Seven years ago, while most financial institutions were focused on making large acquisitions, U.S. Bank turned inward and found itself with a huge opportunity: the ability to make a major leap forward with respect to giving its customers best-in-class capabilities in all things digital.
Technology that had been previously focused exclusively toward the back-office of financial services organizations began to make its way to customer-facing platforms as well. This provided the opportunity to transform the way customers interacted with their bank from an online digital perspective. That focus involved a website revamp and an internal initiative spearheaded by Steve Daniels, U.S. Bank senior vice president and business information officer. Once this proved successful, Daniels followed this with a five-year road map that worked to bring the “whole bank” to its customers and provided its bankers with key insights to steer superior customer service. An important aspect of this was an upgrade to the bank’s CRM platforms.
As the fifth largest bank in America, U.S. Bancorp is one of the most recognized financial institutions in the country. The bank earned more than $20 billion in 2015, and currently has $429 billion in deposits and assets. With its roster of diversified services, the company serves roughly fifteen million customers in twenty-five states. As an industry leader, U.S. Bank needed these technological advancements to keep it on top. Meeting the desired customer experience level involved a range of technology, including social media tools, big data analysis, and mobilizing both the banker and the customer without sacrificing advanced security, including biometrics.
“These types of technological transformations normally take years to complete with hundreds of employees contributing,” says Daniels. Technological transformations of this scale provide a perfect opportunity to also transform the culture of the technology organization. The first step they took was to find and recruit new executives who could effect change from within by improving employee culture and execute on a new technology vision. Daniels, a veteran of the financial services and technology trade, was one of the new executives brought in to make that a reality.
It wasn’t just Daniels’s proven technology track record that was attractive to the bank’s leadership; they were also interested in his deep financial services acumen, strategy and innovation experience, and ability to be a cultural change agent, a rare combination for an executive at any corporation. This unique blend of expertise created a “hybrid executive” and was exactly the sort of leader U.S. Bank was looking for: a person who could drive change across the organization in partnership with the lines of business.
Daniels says he was hooked on the job because it wasn’t “just come in and keep the systems running.” Beyond his business and technology knowledge, he finds the people and culture essential. Daniels came to be a “hybrid executive” somewhat by accident. As a college business student, Daniels received his first “A” in a computer science class, and decided technology was where his talent resided. Soon, technology became his focus, which fueled his drive to get his master’s degree from George Washington University and complete Vanderbilt’s Graduate School of Banking and Technology Operations. This expanded his knowledge to include financial services, with a focus on human development and technology leadership. But it was an exclusive opportunity following his undergraduate degree that Daniels says “acted as an accelerator for my career.”
Daniels was among ten new employees to be accepted into a rigorous business and technology trainee program at Royal Insurance. The year-long program provided upwards of $500,000 in education, allowing the small group of young professionals to grow exponentially. The focus was on the dual aspect of business performance and technology transformation. “After a year, we were the most trained rookies in the industry,” Daniels explains. Daniels is grateful for the opportunity, as it provided the maturity and mentorship he needed that would later shape his career.
The Charlotte, North Carolina, native was then recruited to join Computer Task Group’s banking and consulting division. He spent the next three years consulting at First Union, which later acquired Wachovia. “In the consulting industry, you hone the ability to drive change by leveraging your deep knowledge and ability to influence executives, which can only be done if you have forged a trusted relationship with them,” Daniels says. “I am a firm believer that you cannot have an effective hard conversation without having a healthy relationship.”
Revenue for 2015
Assets and deposits as of March 31, 2016
Through those consulting relationships with the bank’s executive team, Daniels was offered the opportunity to join First Union National Bank as a chief technology strategist, which allowed him to focus on strategy and innovation. “Working without the traditional technology distractions most leaders face was an opportunity of a lifetime,” Daniels says. “The experience of influencing and directing technology that early in my career still is a differentiator in my current value proposition, even twenty years later.”
Following several positions in the bank’s technology divisions, Daniels was asked to leverage his success there and do the same on the business-line side. He spent three years in Texas running the national equity mortgage division for Wachovia. Interestingly, Daniels put a six-month moratorium on instituting new technology so he could focus on changing the organization’s culture. “This was the perfect environment to prove that no matter if you are processing mortgage applications or driving technology transformations, it is all about the people and the culture which allows them to thrive,” Daniels says. “The results speak for themselves, as the organization went from being the worst in many performance rankings to being the best in only six months, and without any automation being implemented.”
By the time U.S. Bank recruited Daniels, he was adept at wearing several highly specialized hats. Daniels’s first year at U.S. Bank was focused on planning for the major digital overhaul. But rather than focus solely on systemic upgrades (such as IT infrastructure or mobile optimization), he was able to leverage his passion for “people science” into the revamp.
“When planning for a major technology transformation, the majority of leaders will focus on the level of perceived difficulty of the technology effort,” he explains. “One of my core beliefs is that people and relationships should be the focus, not the bits and bytes. To me, it is about people science, not rocket science. I spend a lot of time focusing on building strong relationships and ensuring we have the best possible culture in place. You have to capitalize on the reality that most processes are becoming digitized and the velocity of technology innovation is increasing exponentially. This environment will provide the ability to craft unique customer experiences by incorporating meaningful insights that will empower your customers.”
Since joining U.S. Bank, Daniels has also provided technology leadership for every aspect of the organization, from its website and customer care call centers to marketing and enterprise architecture. Whether it’s providing financial services to customers or building the technology platforms they run on, Daniels makes sure to focus on people, relationships, and culture as well. Based on his career successes, the hybrid executive is demonstrating that his people-first approach is also good business.