Rise to the Occasion

At Ameritas, David Williams cultivates a compliance culture while helping to shape the tech strategy that best serves the company and its customers

The gradual, yet pervasive wave of the technology revolution continues to send ripples across the business landscape. But David Williams represents one constant thread: dispute resolution.

That’s been a primary focus throughout his thirty-year career at Ameritas, where he’s been at the center of any lawsuit, complaint, arbitration, or regulatory matter at the mutual insurance company—which continues to intensify as the playing field evolves.

“In order to really be a good attorney in 2017 you have to understand technology,” Williams says. “You don’t have to necessarily be an expert, but you must have those skills.”

This is one of the main reasons why Williams is partnering with IT to bring that foundational knowledge to his team and upgrade the company as its vice president and general counsel.

Although modernization of business tech requires a forward-thinking strategy, litigation by nature is reactive. Williams, who arrived at Ameritas in 1987, helped spearhead the law department’s transformation into a more proactive mind-set.

“When I first joined Ameritas, much of the litigation was handled outside of the company, with in-house staff monitoring the situation,” he says. “One of the most significant things we’ve tried to do is to become a more agile, effective law department to protect our clients and prevent a crisis. Many Ameritas departments are doing good work to meet those challenges.”

Ameritas has certainly changed over the past three decades, growing from about 400 employees in one location to nearly 2,200 employees in six locations throughout the United States. Ameritas has merged with and acquired several companies over the years, growing five lines of business with a variety of life insurance and annuity products. With the increasing complexity of the business as well as its tech capabilities, Williams continues to advocate for proactive compliance, even in its multifaceted form. Today, the Ameritas legal team comprises twelve attorneys and sixteen staff members. Williams, along with several other senior and experienced attorneys, reports to the senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary. The Ameritas attorneys are hired, Williams says, not just because they are the best and brightest, but also because they possess “that knack for figuring out complex things.”

What Williams and the legal team have worked to figure out is the key to managing the rigidity of compliance during technological upheaval.

“Several people in the department have cybersecurity and other types of security interests,” he says. “With the advent of electronic records and e-mail, the vulnerabilities are exponentially greater. Now things are moving faster—technology is always shifting and changing, and that comes with many cybersecurity flags.”

To fill the gaps identified by these flags, Williams spent six months in 2016 helping to unite legal and IT teams to craft Ameritas’ first data breach plan.

STAYING COMMITTED

Ameritas offers competitive insurance, employee benefits, and financial services to roughly 3.8 million customers nationwide. The company strives to help its customers enjoy life at its very best by reducing uncertainty, helping to grow assets, and protecting what is most cherished.

The financial health of Ameritas, which provides the strength and stability that customers expect, is reflected in the strong ratings the company has consistently earned from Standard & Poor’s and A.M. Best Company. As a mutual company, Ameritas has a structure designed for long-term stability and growth.

Founded in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1887, Ameritas remains committed to building enduring relationships and helping people come together to plan for and protect what’s most important.

“Cybersecurity is a big, expensive undertaking. However, all companies need to implement this protection for their customers,” he says. “Think back to the extensive data breaches at Target, Home Depot, or any number of other companies. There are always attempts to compromise, steal, and just harass us in cyberspace. Fortunately, we haven’t had a major data breach to date—just small ones, which are handled appropriately and quickly because we have best practices and safeguards in place.”

The IT team covers the technical implementation of the plan, but Williams played a significant role in its development, using his litigation background to protect Ameritas’ clients.

“In the event there is a breach, we have a plan that fully lays out all the steps to make sure a breach is kept as controlled as possible,” he says. “If such an occurrence takes place, we can respond quickly, follow the law, and try to remediate any potential damage. If a major breach ever happens, our people will know their roles and go quickly into action.”

However, the data breach plan—now complete—is only one aspect of Ameritas’ technology strategy. The cumulative scope prioritizes customer service, according to Williams, which extends to the website and electronic record keeping. The latter, he says, has been evolving at Ameritas for the past twenty years.

“It’s important that we’re able to get a coherent, easy-to-follow system in place so if there was a court proceeding or we were subpoenaed, we’d be able to quickly and accurately find the record,” Williams says, citing automation as a prerequisite. “Proper record information management ensures we’re able to save every document required and dispose of others properly and timely.”

Williams explains that the US Department of Labor fiduciary rule is having a great impact on many corporations because it essentially gives more responsibility to companies, such as Ameritas, in certain transactions involving qualified retirement money.

“To enact the changes required by that rule, change technology is critical to be able to implement them correctly,” he says.

The driver behind the speedy execution of Ameritas’ technology initiatives is communication. The general counsel and former English major recognizes the need for interpersonal skills.

“You need to be able to talk with your clients,” Williams says. “They haven’t been to law school, and they don’t know all the arcane nuances of the tax code or the bankruptcy laws. So if you’re able to express those and translate that readily into normal English and communicate thoughts in a way that are coherent, I think you provide your client a much bigger service.”

Throughout his tenure at Ameritas, Williams has focused on building interdepartmental relationships to bring about effective change. Whether it’s being in the negotiations for technology-based solutions with IT or working with the marketing department on social media best practices, he attempts to keep the lines of communication open. He also envisions more collaboration across departments to come up with company-wide solutions in the coming years.

Williams and the legal team have proven that keeping pace with tech trends produces innovative results.

“Across the industry, executives are attuned to the idea that doing things the right way is part of a marketing strategy,” Williams says. “If you have a good reputation, customers have faith and confidence in you and in the company. I believe we have done a good job at Ameritas of creating a culture of compliance and looking out for our customers. Everybody’s on the same page to do the right thing.”