Who is Driving Your Bank’s Digital Bus?

Chief Technical Officer (CTO) – Will establish company technology vision, strategies, and plans for growth. They will supervise the system and quality assurance processes. Looks at future technology and its’ potential impact on the organization and industry.  A true CTO is a technologist at the base layer of technology and might be a better resource for organizations that have a forward-thinking R&D function or are building solutions from the ground up. Even large banks do not have a true R&D function, and a “real” CTO might not even feel challenged inside of a financial institution.  

Chief Information Officer (CIO) – Responsible for overseeing a company’s IT needs, which includes managing and implementing technology to support the organization’s goals. Looks at current technology and ensures its’ reliability for users. A CIO is a better solution for a bank for a smaller entity trying to adapt and enhance or shake legacy complications. 

Chief Digital Officer (CDO) – Overall responsibility is to drive growth and strategic renewal by transforming an organization’s traditional analog business into digital ones. Looks at solutions to improve the customer journey across the enterprise.

CDO vs CIO  
Plain and simple, the key is to focus on your technology-to-solution stack. The below Bank Success pyramid helps us understand how an organization’s CDO and CIO play off one another.


In our pyramid, a CDO will be focused on User Experience, New Offerings and Efficiency. A CIO is more likely to be focused on the legacy core and the set of traditional IT providers and vendors. CIOs, who generally have instincts stemming from a more traditional IT or programming background, might not embrace the newest innovations from a customer perspective. IT people are great at delivering systems that are reliable and may approach technology from a more conservative approach.

A Digital leader, like a CDO, is more likely to adopt the latest and greatest advances in user experience.  A CDO will be more skilled at understanding new trends and working collaboratively with the new generation of Fintech startups. Their more IT-centric counterparts might be more comfortable engaging with legacy vendors like the Big 4 core providers, who lag well behind even the most rudimentary Fintech providers in delivering innovative solutions for bank customers.

Digital Transformation firm, dPrism, in a recent article, created a thorough list of CDO skills and abilities, including:

  • Skill #1: Storytelling 
    • How to convey the before and after of a new digital solution. Remember, no one wants the tool… they want the outcome. 
  • Skill #2: Innovation 
    • Apply the best tools in a new and innovative way and innovating your business models.  
  • Skill #3: Understand new trends and products in technology
    • This doesn’t require a Computer Science degree, just the ability to put trends in context for the bank, with the bank’s desired future state at the heart of it.  
  • Skill #4: Execution 
    • Having a roadmap of cool new solutions that never roll out to the bank’s customers is useless. “Digital Thought Leaders” need to also actually deliver the innovation envisioned by the bank.  
  • Skill #5: Be Influential 
    • This is a key, as many people in the bank will resist the new digital systems (humans fear change) and even more so when it might impact their jobs directly. Bank employees can feel threatened by new digital solutions and will need to be successfully “sold” on the benefit of the new systems. 

Most CIOs do not have these five skills, as the CIO skillset tends to be more pragmatic and IT-focused.  It is easiest to think of a CIO as the manager of current technology, which is a very important, even critical task.  A CDO is more focused on moving the bank from current state to future state… Digital.

Does Your Bank Need a CDO Today? 
If your institution is operating a traditional core and is between $250M and $3B in assets, a CDO may not be a pivotal hire. In this size of bank, it may be counter-productive, as a super-innovative, future-thinking digital pro might end up feeling isolated and powerless. Giving a person the C-title without a team, a budget and a clear mandate leaves that over-qualified individual seeming like a “lone wolf” against everyone at the bank. This usually ends with them leaving prematurely, with nothing really getting done.

You can easily outsource the move to digital at this point, until your bank is far enough along on the modernization journey to warrant a full-time in-house resource. Consider that the advantage of an external resource at this point in your journey is three-fold:

  1. It won’t be an FTE who becomes a permanent cost to the bank. 
  2. Will come with a clear, objective view of your bank, with the history and industry knowledge of other banks and their digital offerings. 
  3. Will have an unbiased view of solutions by being exposed to a variety of providers and influencers. 

Key takeaway: Every institution needs a trusted Chief Digital Officer, whether internal or external, to assist in the development and execution of a digital roadmap. Scaling this digital mountain, collaboratively, will ensure that the institution has a bright future… a digital future.

Dion Lisle is the Managing Partner of Forty Grand, a Fintech advisory firm that helps community banks drive value through digital transformation and innovation. Please feel free to contact him at dion@forty-grand.com and visit their website at www.fortygrand.co.

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