The Changing Role of the Bank CIO

The role of the bank CIO has changed dramatically since the financial crisis, as technology leaders have had to take on new responsibilities within their banks in response to a rapidly changing business environment.
October 02, 2012

More than ever before, bank CIOs are integral members of the C-suite. In fact, it seems business acumen is almost as much of a key skill to doing the job well these days as being tech-savvy. And today, CIOs also must help their banks navigate the tumultuous waters of domestic and international regulations. In a world where customer experience and channel integration are paramount, exactly what skills does a bank CIO need in order to succeed? And is having a tech background less important for today's CIOs than for their predecessors?

Bridging the Past, Present and Future

Rob Rubin (pictured to the right), Partner, Head of the Banking Practice, Novarica (New York)

Today's bank CIOs must have one foot in the old world of legacy systems and data centers, and the other foot on the pedal driving innovation within their institutions. Ultimately, successful CIOs will understand how to unwind layers of legacy systems and infrastructure to reduce costs, leverage internal data for new revenue-generating applications, and provide the agility to scale technology services up or down based on business demand.

But there is a tendency to believe the skills of a modern bank CIO mirror those of a technology start-up CTO: leading innovation, managing teams of agile software developers, focusing on the customer experience, and partnering with sales and marketing to deliver on the CEO's direction. While bank CIOs need to possess these skills, they operate in a more complex environment than technology start-up CTOs. For example, they must deal with regulatory requirements and manage high fixed-cost infrastructures.

So for the foreseeable future, bank CIOs must straddle the world of legacy systems and lead innovation of new applications and services. Today's CIO must possess some of the skills of an "old school" CIO, but with two important differences:

• Leading, versus containing, innovation. Many bank CIOs contain innovation by creating rules and restrictions to inhibit how non-IT teams use internal data, networks and technology. Instead, CIOs must lead innovation by anticipating requirements for new applications and services and by enabling access to internal data with the proper controls in place to manage risk and network security.

• Partnering with, versus supporting, sales and marketing. In many banks, the IT department -- led by the CIO -- considers itself an internal support organization. The result? IT relies on its internal "clients" for direction. Partners determine direction together. Therefore, bank CIOs must spend more time in the C-suite planning the future and less time in the data center sustaining the past.

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