When Jean Davis arrived at Wachovia 20 years ago, working in IT was the farthest thing from her mind. As she tells it, her niche was on the sales side. "I was a corporate relationship manager. I started out on the line side at the bank," she explains.
But that changed in the mid-1990s. Wachovia's CEO at the time, Bud Baker, had a vision in which his next CIO would be from a nontechnology-related area of the bank. "[Bud] wanted to take someone on the customer strategy side and put them in IT," Davis recalls. "He believed I wouldn't be as enamored of the 'big machines' but would have a better understanding of what [the business segments] really wanted from IT and deliver what they needed, not just the nice-to-have things."
Still, it took a little while for Davis to become acclimated to her new responsibilities when she became CIO in 2001. "It was like learning a new language and culture," she remarks. But she got the hang of things and has been running IT for Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia ($512 billion in assets) ever since.
As head of the bank's operations, technology and e-commerce department, Davis essentially is responsible for making sure everything throughout the financial institution runs - from phones and PCs to transaction processing and customer data accuracy. "It's an interesting job because IT is the one department in the bank that touches all our customers in some respect," she comments.\
Davis' department is divided into two areas - the technology services group, which maintains the data centers, networks and the general production environment; and the CIO organization, which interfaces with the bank's lines of business to ensure that technology is being developed to mirror Wachovia's overall customer strategy. "Our approach [in IT] mirrors the company's approach to its customer base - one company in the marketplace," Davis explains. "We have a retail bank, retail brokerage, card business and all, but we're one Wachovia brand. We're very integrated as a company -- right down to the technology."
Integration has been the buzzword at the bank in recent years given the large number of acquisitions that it has undertaken to build the Wachovia of today. "We have a project-planning approach at Wachovia to make us thorough in the planning stages of an integration. We have a number of IT professionals here who know how to do it the right way," Davis says. "It's a lot about people to ensure proper execution. It's also about staying focused on the customer. In all our integrations, Job 1 was not to lose a single customer -- that's a litmus test for how well we do an integration," she continues. "Our track record is excellent."
Increasingly, banks are realizing the need to bring together IT with their general business strategies in order to achieve their goals on the customer end, according to Davis. There is a new attitude at financial institutions, she relates, that the technology people and business people understand one another better.
"Now, we've moved into another dimension. Companies want less bells and whistles, less proprietary stuff -- 'Give me a price I can live with and meet my date.' There's more financial accountability," Davis asserts. "There's less romance around IT today and more practicality."
Going forward, Davis envisions an even more critical role for technology in banking. "IT will continue to be the single greatest source of how we serve clients in a more superior fashion," she says. This will be especially true online, Davis notes. "Whether you're a large corporation, a small business or an individual, you will come to us online - the online channel will be critical in our long-term customer strategy," she adds.
"This is becoming a more complex role," Davis muses on the responsibilities of the CIO. "The job demands more-sophisticated skills because as technology evolves, the environments we handle become more complicated and the risks are greater," she says. We're in a consolidating industry where cost efficiency is critical. We'll look for a greater ability to do more at less cost." Therefore, "IT professionals have to be very astute about finances in the company. They have to make business decisions about what the company should invest in," Davis adds.
And this ability will become ever-more vital as technology executives increasingly are invited to sit on boards at banks. "IT contributes to decision making [at Wachovia] at the top of the company," Davis says. "I report directly to the CEO. This is the one division that touches every aspect of the company and its customers."
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