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Sachin Rege CIO Catatlysts

CIO Catalysts: Introducing Sachin Rege, Digital Transformation Leader for Commercial Banking at Wells Fargo

  • 02 October 2020 / By Mark Ardito

When it comes to igniting organization-wide change, there’s no role under a brighter spotlight than the CIO. As enterprises face both the exponential upside and daunting operational realities of digital transformation, these senior executives are at the forefront of it all. As a community, we’re shining our spotlight on leaders that aren’t just talking about change, but are actually making it happen.

That’s what Kin + Carta’s new Catalyst series is all about — asking the challenging questions and discovering what motivates and inspires the most senior IT executives.

Our guest for this installment is Sachin Rege, Digital Transformation Leader for Commercial Banking and Corporate and Investment Banking at Wells Fargo. As former global Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Citi Commercial Bank (CCB), Sachin led the implementation of several major digital initiatives designed to enable a simple, relevant, and engaging experience for the company’s clients, bankers, and employees. In his current role he is focused on strategy, design and execution of digital transformation initiatives. He is focused on design thinking with an experience-first mentality to create digital as a core competency. His global leadership experience has provided him an opportunity to understand diversity in cultures and perspectives, which has helped shape his approach to problem-solving. 

During our interview, Sachin shared his insights across a range of topics including approaches for optimizing the customer journey, demographic trends, technology advances, cultural and organizational changes, and challenges and opportunities resulting from the ongoing COVID crisis.

One thing COVID has done is instill a sense of urgency and customer-centricity into our actions. We need to do things for the customer and we need to do them much faster than a bank typically would do.

To get started, can you tell me a little about your background, how long you have been at Wells Fargo, and perhaps a brief overview of some of the key initiatives that you are focused on in your current role?

REGE:

I joined Wells Fargo in May 2019, so just about a year and a half ago. I’m currently the digital transformation leader for what was wholesale banking, but now it's called commercial banking and corporate and investment banking. In this role, I’m responsible for all the digital initiatives across the organization. When I took on this role, much of our transformation effort was focused around projects. What we’ve managed to do is pivot the entire organization to focus on customer journeys, both for our team members and our customers. As we analyzed those journeys, we identified four core areas we wanted to focus on. The first one is onboarding of our customers. If you look at how banks operate, the first interaction a customer has with the bank is the onboarding process. When we examined our processes over the past year, much of the interaction involved emails going back and forth or documents going back and forth, which can be a tedious exercise for our customers. So our first priority is focused on digitizing that entire process.

Our second priority is making improvements around three distinct service areas: Bank Security Act (BSA); Know Your Customer (KYC); and Anti-Money Laundering (AML). What we’re doing here is working to digitize processes and conduct periodic validations with customers. The other two initiatives are really focused on servicing and streamlining the customer experience. If a customer comes in seeking a line of credit or a small business loan, how can we digitize that interaction in a way that allows them to complete the various steps and conduct routine transactions without the traditional hassles of meeting in person or filling out paperwork and sending it back?

The first principle we have with digital is “Transform the core and innovate at the edge” ― innovation always happens at the edge ― that’s where we interact with our customers. This entails onboarding, servicing, and rolling out a new SBA product for our customers. That’s where our innovation is focused. As we look at transforming processes and interactions, we’re looking at it holistically. It’s not just the four customer journey tracks, but how can we bring these journeys together in a more encompassing and holistic way ― not just for our customers, but for our team members as well. When you’re rolling out digital, it’s not just what you do, how you do it is equally important.

 

When you’re rolling out digital, it’s not just what you do, how you do it is equally important.

I like that approach. Whenever you are able to get hyper-focused on the customer experience, it can be very impactful. So where are you on your progress with your core initiatives? Have you seen any outcomes yet?

REGE:

We are indeed very outcome-focused. Once we defined our priorities and did our research with customers and team members, the next step was just making sure our focus was on the right areas. We’re now getting into the “how” of doing things the right way. In terms of the initiatives and priorities I talked about, the second one around BSA, KYC and AML is live now. We rolled it out to our customers and the feedback has been great.

In most cases, we’ve had a five out of five rating around customer experiences. If we look at our credit initiative, we just went live with our SBA digitization process in June. Again, we had great feedback here from our customers and team members. And now, later this year in Q4, we are going to go live with the servicing and digital onboarding component. Now that we’ve rolled these things out, the next step is to take a minimal value product, evaluate and improve on it, by iterating, then implement subsequent releases based on the lessons learned.

It’s no secret that 2020 has had a lot of twists and turns so far ― and the year is not over. To be sure, COVID brought some unprecedented challenges and caught many of us off guard. What did it look like for Wells Fargo during COVID? What was the playbook? Was there one thing that was unexpected ― whether it was something good that happened or something that you really weren’t prepared for?

REGE:

As we continue to navigate through the evolving COVID-19 situation, our focus and our thoughts are on the safety and the wellbeing of our employees, customers and businesses that have been impacted by these extraordinary events. In terms of what Wells Fargo has done as an organization, we continue to take the necessary precautions and steps to help protect our customers, our employees and our communities.

For our customers, our focus has extended beyond just banking services to their financial wellbeing. If you look at how the world has changed with COVID and the need to be socially responsible, to be a good corporate citizen, has risen to the forefront. Because if you look at what all the big organizations are really focused on, it's not just about shareholders and the bottom line; it’s about what we can do for our community ― the community where our bank lives and operates.

In terms of the game plan for COVID, yes, we definitely had to change our strategy. As a digital organization, we are accustomed to working remotely. But I think the larger challenge was with our operations team because they are used to being onsite and doing their work there ― so remote working is a new venture for them. On the plus side, one of the things I think we’ve learned from COVID is that as a bank, we’re really good at making high velocity decisions. Things that used to take months to do, we can now do in days and weeks. For example, now that our customers are not making in-person visits, we needed a way for them to sign documents digitally. We’ve been able to enable that in very short order, which has led to many thousands of digitally signed documents from our customers.

One thing COVID has done is instill a sense of urgency and customer centricity into our actions. We need to do things for the customer and we need to do them much faster than a bank typically would do. With that, COVID has also taught us how to be resourceful. Since a lot of our work today is done remotely, there are inevitably more constraints on how we work. This has forced us to become more inventive while still putting the safety and health of the customer front and center. As an organization, I feel we've adapted really well, considering the enormity of the circumstances.

As a bank, we’re really good at making high velocity decisions. Things that used to take months to do we can now do in days and weeks.

I've always been a believer that when faced with a challenge, it's human nature to always want to rise to that challenge. I think that COVID has provided that place in time. It has also really pushed our culture to adopt some of these things that we should have adopted long ago. How quick were you guys able to react and roll out digital signatures or digital attestations?

REGE:

Very quickly. I was pleasantly surprised. This is something that I knew we could do, but I think COVID really accelerated things. In a matter of weeks, we were able to get digital signatures in place, along with some of the other initiatives that we were working on. The SBA project was supposed to be later in the year, but we fast-tracked it a few months and we went live in June. Like you said, when you're faced with challenges, people rise to the occasion. Everyone found a way to work around those constraints and deliver. As a team, we were truly outcome-focused to meet the needs of our customers.

Going back to where things started with COVID, is there anything you would have done differently?

REGE:

I don’t think much of our core strategy would change. All along I knew that we could rise to the challenge, but I think with COVID, the needs of the marketplace and the needs of our internal teams became the center of our focus. The acceleration of the way we did things would not have changed because of what was at stake. So in terms of what we needed to do, I think we would have followed the same overall strategy we put into place. What has changed, however, is the speed and velocity in which we are delivering now, which is a testament to the effort of our team. As we look toward post-COVID, and I hope that is soon, I want to maintain that sense of urgency to get things done ― because we know we can do it.

Shifting gears, there’s been a lot of discussion recently about the disputation created by Gen Z and how they are among the most demanding consumers the world has ever known ― the only thing they know is a digital ecosystem. In terms of wholesale banking, what impact do you see Gen Z having in terms of really pushing the digital footprint?

REGE:

Yes, there is certainly an impact, but it’s not only with Gen Z. We’re seeing increased digital pressures from every customer across the board. You have to be efficient, you have to be affordable and you have to deliver things fast. The thing about Gen Z is that it’s all about instant gratification. Social media, personalized service, instant response, all those things, they want it now and they expect it to be delivered fast. If you look at the experiences that they are going through, they want the Uber or the Amazon experience for banking. The last best experience for the customer becomes the minimum expectation for the experience that they want in banking . We've definitely experienced that.

It's not just about delivering functionality to a customer, it’s about the customer and the team member experience. For example, we have this concept that we call “co-create,”: which is when we bring the people who use the digital asset and the people who build the digital asset together. So if we look at Gen Z, many of them don't want ownership. They don’t want a car, they want to take Uber. So it's more around access and less around ownership, and we’re seeing that same kind of culture on the digital side. So that impacts a lot of the work we do as we build our digital solutions – whether it’s Cloud or hybrid, or build versus buy and all the things that center around design-think and a human-centered approach.

As we deliver solutions to our clients, what we’re doing is we are stacking components, like Lego blocks, on top of each other. That becomes the capability or the solution that we deliver to the client. At the end of the day, you're creating a composable enterprise. So you can compose the enterprise based on different digital assets that you're building, and you can deliver it faster to the client. So those are some of the things we're doing as we roll out our digital initiatives. So Gen Z definitely has an impact on what we are doing now―forcing us to think differently about how we can deliver solutions simpler, better, faster, and cheaper.

We’re seeing increased digital pressures from every customer across the board. You have to be efficient, you have to be affordable and you have to deliver things fast.

Let's talk about these digital initiatives you're rolling out at Wells Fargo. What are some challenges and roadblocks that have come along with this?

REGE:

I think some of the challenges are simply around the typically risk-averse culture of banks. Digital is something that's new. So the culture of the organization has to change. Banks have been around for hundreds of years but changing the culture of an organization takes time. And it’s not just banks ― other sectors are facing the same challenges. There is a reason why Kodak is not there anymore. There's a reason why we don't see Blockbuster stores anymore. I think a lot of challenges are around culture.

I feel like culture is more like a shadow. As you make progress and make changes you're always going to see the shadow, but the shadow is getting smaller and smaller, which is a good thing. For us, the culture within the organization is changing to deliver the things that we need to deliver. There used to be a time where you could go to college, get a degree and then work in one company your whole life and you didn't need to learn a new skill set. All that has changed. Today you need to continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn. That's something that each and every one of us has to do, which I think is another challenge in itself. With everything that's going on now, it's the learning and unlearning that takes time.

There used to be a time where… you work in one company your whole life and you didn't need to learn a new skill set. Today you need to continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn. That's something that each and every one of us has to do, which I think is another challenge in itself.

And COVID has certainly turned things 180 degrees. And quite honestly, I'm not sure what that looks like when we go back to work. What does that look like for your organization? How do you build culture now in a digital-only office space, in an online presence?

REGE:

I think the way we've looked at culture is more of a mindset thing. If I look across organizations, typically you will see three main deficiencies. The first one for most businesses is organized around functional and departmental silos. The second is that organizations are reluctant to take risks. And third, because the organization is fragmented, it’s difficult to get a single view of the customer. So that’s one of the things we've tried to focus on.

When I talk about a customer journey, one thing we want to do is cut across all functions, across products, across technologies, and across lines of business. Then when you look at something like onboarding, you have a single view ― and a clear view of what you need to do to onboard the customer. Once you bring that dimension in and you cut across all functions, then employees now understand what and where the real problems are. They are not hearing it from me or someone else. They are hearing it from the customer who's feeling that pain.

What I've seen also is a shift away from siloed lines of business. And quite honestly, we're starting to see blended organizations, where it's business and IT together. So how do you help enable those effectively? What's a takeaway for how to implement that?

REGE:

Let me give you an example on how we do digital and how that has helped. In the past, the way work was done within digital was: You have a set of requirements. You create a BRD (business requirement document) and you give the BRD to the tech team. Then, the tech team goes and implements it. While they do their testing, and get into UAT (user acceptance testing), you realize, oh, you guys have not built what we asked you to do. Well we’ve turned that completely upside down.

The way we do it is by first talking directly to the customer, which is the co-creation process. We understand what their pain points are and then create a prototype. As we are doing it, our tech teams are working with us. The prototype is then shown again to our customers to let them test drive it. This way, by the time we build the experience, the tech teams have already understood what the requirements are, because the prototype is the experience. The other thing that we've done is, we've brought their skin into the game, because now it's not our product or my product, it's their product. Everyone on the team is working towards it. I think that has helped change the ownership mindset. The product is the experience and the experience is the product. By the time we get into user stories, guess what? The teams all understand the requirements. The process becomes a whole lot simpler and there's a shared understanding of what we need to deliver to the customers. Typically in many organizations there’s a lot of focus around what needs to be delivered, but not the how.

With things evolving so rapidly in today’s digital world, there’s always a new challenge to solve. Anytime there is a challenge, it gets me excited.

As I talk to other people in high-pressure positions like yourself, one thing I’m always interested in is what makes you perform at the level that you perform? What makes you get up and go to work every day and stay motivated, stay passionate?

REGE:

For me, I think the most important thing is making a difference. And the difference might be 0.001 percent every day. But when you apply the compound theory, the impact can become substantial over time. And it doesn't matter what you do, and what role you play, as long as you want to make a difference. When something is handed over to me, and when I now transfer it over to someone else, I want to “Leave it better than I found it”. When we began our digital initiatives there was a lot of work that needed to get done. But now when I look back at what we’ve delivered, the organization is a much better place than it was a year ago. So for me, that is a huge driver. I’m also a people person, so at the end of the day, I want to make sure the people I work with to get things done also get something out of it ― gain some value from the partnership that they have with me. Lastly, I love what I do. I think once you love what you do, it doesn't matter how many hours you put in, you just don't realize it; you don’t feel it. With things evolving so rapidly in today’s digital world, there’s always a new challenge to solve. Anytime there is a challenge, it gets me excited.

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