CFA Institute's CIO Drives Digital ExperienceBy Peter High
CFA Institute's CIO Drives Digital Experience
The CFA Institute is the global association of investment professionals that sets the standard for professional excellence and credentials. The organization is a champion for ethical behavior in investment markets and a respected source of knowledge in the global financial community. The end goal is "to create an environment where investors' interests come first, markets function at their best, and economies grow." The CFA Institute has more than 148,000 members in 163 countries and territories, including 142,000 CFA charter holders, and 148 member societies. Elaine Cheng is the institute's CIO and the managing director of technology and Global Strategy Design. In that combination of roles, she leads a team of about 80 people and is accountable for the future vision and strategy of technology and systems at CFA Institute. Her primary focus is to create superior digital experiences for the institute's members and exam candidates. She does that by creating platforms that connect people and deliver information.
Peter High: In addition to being CIO, you have responsibility for Global Strategic Design, which works as an internal consulting function responsible for human-centered decision making, idea generation and execution. What was the impetus for creation of this group, and what are some highlights from your experience in role?
Elaine Cheng: Global Strategic Design was created to ensure that we do everything with an outside-in focus. We needed to make changes to our approach, which was traditionally creating ideas and products based on what we thought we knew about customers. That didn't always yield the right solutions, and we weren't moving the bar as much as we aspired to on member engagement or satisfaction.
Our Design function helps the organization understand and dig deep into customer perspectives, needs and challenges, so we do the right projects in the right way, thereby improving organizational results.
For example, we recently studied what our members need from us regarding educational content. We expected to find out that they wanted more content or personalized content, but, while we did get this feedback, we also found out that content alone was not sufficient. Our members need us to help them connect to the global community of CFA charter holders. This ideation pushed us toward creating a member app that we launched in May. Now we are iteratively building it out with community features—all with members as our co-designers.
High: You have been in the throes of a global transformation of the front- and back-end technology systems. What was the impetus for this, and what has the transformation entailed?
Cheng: We're modernizing our information architecture, moving from several large, closed systems to an open architecture—including a series of apps, data layers and APIs—that drives all integration and offers the flexibility to create and recreate the customer experience, features and functionality. That said, we aren't just reconstructing the technology; we're first looking at process and experience.
It may seem counterintuitive, but when it comes to tech transformation, you can't look at technology first. If you do, you will upgrade it in a way that's not truly beneficial: It's just a Band-Aid. You must think about design and process before even touching the technology. That's why we analyze how the process supports the customer experience and their needs, and then move to the technology that can enhance that process.
The transformation is also looking at how we expand our platform to serve the greater investment management profession. We are looking outside our walls and finding ways that our nearly 150 regional societies (our partners) and members (our customers) can contribute to the overall experience. We are doing that through the launch of the member mobile app platforms that allow member content contributions, expansion of multilingual and local content capabilities, and shared global data.
Once complete, CFA Institute members, exam candidates and other stakeholders will complete tasks, access resources and engage with meaningful content more efficiently, seamlessly and securely than ever before.
CFA Institute's CIO Drives Digital Experience
High: The digital transformation that you've led has had some profound impacts on CFA Institute's customers. How do you and your team elicit feedback from customers on their needs and expectations to develop your plans?
Cheng: As a member-based organization, everything we do absolutely has to have [customers] in mind. I've implemented a design thinking team and strategy, which first looks at the experience and process that supports the customer, and then determines how technology can enhance it. We gather that information primarily through interviews and formal member surveys for feedback.
Above all else, CFA charter holders told us they wanted content and community— and that's what we're going to deliver … but in steps. Over the next two years, we'll update our app and launch a redesigned website, while also unifying each of our societies onto the same IT infrastructure and systems. Each step of the journey, we leverage our members to help us co-create the features we deliver by including them in user feedback and design sessions.
Our members are already benefiting: Our redesigned digital experience reduced customer registration from 45 minutes to 10 minutes.
High: You are part of a growing sorority of female CIOs. What methods have you used to identify and groom the next generation of IT leaders?
Cheng: I'm passionate about encouraging women and girls to succeed in technology careers, both within my own team and in my community. I'm actively recruiting great female talent and happy to report that 40 percent of my leadership team is female. Diversity of all kinds is critical to innovation, so we need female talent and [women's] unique perspectives.
My passion for uplifting women extends far beyond CFA Institute. I am a founding board member of Charlottesville Women in Tech and current board member for Tech-Girls. Both organizations aim to help improve the number of women in technology by providing connections and resources to women and girls interested in technology.
High: What technology trends particularly excite you as you look to the future?
Cheng: What doesn't excite me? So many interesting, emerging fields exist today. IoT and AI are among the top areas for me, not only for the technology itself and what it means to changing processes, but also for how it will make life easier. I'm interested in how those technologies will change our work—from how we make decisions to how we can then automate the decisions that need to be made.
Although it isn't my specific field, I'm also very interested in biotechnology because of the profound impacts it will have on our health and longevity, assisting those with disabilities and curing debilitating diseases.
Lastly, technology's ability to make the world even smaller always piques my interest. Technology is the tool that connects us and shows us how humans are more similar than we are different. It makes us co-dependent and helps us, often literally, understand each other better. It's those impacts, via technology, that I believe will ultimately make the world a more peaceful place.