Not a technologist by training, Bank of America Corp.'s Catherine Bessant has held one of the biggest technology jobs in the business world since transitioning from president of global corporate banking in 2010. Under Bessant, who has a $16 billion annual budget and 95,000 employees and contractors in 35 countries, the bank's global technology and operations unit, known as GT&O, has been moving BofA onto a software-defined network infrastructure; has consolidated 65 data centers down to 16; and has created a Technology Innovation Summit where start-ups can mingle with bankers and venture capitalists. The chief operations and technology officer's overarching goal is to digitize the $2.2 trillion-in-assets bank in hopes of making it as nimble and flexible as a start-up. Getting that done requires the right mix of talent and culture. "That's not necessarily great coding talent," says Bessant, 57, who has been with Bank of America for 35 years and has held such other positions as chief marketing officer and president of consumer real estate and community development banking. "I mean people who are natural digital thinkers. In a way, they can't even envision an analog solution," she explains, adding that it is an ability that cannot be taught, is not necessarily age-related, and is informing the way the bank is assessing its future leadership. "This is a frame of mind: How do we want people to think?" Bessant says, invoking the term "change-hungry," which can be applied to her. Digitization initiatives have reduced the expenses of the North Carolinabased bank by $1.6 billion annually, while it is investing $3 billion a year in growth. In June, BofA announced a deal to use Oracle Corp.'s cloud system for enterprise resource planning and financial applications. The bank expects 80 percent of its tech workloads to be in the cloud in the next few years. "We're much more aggressive in using external cloud technology than even two years ago," Bessant notes.
Among other activities, Bessant is executive sponsor of the bank's disability initiative and is championing technology as a way to improve accessibility. She is also behind a new program called "device as delighter." Though she admits the project could have a better name, it is about making sure that employees have technology resources even help desks that truly delight them.
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