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PNC's Tom Kunz Cracks the Gen Y Code With Targeted Products

Contrary to what many bankers believe, PNC Financial's Tom Kunz says, electronic channels will be the key to forging stronger customer relationships with the new generation of banking consumers.

The Backbone of Banking

As other banks do, PNC looks at technology as the backbone of its operations. The goal, according to Kunz, is keeping the customer at the center.

"That's our operating philosophy in IT," he says. "Most financial products and services are very information-based and digitized. Technology can do so many things. The challenge is determining which ones to focus on that add value to the customers while helping the business."

With 26 years under his belt at PNC, Kunz no doubt has left his mark on how the bank's IT shop supports the business. PNC was his first employer after earning his M.B.A. "At that time, banks tended to hire people with finance backgrounds," he explains. "But banks were starting to ... look for people with more product manager-like qualities as well. I ended up on the IT side when someone said to me, 'ATMs are going to be important, and they'll replace the teller. Why don't you work in that area?' So I started in IT with electronic payments."

Still, like many of his counterparts, Kunz finds he straddles two worlds when at work. "When I'm with the IT people, I'm generally considered the business person, and when I'm with the business side, I'm generally considered the IT guy. I never created code or software. I just focus on what I can do for the customers based on technology that can meet their needs."

The Elite 8 2009
Gary GreenwaldJohn BeranBarbara PerinoFrancisco 'Frank' DeArmasThomas KunzFred CookDavid DowningDonald Westermann
The pure dynamics of financial IT, Kunz says, keep him on his toes. "There's a lot of competition in the industry, and it's easier for others to enter the industry," he explains. "You have to sleep with one eye open and try to assess what you can do with technology and determine what the customer would buy."

Of course, it helps to surround oneself with reliable people. For Kunz, this means letting staff excel in a collaborative workplace -- both within IT and between IT and the business. "This is easy to do because I work in the most fun areas of financial services," he remarks.

Being in such a consumer-focused area of the bank, it's natural that Kunz would find possibilities for informal market research in some unlikely places, such as talking to his kids. "I have my personal lab of friends and family that help further my understanding of customer behavior," he explains. "I also do a fair amount of reading as well."

"Fair" might be an understatement, given the 300 Web sites he has bookmarked on his computer. And, Kunz notes, the list grows as his team sends him new links -- all in his quest to gain a deeper understanding of the consumer.

It also helps that he's an active user of social networking outside the office. "I use all those social networking tools because of my role at PNC," Kunz says. "If I didn't have this role, I'm not sure how active I'd be. The privacy issues around having people follow what I'm doing on Facebook are not something I'm really excited about. But ... Facebook is sometimes the only way I can keep up with my kids' soccer teams."

This type of collaboration, according to Kunz, is what PNC is hoping to capture as it ramps up its efforts in the social networking space. "PNC's view of social networking and mobile is that, as they get mainstreamed, there are implications for creating brands in a customer-driven way. There will be new ways to engage, find and segment customers," Kunz explains. "Things we're doing with the Virtual Wallet are the tip of the iceberg. There's a fundamental shift in how we deal with customers and create a brand."

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