CNBC Global CFO Council

Digital disruption is bigger than politics, says Aviva’s CFO

Trying to transform Aviva business around digital: CFO

Politics may currently be the talk of the town as Donald Trump's presidency, Brexit negotiations and national elections take center stage, yet one chief financial officer believes the disruptive tech space should be one to watch.

"I think these digital disruptive changes are actually bigger than any of the political situations that we're seeing happening right now," Tom Stoddard, chief financial officer (CFO) at Aviva, told CNBC on Tuesday.

"So regardless of the political environment, we're going to see technology continue to change."

Robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, the internet of things, 3D printing and biometrics are just a handful of technologies that are emerging and starting to influence the way we operate.

With technological advancements set to rise, organizations worldwide are examining how this disruption will impact the world's labor force as well as how people live and communicate with one another.

Consequently, 'managing technological change' was seen as one of the five key challenges the world faced at present, according to the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Risks report.

"We live in disruptive times where technological progress also creates challenges," said Cecilia Reyes, chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance Group, in a statement after WEF released its report.

"Without proper governance and re-skilling of workers, technology will eliminate jobs faster than it creates them," Reyes added.

As a result of this changing landscape, Aviva is trying to adapt and transform around the digital advancements taking place, with Stoddard giving an example of how the insurer's app makes their services more convenient and mobile-accessible to customers, in addition to the company investing in new technologies and start-ups.

Meanwhile, Carlo Ferro, CFO at STMicroelectronics, told CNBC that the automotive sector, industrial applications and smartphones remained key focus areas for the semiconductor firm in 2017, when it comes to maximizing revenue.

"Automotive today is particularly an exciting opportunity, with the trend of electrification of the vehicle, in this respect, we are introducing new breakthrough technology," Ferro said.

"And (when it comes to) the area of assistance to driving, the digital-assisted driving towards the autonomous driving – which is an area where our company is a leader – we are very much excited about the opportunities, not only for the business side but overall for making the driver greener and safer going forward."

A polar bear in Repulse Bay, Nunavut Territory, Canada.
Top five global risks for 2017: WEF

While both companies are finding ways to adapt to emerging digitization, Aviva's Stoddard admitted the disruptive era came with some concern.

"As a CFO, I'm sort of terrified by all of it because it threatens business models; it's very hard to manage in terms of thinking about how much money to allocate to these trends," said Stoddard.

"We really need to drive this on the top line in terms of what we see; in terms of the growth opportunity, but at the same time there are also opportunities to get some efficiencies in the back office as well."

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