Episode 23

How to Ingest, Transform, and Feed Data with Voya’s Santhosh Keshavan

Voya Financial, Inc. is disrupting the life insurance industry through their use of data to provide an easy, seamless experience for their customers.

Santhosh Keshavan, EVP and CIO at Voya, disclosed how they are taking advantage of data and turning it into something intelligent to boost them up the ladder.

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Time Stamps

  • 00:00 Introduction to Santhosh and Voya Financial Inc
  • 02:21 Santhosh’s role at Voya Financial Inc.
  • 04:31 Voya’s foundational work towards simplifying legacy systems
  • 06:07 How Voya defines digital transformation and interaction
  • 07:39 Challenges facing data migration and quality
  • 09:24 Voya’s transition to the cloud and the tradeoffs that come with it
  • 12:54 The My Voyage mobile app and interacting with customers
  • 16:54 Consolidation efforts to making the My Voyage mobile app possible
  • 18:50 Partnerships and digital transformation at Voya
  • 20:18 Skill sets of the IT organization Voya is changing
  • 23:43 How Voya works to attract and retain talent and customers


Voya Financial, Inc. is a leading health, wealth, and investment company that helps Americans become well planned, well invested, and well protected. But how do they do this from a digital perspective?

Santhosh Keshavan, EVP and CIO at Voya, explains how they excel in the life insurance industry with their digital transformation efforts. He reveals the key components for digital transformation, their ambitious plans for the near future, the power of turning data into ‘intelligent data,’ and more.

Hear how Voya Financial, Inc. is using data to their advantage to grow their impact in the market.

Key Takeaways:

    • To keep up with the speed of digital transformation, you have to take initiative in consolidating core systems, focusing on data, and creating a smooth customer experience.

    • The first and most important component in the insurance market is data - having a good understanding of it and creating intelligence from it.

    • Migrate data! Ever since Voya migrated their data to the cloud, they experienced more flexibility and were able to take advantage of innovation and transformation.

I think all companies have a lot of data, but the challenge is how you create intelligent, actionable guidance from the data we have.

Santhosh Keshavan

EVP and CIO for Voya Financial, Inc.

Our Guest

Santhosh Keshavan


Santhosh Keshavan is Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Voya Financial, Inc where he is responsible for the firm’s technology systems, data and digital organization, information security and infrastructure. He also serves on Voya’s Executive Committee.

Keshavan has more than 25 years of public and private sector experience as a transformational leader, including expertise in financial services, technology and operations. He has extensive experience in complex program management, including acquisitions and divestitures.

Prior to joining Voya, Keshavan held the position of EVP and CIO for Regions Bank based in Birmingham, Alabama, from 2010 to 2017. Keshavan has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from India and a master’s of business administration from University of Alabama at Birmingham with a major in information systems. He serves on the boards of the New York Institute of Technology and Connecticut Insurance and Financial Services, as well as VFI SLK Global Services Pvt. Ltd. — a joint venture between Voya and SLK Group. Keshavan also serves as one of the Executive Sponsors for Voya’s Asian Council.


Anthony O'Donnell: Voya, an insurance wealth management and retirement products company is building the foundation for digital transformation through core system consolidation. Through core system consolidation, migration to the cloud, and modernized data management, CIO Santhosh Keshavan shares how these initiatives are speeding the creation of capabilities to give customers more power.

For example, with the My Voyage Mobile app and the Voya Powell, Santhosh is Executive Vice President is CIO at Voya Financial. He is responsible for the firm's technology systems, data and digital organization, information security and infrastructure. He also serves on Voya's executive committee.

Throughout our conversation, Santhosh shares Voya's digital transformation efforts, simplifying legacy systems, creating intelligence from data and accelerating cloud adoption. Here's my conversation with Santhosh.

Anthony O'Donnell: Santhosh, tell us a little bit about Voya Financials history. Its product set and its current place in the market. Most of our readers probably know that Voya rebranded from Ingus back in 2013.

Santhosh Keshavan: First off, it's great to be here, and having this conversation, let me speak a little bit about where Voya is today, and I'll connect that to the transformation that we have gone through in the last decade or so. Voya is a, is a leading provider of retirement products and services in the us.

We have three businesses. Investment Management, health Solutions and Wealth Solutions. in January of this year, we also acquired Benefit Focus, which is an industry leading benefits administration, tech company that serves employers, health plans and brokers. At Voya, we are really focused guiding Americans to, to greater retirement readiness and financial wellness through employers sponsored savings plans and holistic retirement and income guidance. From a customer perspective, we serve 52,000 institutional clients and over 6 million individual retirement plan participants. As a leading provider of group supplemental health insurance in the us. We also provide comprehensive and highly flexible portfolio of stop loss life, disability, and voluntary insurance products as well.

I wanna quickly touch on our acquisition. benefit, focus, extends our workplace benefits and savings reach and capabilities. By providing Ben admin capabilities to over 16 million individual subscription employees, across, employer and health plan clients as well. And the last thing on our investment management.

We manage public and private fixed income equities, multi-asset solutions and alternative strategies for institutions, intermediaries, and individual investors as well. This is where we are today. If you go back to how we sorted. and as you mentioned at the beginning, we were Barnard of Ingus and we had a different business mix.

We started off in 2013 with five business lines. And in the last few years we have divested two of the five, we have divested our annuities, business first and then the life insurance business. But then we are very laser focused on the three businesses plus the acquisition we recently made.

We feel we are poised for growth and we feel like we have the right mix going forward.

Anthony O'Donnell: So, let's discuss your role at Voya. What’s your title, what's your brief, and how did your previous career lead you to your current appointment?

Santhosh Keshavan: so, my title is Chief Information Officer. I joined BOA in 2017, so it's almost six years since this summer. time flies when you're having fun, and I'm having a lot of fun at Voya. I've been in the financial services industry my entire career, almost 30 years now. I started off, and I'm trained as a software developer.

I have a computer science engineering degree. graduated in India and I started working straight out, for a wealth management company back in the days known as Sunguard. I got a chance to develop many software products while I was working at Sunguard, and I also got to play multiple roles within the company.

It was great. I managed the software side. I got a chance to build data centers, the US and many other countries, that the company was operating. I also had a stint, managing, p and l for Asia Pacific. and I spent about 14 years at SunGard and then I made a switch to Fidelity Investments where I gotta work on the asset management side.

And, and after Fidelity, I spent about six years or so at a regional bank as a CIO, and then joined Boyer in 2017. So, I felt like I had exposure to all facets of the financial services industry. All financial services are different in their own ways and how they interact with customers and leverage technologies differently.

It gives me a good perspective in managing Voya, current state, and the growth as well.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah, and that's true. Within a given enterprise you could have very diverse experiences. You could come from very different places in the enterprise. And like you said, you've got both business experience and technology experience, technology management, and programming.

Santhosh Keshavan: I've been very fortunate, being at the right place at the right time, and also having the opportunity to work with some great colleagues in each and every company. It's been a phenomenal journey. It’s been fun. I wanted to be in technology. I wanted to be in software and financial services happened to be my first job and I've loved it ever since.

Anthony O'Donnell: let's talk a little bit more about the fun that you've been having, as we get to a more detailed consideration of your digital transformation efforts. I thought a good start would be to talk about the foundational work of simplifying legacy systems. So maybe you could give us an account of how things were and what work you've done to consolidate.

Santhosh Keshavan: Transformation is used often and I feel like. We will always be transforming. because technology is changing so fast. I talked about initially how the business transformed. We had five businesses, we transformed. Technology also has gone through a pretty significant transformation at Voya since I joined in multiple areas.

So we migrated from having data centers into public cloud or private cloud. We have taken a position to really consolidate our core systems in all the businesses. for example, in our wealth solutions, we had 46 instances of our record keeping platform. And that was very complex and expensive to manage.

it was not allowing us to innovate faster because any innovation had to be integrated 40 times over and that would take years. And it's not new anymore. So we put in a very concerted effort to really simplifying having one core system in each of our areas.

Along the way we have also made some investments in other foundational areas. We have also done quite a bit in our digital footprint. We have had to rewrite all our digital assets. They were probably 20 years old when I joined, and that's a long time in tech industry.

Anthony O'Donnell: and then the last thing is around our investments around data as well, which is part of our original transformation where we are, focusing on those foundational capabilities.

Having talked about the foundational technology, this might be a good time to talk about how Voya defines digital transformation and what digital interaction means to Voya.

Santhosh Keshavan: Digital transformation for Voya, at least in my opinion, is a very broad umbrella. It comprises of many aspects. The first, and the most important, component is data. Without having a good understanding of data, having the ability to create intelligence from the data.

I think all companies have a lot of data, but the challenge is how do you create intelligent, actionable guidance from the data we have? That is core to our digital transformation. The second part is having an open architecture. It is very much necessary that for customers to adopt and maximize the use of their digital tools, we need to span multiple ecosystems, right?

Not only do we have to talk to applications that are within our ecosystem, but we have to traverse other surrounding ecosystems from that customer’s perspective. So, API management becomes very critical in enabling that great customer experience.

And the last thing I would say, which is very critical for digital transformation is also, faster adoption of public cloud technologies. There is more innovation that's happening there. That will allow us to bring solutions at a much faster pace to the market and give greater control to our customers.

So those three areas, I would say kind of form the core of digital transformation.

Anthony O'Donnell: I thought we might dig in a little deeper into data and discuss the challenges of data migration and data quality. As you've already suggested, control of data is so crucial. It’s what circulates through all the systems. And, and it's so much easier said than done. So, could you tell us about some of the challenges you faced and some of the challenges that you think remain?

Santhosh Keshavan: absolutely. and we, Sometimes, you know, joke about it or talk about it within the company where it's a battle well fought, never won. because the data production is pretty massive. It is not just the data that the core systems provide. The systems of record provide. It is also.

The data that we try to capture from a customer perspective, that's very important. What choices do they like, how do they like? This data to be served. And the customer 360, you know, do we know enough about the customer to be able to give them what they're looking for?

When you look at the universe of data, it's very complex. So, what we have attempted to do is, is build a platform that's scalable, where we are able to ingest data, we are able to transform. and we are able to feed data, for downstream customers. and we are also focusing on one guiding principle there.

build it once and use it many times. that will allow us to have fewer copies, which will. Hopefully, take away some of the quality issues where we may not all be looking at the same source. There are a lot of new technologies have come in the last, even two or three years where managing data is becoming more easier or more manageable. And we are leveraging those technologies as well. Having our data platform on the cloud has helped us. Automation has helped us quite a bit in this space. together, we feel, again, it is a constant battle.

I would not say we have conquered it, but I think we are headed in the right direction.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah, I think also that the public cloud adoption discussion is similar to the data discussion because it's not only a big job, but it's a paradigm change. you're changing. The infrastructure that you operate on, and I wonder what some of the major considerations are for CIOs, like as you see it and as you would advise your peers about what can go to the cloud, what can't go to the cloud, what are some of the tradeoffs and what are some of the big decisions?

Santhosh Keshavan: Sure. every company, every application will have to be looked at within, how they operate. Blindly taking, all the applications and going to the cloud as is, may have lot of unpleasant or unintended consequences, including expenses going way up.

not having the ability to take advantage of all, functionality a native cloud may offer. So, it requires thorough analysis. We gotta really understand and answer the question, why are we going to the cloud? What problem are we trying to solve? Once we address that for each application or a group of applications, you really have two choices, right?

you go as is, which is not very desirable, because you go as is, you're not really taking advantage of a lot of the native, capabilities uh, that makes an application much better. but it's also practical that we cannot rewrite every single application in our portfolio.

We have to balance that, and really be very thoughtful. In how we migrate. Because we also have to consider all the security requirements and privacy requirements, which are very important, as well. It's not just the functionality but making sure they're well protected.

But once we make the choice, once companies are able to migrate the workload, they do enjoy certain scale flexibility and taking advantage of the innovation that's happening. We just gotta go application by application and see, create a path of transformation for each of those in the journey to the cloud.

Anthony O'Donnell: to some extent you've anticipated a question that just occurred to me, but how does a CIO make the case for the cloud to the leadership of an insurance and financial services?

Santhosh Keshavan: It's a lot easier these days than if you had asked me the question 10 years back. There was a lot of question around is this secure? Are we gonna lose control? Are we gonna be able to have a disaster recovery as robust as we had in our own data centers? Um, but the cloud, industry and the ecosystem have evolved significantly in the last 10 years.

So today the discussion is more around, are the applications ready to be hosted in the cloud? What's the financial impact? and the most important thing is also, the tendency for companies to go create how they operate, the data centers to operate similarly in the cloud, there is a culture shift.

There is a shift in thinking on how we balance out what we want, when we want and how we pay for it. So, there is a whole element of change that has to be managed. But when I look at our stakeholders, they're fairly comfortable with what cloud has to offer. It is getting the other pieces right.

You know if we move an application as is. Are we gonna see some performance impact? that's not a good thing, right? So, you don't want a performance to be degraded by moving certain applications. and if they're not gonna work well, then we have to rewrite the application or think of another strategy.

And finance is always a big part. I've seen where, going to the cloud to lower the expense rate generally is not a good idea because at times, running, applications or workloads in cloud could be more expensive. So, really understanding the why is very critical.

Anthony O'Donnell: We're talking about the importance of applications functioning correctly. I thought we could now talk about the My Voyage Mobile app, what it does, where it is in its stage of evolution, and how important it is to how Voya interacts with its customers.

Santhosh Keshavan: This is one of my favorite topics. It’s an exciting time again for Voya. We are looking to provide customers with more power on their own situation to make the best choices. So my voyage was a result of us spending almost a year kind of analyzing how can we bring some better tools and technologies to our customers.

And my voyage is really the first of its kind, I would say, personalized financial guidance. And connected workplace benefits digital platform. It truly offers a one-stop solution which will provide individuals with a complete view of their financial picture. This includes workplace benefits.

It includes their savings account along with, the integration of external accounts they may have, such as personal banking or other credit accounts to really help them better manage their health and financial wellbeing, without such a tool and without a way for them to see it all in one place.

Successfully investing in retirement and getting there would continue to be a challenge. So, this is an attempt to make that easy.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah, what you're describing is a very different kind of engagement with the customer than insurers and financial services companies have historically had with their customers.

Santhosh Keshavan: And we are learning, right? So, this has been a challenge for the insurance industry, the retirement services industry, you know, for almost 20 years. when you look at the adoption of, when Our customers log in or call to, check on their, retirement balance or to check on other sorts of insurance or health benefits they may have been generally when there is a life event or during the annual enrollment process, right?

There are so many choices that an employee has to pick during the annual enrollment. It's almost overwhelming. So, what we have seen from data that's published is, on average they spend six minutes picking their, their plan during enrollment and spend 60 minutes deciding which Netflix movies to browse.

That's a result of too many choices. The tools and technologies are not really explaining in simple English what actions they could take.

So, the industry was hoping that when people log in more, they can build more solutions. And probably the customers are hoping for better solutions and give them a reason to log in more. This solution, my voyage, is where we are looking at the whole ecosystem of health and wealth coming together.

Including their personal data and providing almost real time guidance, which are actionable will make this very meaningful.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yeah. I'm trying to put my finger on why this is so fun and exciting for you rather. It’s always gratifying obviously, when you’ve accomplished, what you set out to do. But I might guess it's also more specifically about the combination of how it improves the quality of engagement, the frequency of engagement, and how it unifies the overall customer experience.

Santhosh Keshavan: 100% the reason we are excited is it's not like we are creating new sources of income for our customers, right?

Anthony O'Donnell: Now that would be exciting.

Santhosh Keshavan: I'll be very exciting. But if that's not possible, then, can we really help them make the best choices? and again, it's very personalized, so it's not a generic guidance, for that customer, for that employee, for that family.

Can they. Choices in a way that they're maximizing the returns on those choices, right? So that creates a very exciting opportunity where they can track the process, they're in control. and this is all done through digital, you know, channels, and the pandemic has accelerated this as well.

Anthony O'Donnell: few people go to a branch, or an office lawyer does not have one. We only interact with our customers, you know, through either, web, mobile or they can call our customer service number. but it's all through digital guidance. How important were your consolidation efforts to making my voyage possible?

Santhosh Keshavan: It was massive. if you had again, 40 plus copies of the core system. Something like this would've taken three to five years or more and a lot more expensive when you cannot do this over such a long period of time. But with consolidating our core system, simplifying our overall footprint and really sunset, multiple duplicative applications that we had, we were able to launch the first version within a year, right from inception of the idea to ramping up the teams, to developing minimum viable product. And launching that into the market was within one year. That was extremely exciting, and that was the first time we could really prove how fast, we could move in this space.

Anthony O'Donnell: one of our major themes in the Life Accelerated podcast is the importance of foundational technology or core systems to digital transformation, and I think this is a great illustration of that.

Santhosh Keshavan: Absolutely. and we have other examples too. We’ve talked about my voyage because it's new. one other example that again, very tied to core of our, digital transformation I would like to share is around a product. We call it Voya pal. and this was, a chat bot that was built, and which enhances our website experience.

and this chat bot will also be integrated into my voyage, in the next quarter or so. But this gives, again, our customer. more flexibility and assist them on how they want to be assisted. in the first year itself, this is an intelligent chat bot where, this had about 300,000.

Customer infractions and 70% of them, was, was answered and the questions were resolved. u using Voya pal, it's becoming more popular. We would definitely love to speak to our customers too, but if they choose to, you know, get a quick transaction done by leveraging a technology which is becoming more intelligent than there is a way to do that as well.

Anthony O'Donnell: Let's talk a little bit about how your organization works, starting with how important partnerships are to digital transformation at Voya and to the overall operation of technology and support of the business.

Santhosh Keshavan: Partnerships happen in multiple ways, right? So, one is. How do we bring in more solutions to our ecosystem? whether those solutions are built by Voya or not. We do partner with multiple providers. Within this space, we also partner with fintechs. They bring in some unique solutions that, may be important for us to deliver to our customers. There is also partnership on how we deliver things. We have strong support and from several of our technology partners that come and help when we are, trying to adopt and deliver on a new piece of technology.

Companies that we have used, some of them are IT services. Some of them are very large, some of them are boutiques, but we do have relationship with them for over 15 years at Voya. And, and we come together very quickly. And even in the case of my voyage, all of this had to come together.

We had data partners. We had, partnership within our company as well where business technology operations came together. We partnered with payroll providers. We had to partner with several technology companies to come and help us. A lot of this came together very quickly and this came together also because of the history of working well with each other.

Anthony O'Donnell: It's always good to hear how you're able to ramp up and down with partners for staffing. Let's talk a little bit about the internal organization. And the way I'd like to ask this is with the kinds of technology you're implementing and the kinds of functionality you're building, how are the skill sets of the IT organization changing?

Santhosh Keshavan: There was a time when, some technologies would be around for five, 10 years. Now, I think, every two years skills are changing. We, we do focus on a couple of things, right? One is, understanding the domain itself, understanding our customers, understanding the business, that does not change, that evolves over time.

We encourage all our associates to, to really understand, from the lens of our customer, understand our business. tools and technologies. It’s quite dynamic. We do several things. We have a pretty good, training program internally. We retool, we have the ability to, train our associates.

And we also, like I said, partner with third party consulting firms that come and help us if they have the exposure. We also have a global, delivery center. We have locations across us. We have locations in India, London that, that helps us kinda bring together the best, gives us the opportunity to attract the best.

But it's a constant battle. We have to stay on top and really talent is what, makes us all successful end of the day.

Anthony O'Donnell: Yes. Yeah. So, the skillsets are changing rapidly, how are the IT professionals themselves changing? and I guess the way of putting this is how does Voya work to attract and retain the kind of talent you need today? What you called the best?

Santhosh Keshavan: You know, Voya's brand is phenomenal. We have won several awards every year, from being the most ethical company to one of the best companies to work for. All these things help us attract and retain the best and even.

During the pandemic, we learned that it was not necessary to drag every employee to the office. and we have so many locations across us that, most of us were talking to each other on the phone. So, we very quickly pivoted to a loving employee the flexibility of either being hybrid or fully remote, and with that shift, we were actually able to even attract. higher degree of talent because we were not confined to a geographic location anymore. We also have partnerships with universities and, we do some great internship programs. Summer is internships and co-ops.

collectively we feel like we, we have a very good pipeline of new talent. And we also do a good job of retailing the ones we have, but again, cross-training is really key because technology keeps changing so fast that, we do encourage people to learn and adopt, new technologies.

Anthony O'Donnell: We've ranged pretty widely in our conversation. I thought maybe you could close with a kind of summary of where digital transformation is taking Voya as a provider of products and services to consumers.

Santhosh Keshavan: Yeah, the digital transformation I think, is an ongoing term. I wish I could say it's a project and it ends on a certain day. This will continue to evolve. We are, I think, gonna focus on hyper-personalization. This is where customers expect when they log into a system, the system should know them really well.

And it is a process, it is part of the transformation, but I think that'll be a core focus for us. The other area is what we call the last mile problem as we go through and provide guidance. and if it's not easily actionable, then, you know, they will most likely not do it because that's gonna be pushed for a future day.

And people get busy. So, between hyper-personalization and solving the last mile problem where they can get through, very easily execute on the guidance make those transactions real, will be very important. and what the financial industry is seeing is. how customers are experiencing this outside, whether it's e-commerce or Netflix, or other places where these things are already a reality.

So, we will be pretty soon, focusing more and coming on board to some of the other areas that they're already seeing.

Anthony O'Donnell: And what kind of feedback are you getting from your customers at this point?

Santhosh Keshavan: The feedback is good. They like what they're seeing. It's very early days. I'm speaking it, back from a, my voyage example perspective. but so far, it's been very good. I would say not only from the employees, but from the employers as well, because employers feel like, um, coming up with a more comprehensive, well thought out, personalized solution, will help customers navigate their own choices much better.

But we will obviously keep a very close eye on how we do in the next 12 months and integrate the feedback that we receive into our future roadmap.

Anthony O'Donnell: And as you've emphasized more than once in our conversation, it is after all a journey.

Santhosh Keshavan: Absolutely. absolutely because everything around us is changing fast and being nimble. I think having the right found. Helps us keep up with the change, keep up with the pace of change, as we go.

Anthony O'Donnell: It's been delightful listening to your enthusiasm about your work at Voya. Thanks so much, Santhosh.

Santhosh Keshavan: Thank you for having me.

Anthony O'Donnell: It was great fun talking with Santhosh about voice transformation, not least because he seems to be having so much fun himself there.

Satisfaction is not only in a job well done, but in the doing of it with an effective team of executive peers and highly competent technology professionals. Santo's account also shows that important lessons are to be learned and applied. For example, when it comes to cloud, it's easier to make the case to senior leadership today, but technology leaders must proceed with open eyes.

Santhosh cautions that technology leaders must understand what problems they're trying to solve with cloud because blindly taking applications to the cloud can have unforeseen consequences. Thank you for joining us for this Life accelerated podcast. For more relevant content to help you achieve digital transformation, visit equisoft.com/life accelerated


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