When Catherine Bessant got a 5:00 p.m. call from Bank of
America CEO Brian Moynihan almost seven years ago offering her
the job of
Chief Operations and Technology Officer, she knew big
challenges were ahead. The company had climbed its way to the
top of the U.S. banking system through an aggressive
acquisition strategy and, like other banks, now had to contend
with tough new banking regulations as well. In her new role,
Bessant who had previously served as president of global
corporate banking and has been with the bank for 34 years
first had to simplify and consolidate multiple systems,
applications and even data centers. Her skill at
navigating those challenges earned her the nickname Ms.
Six years later, Bessants job at the Charlotte, North
Carolina bank hasnt gotten any easier: shes tasked
with the job of modernizing the $2.2 trillion-in-assets bank in
a fiercely competitive landscape. In a keynote interview at
Institutional Investors iiFintech Symposium in New York
City on Thursday, Bessant, who ranks
No. 1 on Institutional Investors 2016
Tech 50 list, discussed her approach to keeping up with a
marketplace that moves at the speed of the consumer.
Technology is our business and our business is
technology, she said. Are we order takers in
technology or are we drivers?
The Bank of America currently is tackling a vast array of
projects, ranging from robotics, cardless ATMs, web-based loan
origination systems, and electronic signature solutions like
DocuSign. Its all in an attempt to use machines to not
only handle repetitive functions and document management, but
reach consumers in new and even more personal ways, she
Her first move involved a 100 percent talent overhaul,
ultimately bringing in nearly 4,000 technologists what
the bank calls inventors. Like many financial
services firms, Bank of America is hoping to attract the kind
of tech talent that might traditionally have gravitated toward
the likes of Google or Facebook.
Were trying to build a brand to be forward
thinking, to be known as a place that is magnetic to that kind
of talent, Bessant said. Great code does not write
itself; great operating systems dont just appear. It
takes talent that we nurture.
As for the threat of collections of mobile apps like Venmo
that some developers even hope will ultimately replace
banks, Bessant says shes not worried about competition.
There is always room for banks, she says, but also she views
tech providers as potential (and much-needed) collaborators. To
that end, Bessant says she is constantly on the lookout for
innovative startups: If you have a better way to do it,
Im going to buy it from you or work with you.