operate, as we think about TIAA 2.0, and all these four legs are quite important actually to enable that. Obviously, my team plays an integral role across all these four legs.

Why are both culture and technology important for digital transformation?

Michael Krigsman: You've described both the people aspect and the culture as well as the technology. What's the interplay? I think that's a point when we talk about digital transformation—

Sastry Durvasula: Yeah.

Michael Krigsman: –that can be kind of confusing. You know, which came first, the culture or the technology? What's driving all of this?

Sastry Durvasula: It's important to recognize that you not only want to transform the technology and the core, but you want to, more importantly, create impact for your clients and delight the clients.

I think one, frankly, advantage I have in my role is that the biggest users of whatever we build for technology are also part of the organization (in our client services), so they are the ones who are actually taking the phone call. They are the ones handling requests from our clients.

How do we create solutions? I'll give one example to illustrate the point.

We are working on a lot of AI and database hyper-personalization solutions for our clients. But when the rubber needs to hit the road, it comes to our client services.

When a call comes in from a participant or a request comes in from a participant that we need to handle, how do we enrich the experience? How do we create intelligent automation so that we can actually advise the client in a very different way?

I think we've been working on client service transcripts, as an example. How do we put intelligent automation and AI-based solutions in our voice response units?

It really takes what we actually build in technologies into action through our client services and having that very integrated organization and proximity to each other.

Most of our hubs also, Michael, where we have hubs both in the United States and in our global locations, my technology teams and client services teams are actually working together in these hubs. If you think about the development of solutions, we could not only develop and test them, but we could actually try them in a beta version with our client services colleagues because they're in close proximity (both organizationally and physically).

Michael Krigsman: You're beginning with the business problems, challenges that you're trying to address, and then you're weaving in technology to support that. Am I interpreting this in the right way?

Sastry Durvasula: Absolutely. I think we start with our client first. Digital transformation not only has to propel business strategy and business mission, but it has to start with clients.

The fact that we have the client on the call, pretty much, and we have requests from clients, we understand their experiential needs (as they come through our digital channels), and we're putting a lot of emphasis there, so I think that is really the starting point. Then we work from there. But, at the same time, we also need to transform the core.

I think that's the important thing in digital transformation. You can't just do the front-end, as an example, in an experience or in a servicing call. We need to make sure that the back-end of the core processes, the legacy systems, the middleware, they all need to modernize because otherwise, you might create short-term impact and delight, but it's not a sustainable impact and delight.

I think, while we are focused on working on some of the loosely speaking front-end experiences and problems, we are also working on some more complex, back-end systems, processes, and culture. Obviously, we are also a highly regulated industry, and so we have to keep in mind a number of regulations as we do so to make sure that we are making sure that risk is front and center of some of this.

That's where I think having this integrated approach to client-first and technology modernization with a digital-first cultural mindset really helps in a complex firm. As I referenced before, a lot of the issues, frankly, that we deal with in our organization and, more broadly, across TIAA are pretty unique to our industry, but also equally unique to a 100-year-old company.

If you look at any different vintage, some of these issues may not exist. I think, frankly, that's what makes my role interesting, and I think I kind of dig… that type of challenge as a leader, and my leadership team is also quite excited about that.

How can organizations avoid risk during digital transformation?

Michael Krigsman: Please subscribe to our newsletter. Hit the subscribe button at the top of our website and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Sastry, you just mentioned risk. You mentioned avoiding risk and (the fact that you are financial services) a regulated industry. And so, how do you reconcile this notion of digital transformation, which implies significant change, with the fact that we don't want to disrupt what we're doing?

As human beings, we want to keep things as they are, but we also want things to change simultaneously. Again, you're in a regulated business, so you have to be very careful about this. How do you manage this?

Sastry Durvasula: When I laid out, let's just say, the mission statement for my strategy and for my organization at TIAA (as I came in), it reads, "Power the business strategic shifts and fuel innovation while transforming the core."

I think it's very important to recognize that the "while" part is a very mission-critical aspect of the strategy.

The way we think about it is it's a two-speed lane. There is innovation that has to happen, especially driven by the customers and the clients (that we talked about earlier) because the demands are changing, the experiential needs are changing, and the products are also changing in financial services with the emergence of new, innovative products, new types of assets, et cetera, asset classes.

Frankly, the risk portfolio itself is changing from a customer perspective. We need to keep up with that, actually innovate on it, and enrich the experience.

The regulations are also changing. The regulations are actually opening it more because lifetime income and retirement for all is a core obligation at this point. That's being widely discussed. I think there is also positive regulations actually coming to promote and foster that, and we are part and parcel of that, obviously, having been, frankly, one of the founding fathers in this industry, you know, in its space.

While we propel our impact to our clients and participants and leverage the regulatory demands that are coming in a positive way, we also have to balance, as you rightfully said, the risk side of the house. That's why I think strengthening our data ecosystem, making sure that we have full business resiliency in our systems, making sure that systems are managed in a componentized way so that we are not touching some of the parts that we don't need to touch whenever we make an experience change.

We are focused on APIs, microservices. Some of the solutions that we are doing really try to decouple in a way that you're depending on the back-end monoliths that we still have to transform.

Obviously like every other 100-year-old company, we still have mainframe computing, so we need to make sure that those things are managed carefully. At the same time, we need to enable some of the use cases that impact more quickly.

That's what I think. Our approach is a two-speed approach that helps in the way we think about digital transformation.

Michael Krigsman: On LinkedIn, David Leighton wants to know how you're leveraging container technology.

Sastry Durvasula: The technology leg, if you ask me the tenants of our transformation, it starts with the cloud first. It starts with digital first. It's API driven, it's data-powered, and it's secure by design.

By default, we want to make sure that all of our applications are containerized. Obviously, it's a journey and you know it's going to be a multi-cloud environment. It's both public and private in a hybrid cloud construct. But that is a big focus.

We are looking at every application, making sure that we're assessing the readiness level. We are making some headways.

Obviously, it also comes down to prioritization. We are looking at the application that delight the clients as a priority. Our products that we are innovating to some of the demands that I mentioned earlier in retirement or asset management as a priority, and then we work backward and identify the applications that need to be containerized. But that's definitely.

With my own team, call it the Cadbury's.

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Sastry Durvasula: Like cloud APIs, data, and digital as a focus, so that's definitely front and center of our technology transformation.

What is the impact of corporate politics on digital transformation?

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Arsalan Khan, who is a regular listener. He asks really good questions. He says, "Digital transformation is about changing how organizations do things. This requires culture change," as you mentioned earlier. His question is, "What role does politics play in this resistance to changing culture?"

Sastry Durvasula: When you think about a large organization, you have different business units. In our case: retirement, asset management, wealth management, and there are a number of other subsidiaries.

Yes, there are always silos because a lot of the systems that have been built or processes that have been built have been built over time. Especially when you do major M&A activities, new companies come in with their own subcultures, so cultural transformation is the toughest nut to crack.

I always look at the purpose. What happens is if you are sold on the purpose, if you're sold on the mission, and you're a colleague in this firm because you're driven by that mission, then everything aligns.

I think reminding the North Star to colleagues when there is a point of conflict or gray areas where people are stepping on each other's toes or people are worried. When you try to think about intelligent automation and some of these, you know, digitization, there are also questions on job security, et cetera.

How do you foster learning as part of the culture? How do you give opportunities? As an example, I'll give you this. We have a partnership with NYU Tandon School of Engineering where we're sponsoring a graduate program in cybersecurity.

If I am a client services associate, or if I am part of a different organization and want to upskill myself because I have a lot of risk interest and background, the colleague can actually go to NYU and get to experience this certification. We have, actually, right now, I think, over 45 colleagues who are going through this program, and I'm quite excited.

We are forging similar relationships with a number of nonprofits, companies and nonprofits, that are focused on underrepresented talent and opening up opportunities for them. We also created a virtual guild network across the firm where people can major in on a role and minor in on something different that they're learning.

The minute you open up a little bit, I think culture slowly elevates by itself. Of course, it's the hardest nut to crack, but I think that's what actually, frankly, makes the interesting problem here to solve.

Michael Krigsman: It sounds like you are investing a great deal of time, effort, money, thought, thinking into this cultural transformation aspect.

Sastry Durvasula: It's a very big priority for me. In fact, I just hired a leader on my leadership team, Tieisha Smith, who is focused on technology partnerships, acceleration, and culture. That's a big focus for us.

We also have equal focus on client experience, as an example. We've been hiring talent to lead this, and there are a lot of partnerships so that we can actually give opportunities for our colleagues and kind of break the silos.

Data is the other one. As always, data silos have existed in every firm, and we are not an exception. I have a chief data and AI officer that's coming on board who is going to focus on creating that enterprise data ecosystem.

Culturally, I feel like the North Star is always a good reminder and immediate impact. When people actually see something that is changing the experience or impact for customers and clients, then they believe that, "Okay, we are making progress."

Then they're given opportunities to collaborate, learn, and upskill themselves. And they're part of the new, they're not part of the legacy, and things open up.

How do organizations break data silos for digital transformation?

Michael Krigsman: Can you elaborate on the relationship between the need for breaking down data silos and digital transformation, and also how you go about dealing with this issue?

Sastry Durvasula: If you think about client-obsessed products and experiences, think about hyper-personalization, think about tailor-made solutions for different generations of clients that we work with, it has to be an integrated data set in the backend. We need to understand the clients, customers, participants, and plan sponsors at a very deep level.

The fortune that we have is we do have a lot of rich data on our participants to be able to advise them. But a lot of the processes are manual and have been manual, so we want to really integrate them in a way that the data is not only integrated but the capabilities that are built on top of the data to personalize the experiences, to enrich those services and offerings, and to help the clients in a different way, especially in our client services.

I think the use cases that we are thinking about are obviously driving that, but we also have a top-down mandate that we're going to have a data first, an integrated data first, mindset as we progress our transformation agenda here.

Michael Krigsman: We have another very interesting question that's come in from Luis H. Gomez, who is the senior vice president of Digital Product Management at Marsh McLennan. He says, "Where do you see the industry heading in the next three to five years?" I'm going to ask you to narrow that down a little bit basically to talk about where does digital transformation evolve to, whether it's inside TIAA or more broadly.

Sastry Durvasula: If we sit here and I look back a decade, things that were considered emerging and cutting edge and bleeding edge (ten years ago) that are not only mainstream, but we don't even consider them as novelty anymore. I think, if you think about the next ten years, there is a lot of change happening in front of us right now.

obviously, AI is fully mainstream. It's not a theoretical subject anymore. There are applied AI use cases that are happening.

Social media is changing in front of us with the advent of the metaverses of the world.

Technology is changing quite a bit with quantum on the rise. There is a discussion widely on quantum supremacy and what would the world look like when the quantum computer actually can enable use cases that were not even thought about as a possibility remotely.

Real-time streaming, IoT, a lot of the things that are changing in front of us, coupled with the digital economy that we are living in at this point, and new types of businesses coming in, with customer expectations changing, obviously, we see that in front of us especially in our client services.

We serve clients, as I said, who are early accumulators, and we serve clients who are decumulating in our lexicon. I think the needs are different. There are clients that are served on a mobile device today, and there are clients that would still prefer a phone conversation with someone or actually an in-person conversation.

I think digital transformation, if I think about three years from now, it's obviously more than two years and less than ten years. I think we will see a different world. It may not be dramatically different from the experiences today. But it would be dramatically different in its ambition towards the next. I think if you're in, let's say, a 2.0 state, the 3.0 is where we will be heading.

What is the connection between client experience and digital transformation?

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. This is from Lisbeth Shaw. She wants to know further into this relationship between the client experience and digital transformation. I also think that this is an extremely important topic because we often talk about, more broadly, customer experience in digital transformation. Tell us about client experience and digital transformation.

Sastry Durvasula: We have recently hired Jessica Barker as our chief digital client experience officer who is on the executive committee of TIAA. My team collaborates very closely with Jessica and team.

The focus is how do we make sure that the digital experiences that our clients are experiencing are simplified and intuitive. We are talking about something as complex and complicated as retirement and financial planning.

The literacy of our participants is quite varied. Just like the questions we are getting here, there are questions on one end of the pool and there are questions on the deep end of the pool. I think of the financial literacy, how you actually create calculators type solutions where people can work with.

We are equally focused on under-represented and minorities. We just launched Retire Inequality as a major program and focus for the firm.

For example, it's proven that women retire with 30% less compared to men. How do you create solutions and experiences to help women and the under-represented minorities to retire with lifetime income?

I think a focus on experience, a focus on tailoring the solutions, focusing on the segments, focusing on personalizing is front and center for digital transformation. Obviously, it relies quite heavily on technology, data, process, and culture (we talked about) but that's absolutely an important element of digital transformation.

Michael Krigsman: Also, if I can read between the lines, something that you're emphasizing here is that the digital transformation is not primarily focused on efficiency. In other words, it's not about just adding to the bottom line even though, ultimately, I'm sure you hope that that is the case. But it's much broader than that.

Sastry Durvasula: It's both. Digital transformation is for client experience. Digital transformation is to serve clients better. Digital transformation is to drive revenue growth. Digital transformation is to propel digital native businesses that were not possible before. But when you look at the last leg of process and manual systems and silos of data, et cetera, there is absolutely no question that there is efficiencies to be gained, to reinvest those efficiencies in everything that we want to do to delight our clients.

I think there is an obligation to drive efficiencies and there is an opportunity to do so. It is obviously not the only reason why people do digital transformation, but I think it's an important element to recognize because it also creates reinvestment opportunity for our technology and client services investments, as we invest in the future.

What is the role of ecosystem in digital transformation?

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan says, "How do you encourage your employees all the way through to your ecosystem, your partners, your vendors, and so forth to be more innovative towards digital transformation?" If I can just say more broadly, so we have the ecosystem question, but then, more broadly, what is the role of innovation in digital transformation?

Sastry Durvasula: We believe in a best-of-breed ecosystem. Obviously, a lot of the systems were built, processes were built, products were built over time. Our approach is, as we look at opening the canvas and repainting on some of these, we want to make sure that we have a best-of-breed ecosystem approach on that.

In terms of the innovation culture and innovation capabilities, we have client tech labs in our environment that we've deployed that is focused on creating innovative solutions, giving opportunities to crowdsource those ideas to our colleagues, as an example.

We have almost 100 interns that were interning for the summer with us. Obviously, with the proximity we have to universities who are clients of ours, we really invest a lot in these summer programs. When the interns join, we have given them the access to our client tech labs where they can come up with ideas and solutions and actually create them hands-on with our colleagues.

Of course, as we think about a best-of-breed ecosystem, we're also relying on some of the partners that we work with, be it the cloud providers, our AI solution providers, our tool providers, or nonprofits that we are working with to bring that culture into it so that, as I loosely say, bring the East and West together, the Silicon Valley type culture into the teams where they can drive the innovation. As I referenced, we also have the guild network where we can focus on majoring in on a role and minoring in on opportunity.

I think I would say we are in the beginning, so I won't declare victory. But I think we are definitely on the right path. We have some pattern recognition from my own experience and other people I referenced who are joining the team and industry experts that we have within our retirement services, asset management business, in our own firm.

What is the impact of diversity and demographics on digital transformation?

Michael Krigsman: This is from Ram Chepuri. He says, "Sastry, thanks for sharing your perspectives on digital transformation. Would you mind sharing thoughts on how to perceive the digital-first approach given the diverse participants and the broad demographics?" You alluded several times to this very broad audience, so how do you manage a digital-first approach with such a broad group?

Sastry Durvasula: I do a lot of side-by-side and a lot of my leadership team does the same thing when we experience what the client or participant (in our case) is experiencing. We receive requests where, like I said, in-person advice is needed. We receive requests where they don't want anybody. They just want to deal with a tab on a mobile phone and, with a click of a button, they want to get things done.

The needs are also quite different based on the products that we are offering. That's where I think the personalization really kicks in.

You need to understand your customer. In our case, it's the participant, as an example. How do you actually offer solutions that are not, like, "Okay. This is what we offer when we say digital," because the participant may not even have a computer at home (on one side of the spectrum).

Then we have participants who are on the fly, on the road, and they want to get things done quickly. They're planning for the future.

We think about this segmentation strategy very seriously. Then personalizing it from there within the segments based on the data we have.

The one advantage we have, which is also a disadvantage for us, is we are talking retirement planning here. We are talking retirement planning here, so it is a long-term subject.

We have a deeper understanding of our participants and, as they are growing in their careers and in their lives, we also have an understanding of what's happening, which actually gives us the opportunity to analyze the data and personalize those experiences. The disadvantage that we have is it's not a topic like payments or other things that I talk about where you're thinking about it every day, every second, or every other day, like a banking transaction.

We need to be front and center. We need to have the mind share of our participants and customers. But we also have to make use of the lesser number of interactions that we have in a very deep and meaningful way. That's where I think the science and the art of this comes in.

Michael Krigsman: If a company is doing well, their customers and clients are happy, they're making money, why should that company undertake any type of disruptive change such as digital transformation at all? Why not just leave it alone and let the business run?

Sastry Durvasula: Being a 100-year-old company, and Andrew Carnegie's ambition was to serve and serve people who serve, and we have reinvented a number of times in these 100 years. We've reimagined a number of times. We have gone through major disruptions with the advent of different types of transformations that took place in the last century.

Digital transformation happens to be the subject today. I think a decade from now, there may be a different transformation that we will have to go through as we think about our solutions, services, and products.

Of course, digital, hopefully, by then, becomes native to how we do the business. I think it's important to not only modernize the core because it is important to be relevant as a business but, more importantly, it is just part of the evolution of a company of our size, stature, and impact.

For example, ESG is a classic area of our focus, which was not a focus for a lot of the firms. We were one of the pioneers. We were actually recognized as a leader in that space even before ESG was a mainstream topic. That's because we were trying to reimagine the future.

I think that's going to be a continued focus, Michael. Frankly, that's what keeps these types of firms apart from others.

Michael Krigsman: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), can you talk about that and intersect that also with digital transformation?

Sastry Durvasula: It's an important focus for our company, top to bottom. I think it's a top-down mandate. We have a very diverse executive team (to begin with) with a very focused CEO, so it's a top-down mandate for us.

As I said, we launched Retire Inequality to help. We've actually engaged a number of leaders in the industry, be it celebrities or athletes or econometricians or academia. I think that's a big focus for us.

Personally, my last session with you was on diversity in technology, so I'm personally passionate about this myself, serving on the other side of the hat that I have as a board member and one of the big advocates for diversity in women and gender, diversity in technology.

I think it's a big focus for us, and it also, no question, is a business imperative. I think we want to serve, and we want to provide lifetime income for all. The all matters a lot.

If I think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, it's important for the business. It's important for the clients. But frankly, it's very important for me as a leader of technology and client services because we want to include the talent that can innovate, envision those solutions, and create a very open playing field.

Advice to business leaders on being successful with digital transformation?

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for business leaders who are undergoing digital transformation in their own organizations and they're struggling? I think we've all seen companies where the disruption of themselves sounds good on paper, but when the rubber hits the road, changing compensation structures and incentives and everything else is just so hard. It's like, "Yeah, we want to innovate, but you know what? We really don't want to innovate." What advice do you have for these folks?

Sastry Durvasula: I always say, "Stay optimistic," because it will not be easy and there will be days where you feel like you made a mile of progress and ten miles backward. I think staying optimistic is a very important leadership attribute because the teams, especially if you're a business leader, the organization needs to see that you're committed, you have the conviction, and you're optimistic.

Stay curious because things are changing. There's nothing that would compensate knowledge in this area. The more people learn, the more people upskill – leaders – (business, technology, et cetera), the more you feel like you're equipped to handle some of these complex and tough problems as you navigate through execution.

Then stay persistent. I think, when the going gets tough, get going. This is a very tough one, but I think the world has gone through a number of these transformations. If you're starting, or if you're in the middle, stay at it.

Yes, there are going to be prioritization questions, et cetera, board mandates and shareholder mandates, investor pressure. Financial outlooks are changing. The economy is changing. All of these things will stay, so you need to modulate how you drive this. But I think the mission has to be there as the core.

Michael Krigsman: What do you do if you're a business leader and you have been tasked with driving transformation and it just becomes clear that the organization does not want to transform? They do not want to disrupt the relationships, the ecosystems, the balances of power, and so forth. What do you do if you're in that situation?

Sastry Durvasula: Bring the North Star, which is people in a large organization are in that firm because they believe fundamentally in that mission and purpose of the firm. In our case, of course, we have a very noble cause that the company started with and that we are at it, so I always bring the North Star.

If you have bought into the North Star, do you think that we can navigate the speedbump that we have in front of us? I think that's one.

The second thing I also say is (in terms of learning) nothing is better than reverse mentoring (in the current space). I do a lot of that.

If you're a senior leader who is at a stage of life, and you've seen a lot of career, talk to people not only to mentor them but also to be reverse mentored. Talk, like have four or five gen-Z who are mentoring you because their experience is what you're building for.

How do you engage in a conversation where you're the learner? I think that really helps. You engage them, and you also encourage your colleagues to do the same.

I think then people, like a lot of my colleagues, talk to their kids about their experiences. I think it really helps to open that conversation in a different way.

Michael Krigsman: Very inspiring advice. With that, we're unfortunately out of time, so a huge thank you to Sastry Durvasula from TIAA. Thank you again for taking the time with us and sharing your expertise and your wisdom.

Sastry Durvasula: A great pleasure. My pleasure, Michael. Thanks for having me.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially all those folks who ask such amazing questions. You are just the best audience. Thank you so much for watching and participating.

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Published Date: Jul 15, 2022

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 759