The influencer interview: Danielle Guzman

By Alara Basul | 13 April 2017

Danielle Guzman is global solutions marketing leader for Mercer, based in New York. She has over 20 years of experience as an insurance marketer and is an expert in the financial services industry. She was recently ranked #2 in the InsTech Power 100 leader board and #5 in the Women in Finance 100.

bobsguide spoke to the marketing leader about her career in the industry, and her thoughts on the future of the insurtech industry.

What is your current role?

I currently work for Mercer which is a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. We help clients around the world advance the health, wealth and careers of their most vital asset – their people.  I’m part of the global marketing organisation. Technology plays a tremendous role as both our organisation and the industry is becoming much more digitally native. It’s critical that global organisations move with momentum and constantly look at how we engage with our clients today, how we will be engaging with our clients in the future, and recognize that our products and services must evolve to meet consumers ever changing needs. With the momentum around fintech continuing to explode, it is hard to predict what the future holds.

Prior to joining Mercer, I was at AIG, a large global insurance carrier, where I was the head of customer insight and previously the global head of product development.

How did you enter the fintech sector?

My interest in getting into the fintech and insurtech space came from being inside one of the largest global organisations that was not yet at the forefront of driving this innovation. We were the furthest thing from a start-up yet we were looking to bring in many of their unique qualities - the mindset, way of working, speed and nimbleness that these fintech organisations had - and see how we could start influencing the culture within a more traditional organisation. At AIG, I established the customer insight team, new to the organization, and with the goal of transforming us into an organisation that truly put the customer at the core of everything we do. Looking at the emerging fintech space, who was in the field, what everyone was talking about, and how we could benefit and learn from that were key themes we tapped into and leveraged as we started building partnerships within our business.

When I made the move from AIG to Mercer was when I truly started getting an appreciation for how sophisticated the whole social sphere had become. It was no longer just somewhere to go and engage with people; it was really becoming part of someone’s professional persona. A social influence was quickly becoming a critical part of a company’s brand. The brand was no longer a logo, who the company was and what it stood for, but more what its employees were saying about them and what ambassadors were saying.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying: "Personal brand is what people say about you when you leave the room." In the age of social media, people do business with people they know, like and trust. And your personal brand is defined not by what you tell people it is, but by how you conduct yourself and what others tell each other about you. 

These are the ways brands can truly be personable and connect with clients and prospects in the community. Extracting wisdom, ways of working, and cultural attributes, and bringing them back into your organisation is how you can really help a company going forward.

You’re an expert in product development and marketing with the customer being at the core, why is this important?

I render a guess that at least 50% of what is done in the financial services industry is done with inside-out thinking. That is, when you build a marketing strategy, you start with the business objectives, and from there build a plan through internal knowledge gathering and assumptions, and through that process define what the target audience identified wants or needs.

However, there are very few people that then stop and think about the customer. What keeps them up at night? What tensions do they feel when looking to work with their bank? Why they behave the way they do? Taking that outside-in approach and making it equally representative to the inside-out approach that an organisation takes as standard and really putting the customer at the core is crucial in this process.

The customer should have a very strong voice throughout the entire process of building your strategy and developing your product. Looking at the fintech industry, they put the customer first, and focus on their pain points. They’re absolutely putting the customer at the core. The magic though is really to bring the two strategies together (outside-in and inside-out) and deliver a strong meaningful value proposition for the customer.

You have a big presence on social media. How does that impact your role in the fintech industry?

It was only last year when I really immersed myself into social media. I decided that I needed to make it a habit, establish my voice and really understand the dynamics. I have met more industry contacts, thought leaders, influencers, potential customers, friends and colleagues in the past 12 months through social media – probably 20x more than I would have done with traditional face-to-face networking.

However, it truly is a marathon. You have to start with building a sense of trust with your network, and start sharing content that’s meaningful to your audience. I’ve focused on engaging with individuals on topics that I really enjoy, and also share content on key themes that are meaningful to the work that I do at Mercer.

I’ve also had the opportunity to be involved from the mentoring perspective, working with like-minded individuals and learning from them. If you think back as little as five years ago, you would have needed a lot more time to personally have all these conversations in a face-to-face environment. Social media allows you to move further faster.

You enjoy leading changes in the industry: When was the last time you impacted a change?

I’m still relatively new at Mercer, so in terms of a change that I have been a part of from start to finish, it’s too early. That said, Mercer is a change maker in the industry, and I can certainly say that one of the things I love about Mercer is while it’s a global consulting firm, their culture and disciplines also embody many of the core strengths you see in the more nimble start-ups and tech organisations. We have razor focus on digital transformation, we put the customer first, and we drive innovation in everything that we do. We’re very socially focused, with a growing Mercer advocacy program and engagement across our senior business leaders and even right up to our CEO, who is very prolific on social media.

What’s been your career highlight to date?

That’s a great question. I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing career to date, working with incredible people each step of the way. Without a doubt I would say that having built two start-up functions in a highly rigid and often uncompromising global organization is my career highlight thus far. As Global Head of Product Development, and Global Head of Customer Insight, I established a vision for what could be, and then implemented that vision in collaboration with best in class teams.

Being global mandates, what made them inspiring was having to navigate the organization and build vast networks, with constant “dot connecting”, and in turn leveraging those connections to achieve results that benefited all parties, but most importantly our customers and shareholders. Looking back on the opportunity, and seeing how we went from having many disparate processes and came together with one global process, gaining efficiencies, elevating teamwork, accelerating speed to market and putting the customer at the core of it all, is very rewarding.  

If you speak to people in insurtech, the ability to be able to accept change in this type of organisation following generations of doing things the same way, and bring in new individuals from start-ups and outside industries, is difficult. I wanted to recruit these people and bring their culture and their way of thinking together, creating an internal innovation hub that could really help move the needle for this organisation. It was incredibly successful. Today, the platforms that we established creates the building blocks for new products at AIG. It’s been very rewarding to see.

What trends/predictions do you think we’ll see in 2017?

I think there’s a lot still to come with fintech. The essence of collaboration still has a ways to go. We still do not see many strong stories about financial services players partnering with fintech. We haven’t seen many case studies where a partnership is created where the two companies become a joint powerhouse. Yet they need each other. Building in-house innovation is hard, and for fintechs it is hard to build a customer base, build the brand awareness and gain the necessary capital. I think we’ll start seeing a lot more collaboration and it will only spur further momentum in the industry.

We’ll also see a lot of interesting dynamic developments with disruptive tech such as AI which is quite an exciting space. I recently read that less than 20% of companies today are using AI in their marketing, yet over 80% of these companies said it was absolutely critical that we did so. We all know we need to be engaging in it, but we may not know how to or have the skillset to do so - yet. While I cannot predict exactly what type of role it will play in the industry, I believe it will be substantive and materially change how we work and engage with financial services providers, and will be positive. That is, AI as colleagues, not competitors.

Cybersecurity is also going to become more and more prominent on people’s agendas, especially with the proliferation of tech firms focusing on internet of things, sensors and the associated exposures of this technology.