Roundtable Recap: Leveraging Digital Transformation for Business Continuity

By NICOLE SAWYER, Senior Editor, Bloomberg Live

Bloomberg hosted an exclusive virtual round table with senior global executives to discuss how financial services leaders are embracing digital transformation to improve business continuity, modernize their companies and navigate mounting challenges amid Covid-19.

How are financial leaders prioritizing changes brought about by this pandemic and how will companies stay competitive during this challenging time? With so many businesses moving a majority of their employees to work from home, what does the future look like? How do you ensure productivity, innovation and stability while leaving a large portion of your workforce to work from home and how do you lead from home?

In this round table, we spoke directly with c-suite leaders about how they’re juggling priorities and how they’re trying to answer these questions. This roundtable leveraged the collective and individual expertise of these chief executives to unearth insights as they look for long-term solutions. Here’s what they had to say.


JoAnn Stonier, Chief Data Officer, Mastercard

Sri Shivananda, Chief Technology Officer, SVP, PayPal

Rich Gilbert, SVP & Chief Digital Information Officer, Aflac

Chintan Mehta, CIO and Head of Digital Technology & Innovation, Wells Fargo

James Lee, Chief Technology Officer, Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation

Dirk Marzluf, Group Head of Technology & Operations, SEVP, Banco Santander

Sarah Diamond, Global MD for Banking and Financial Markets, IBM


Annie Massa, Financial Reporter, Bloomberg News

Click here for the YouTube link.

Remote Work Evolution: How to Ensure Productivity, Innovation and Collaboration

As businesses brace for a new normal, many participants discussed the challenges and opportunities amid the evolution of how companies will continue to collaborate, innovate and operate with a majority of employees working remotely.

Most leaders said they had occasionally worked remotely before the pandemic, and for them this made the transition much smoother when the world was forced to work virtually full time. One the other hand, bringing the entire company to a virtual environment presented infrastructure, collaboration and innovation challenges. “The bigger challenge was just the volume of everybody. At one point, 96 percent of Mastercard’s workforce was working virtually,” said JoAnn Stonier, Mastercard’s Chief Data Officer.

While individual teams worked well together, Stonier explained that achieving unification for cross-team projects, planning and larger project innovation sessions proved challenging. “We’ve really come together on smaller collaborations, breaking things down into manageable bites so that when we get bigger groups together there’s a lot more pre-work that’s been done,” she said. “It may require smaller meetings before we get bigger group decisions together. Then we make sure that the senior decision makers are there so that decisions can get made for the rest of the team and that the teams can go on and do their work.”

For many companies, the future of the office has transitioned from a place to work to a place to meet. Technology and automation will play a major role in the new workplace.

Aflac’s Chief Digital Information Officer Rich Gilbert revealed how the pandemic has made Aflac completely rethink its remote work strategy and office design. “We’ve learned how to interact and collaborate and do everything from a virtual perspective,” Gilbert said. “Going forward, we’re not going to bring everybody back. We’re looking at a model that’s 50 percent at max. When we bring people in, it’s really going to be about face-to-face collaboration,” he said.

“We’re actually doing changes to our office environment now, shifting from just the cubicle model to how do we design places that are collaborative. Social distancing and collaboration together, that’s a challenge that we’re going to have to work through,” he added.

Sarah Diamond, IBM Global MD for Banking and Financial Markets (IBM sponsored Bloomberg’s virtual event), said IBM surveyed more than 300,000 clients and asked them what they thought about returning to the office. Roughly 76 percent of those surveyed said they view the office now as a place for meetings and “the vast majority expected to be able to continue to work remotely from home because of the efficiencies that they’ve been able to gain by it,” Diamond said.

Sri Shivananda, PayPal’s Chief Technology Officer, raised concerns about how leaders will face unprecedented challenges engaging with employees. “Organizations are formed based on relationships and emotional connections and Zoom video calls are not necessarily the best medium to form those connections and relationships,” he said. “The connection of an employee to a company is also an emotional relationship, and in this video remote working we may actually go into a new zone of talent war that we have not seen ever before because loyalty to companies may be a completely new paradigm.”

Managing Risk & Cybersecurity as more Employees Work Remotely

Cybersecurity and data protection have always been top of mind for business leaders, but as the world works from home and hackers learn new ways to hijack private information, the virtual environment presents new risks.

Executives discussed their concerns and how they are utilizing new technologies. Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation Chief Technology Officer James Lee said, “We’ve always had a very holistic sort of multi-layer approach to security, protecting our core systems within the data centers. For so many of our users, it’s that endpoint security where we in the industry are very focused. We do have a lot of our call center people and remote users using VDI. That helps to bolster our security because again you get the advantages of caution all of being within the perimeter walls.”

Dirk Marzluf, Banco Santander Group Head of Technology & Operations, SEVP, explained there’s a fundamental shift happening around how the financial services industry is thinking about security. “In the past, we secured our devices, we secured our private networks and we secured the data centers,” he said. “But what we now see in reality, we need to secure the devices extremely well and secure the data centers but the private networks as such are pretty much not necessary in that sense anymore. So the real boundary around the enterprise becomes the data center and the device.”

He said, “The resilience of the public networks has been extremely strong, while the private networks were much more challenged. We have up to 1.3 million video calls a day and this would never work in my private networks. It only works because it is in the public networks, the infinite infrastructure, and the cloud infrastructure. I did a test and the network connections at my home is much better than the one I have in the office today. We need to make sure that we don’t take a step back by returning to the office.”

Shivananda, PayPal’s Chief Technology Officer, noted, “Cybersecurity is extremely critical. We have just expanded the perimeter of our companies now into people’s homes. Developed countries like maybe the U.S. and U.K. there is enough in terms of protection you can provide. But when you’re talking about a customer support employee in a remote location somewhere in India or Philippines where the infrastructure may not be the best, how do you actually ensure that the customer information that they’re working with is actually managed properly?”

Mastercard’s Chief Data Officer JoAnn Stonier explained how educating your employees is critical to managing these new risks. “We’ve seen so many more attempts to get in because the bad actors are also realizing that we’re more vulnerable given that we’ve all moved virtually,” she said. “And so we’ve done a whole lot more on our virtual phishing and education with our employees in this virtual world trying to make sure that, that very vulnerable endpoint isn’t the place where things are getting in.”

Lead & Innovate through Connection, Compassion & Conversation

The pandemic has created a paradigm shift in the way companies operate and executives lead. While some companies are just trying to survive, others are looking at Covid-19 as an opportunity to reinvent their business models. But in order to succeed at either, the executives agreed, it’s critical that corporate leaders understand the importance of supporting the mental health of employees, connecting with them and recognizing employee burn out is a real thing.

“Many of us have become the chief therapists for our organizations at this point in time,” PayPal’s Shivananda said. “Week one was all about sharing how my workspace looks. Week two was about sharing the pictures of their pets. But soon enough mental health as a topic started to surge in a fairly significant way. The isolation and loneliness all started to kick in. And then of course, particularly in the United States, the incidents of the last few weeks have added further to what was already a Covid-19 new normal in mental health. So I would say the importance of connection, the importance of conversation, the importance of compassion, the importance of inclusion have all just accelerated in ways.”

Mastercard’s Stonier said, “We also have to recognize that this is an evolution and we’re not going to solve everything all at once. But we also need to bring our employees along in that conversation. And so, we’ve been constantly communicating what’s happening in different offices. Right now, we have a big campaign trying to get people to take vacation and time off. We are asking so much more of people it’s really a huge transformation moment and I think either you step into it with a positive attitude or allow people the opportunity to say this is also super hard and we’re here to listen. That’s going to be part of the challenge. How do you get your employees to be excited by change, not overwhelmed?”

Dirk Marzluf, Banco Santander Group Head of Technology & Operations, SEVP, said, “What we try to drive is the team itself needs to show strength [such as] co-workers calling each other making sure people stay in touch. Nobody is left behind. What we’ve done is some analysis on the volumes and calls and we’ve identified a number of people that disappeared off the planet. Everybody deals with this crisis with depression differently. As organizations, we need to continuously make sure our teams take care of each other.”

Aflac’s Rich Gilbert said initially his role was more tactical, as in how do you survive this? And now it’s about how do you create and reinvent in a post-Covid world. “In the past, the disruptors were the Amazons of the world, the Ubers of the world,” he said. “But we now have a natural disruptor that’s coming in and saying, ‘You have to reinvent how you deal with your customers. You have to reinvent how your employees act.’ And so one of the things that we’re doing is we’re doubling down on digital.”

He said, “If you look at the entire value chain of our business from sales all the way through to operations, we’ve actually just presented to our Global Operations and Technology Committee a series of investments where we’re accelerating all of our digital roadmaps to be able to push things in this year.”

Chintan Mehta, Wells Fargo CIO and Head of Digital Technology & Innovation, said, “A lot of the focus area on innovation has shifted towards operational efficiency. I think the new normal will look different, but it has to be some combination of my motto: survive, comply, grow. To survive, you want to be able to absorb the shock. The volumes are just shifting. The day we had the PPP, the response of the stimulus checks, we saw 18 times higher volume in one day than typically what we see. And being able to handle that is important.”

This roundtable was proudly sponsored by


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