DIGITAL IS FOREVER
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DIGITAL IS FOREVER

By Jamie Armistead, EVP and Head of Digital Channels, Bank of the West

Jamie Armistead, EVP and Head of Digital Channels, Bank of the West

One of my colleagues is trying to teach his teenage son about the risks of social media by reminding him that “digital is forever.” This is obviously sage advice for any teen with a smartphone, but I have found this advice also applies to our work.

Let’s look at three examples:

Build for Forever

Whenever companies are discussing whether or not to move forward with capabilities that would serve clients best, there is inevitably a point where you have to decide if moving forward quickly is the best way to serve customers or if it’s better to hold off for a bit to ensure the best user experience in the long-term.

While recently discussing the timing for a new online/ mobile payments capability project, I had to deliver the disappointing news that we were not content with the customer experience limitations of the proposed solution. We felt that the solution before us wasn’t a strong integrated experience and that we needed to pursue different options.

This of course meant a longer timeline, which wasn’t ideal but ultimately produced a platform that worked seamlessly and provided a better user experience for customers. And, while the desire to get something to market quickly in order to service our clients is well intentioned, this service will ostensibly be offered forever. My argument was, let’s not bring an experience to market that down the road we’ll wish we had spent the time to build the right way.

“Oftentimes, management expects digital spending to decrease over time due to increased efficiencies but the reality is that they should also view an investment in digital as an ongoing expense”

There will always be healthy tension between business leaders and technology executives, but when you apply the lens of digital being forever, you can often sway the discussion toward more long-term thinking.

Invest in Forever

Approximately three years ago, Bank of the West made the deliberate decision to become one of the leading banks in terms of digital capabilities, and I have been very fortunate to help lead that effort. During the first two annual budget cycles while I was at the helm, we were building the Digital Channels and Digital Channels Technology teams so the limiting factor was more capacity than capital. As I came through my third annual budget cycle, we were now in a position to make a healthy investment on digital. As part of our budget process we also included a long-range forecast in which I suggested we maintain that level of spend essentially in perpetuity.

Oftentimes, management expects digital spending to decrease over time due to increased efficiencies but the reality is that they should also view an investment in digital as an ongoing expense. Viewing it this way has freed us up from wondering if we’ll have funding come the next budget cycle. We maintain an eighteen month rolling roadmap that we adjust quarterly. With that, we’re working to smooth our release cycles so the resource demand on product managers, business analysts, developers and QA is more or less constant. Planning and budgeting with the mindset that digital is forever has freed us up to make this happen.

“Forever” is always changing

It is a very exciting time to be in digital channels in the financial services sector. Venture Capital investment in the sector is at an all-time high, every time you turn around new capabilities are being launched, banks are buying design firms in an effort to be more innovative. Yet sometimes, it can feel like a hamster wheel of innovation; always trying to keep up with the next hot new thing. We’ve all gotten questions, like:

“Did you see what Bank XYZ just launched?”

“What are we doing about mobile payments?”

“Have we decided on a host card emulation solution?”

It is very easy to get caught up in the excitement and try to chase everything. Prioritization becomes a very important capability.

Again, applying the lens that digital is forever, we have been able to slow the conversation and be more thoughtful and deliberate about what we’re doing and where we’re investing, remembering that if you build it and launch it, you’ll have to maintain and market it.

Since none of us have unlimited budgets, we need to have criteria to determine where to invest. For us, within digital, we look at customer value. How many customers will this impact? How often might they use it? Does it solve a material pain point? Is it a key competitive gap? Using these criteria has helped us be more focused in our investments and get comfortable taking a wait and see approach on other innovations.

Digital is forever and roadmaps were made to be adjusted. If something really takes off, you just need to be nimble enough shift your attention and bring it to market in a reasonable timeframe.

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