Culture and Talent

The newest most important role at banks: the chief customer officer

  • Banks are making a real shift from just talking about the customer experience to making it a step in some decision making processes
  • Experience focused executives aren't common but they're becoming more important as banks go through the unbundling and rebundling of financial services
The newest most important role at banks: the chief customer officer

“Everyone talks about being client-centric,” said Citi Ventures head Vanessa Colella.

That may be true, but banks are only now starting to put people in charge of quality control.

A number of PwC’s financial services clients have begun making a real shift from just talking about the customer experience to making it a step in some decision making processes. (PwC declined to identify any of them.) The shift is similar to that of technology leaders, who after moving up to the C-suite has become more of a centralized authority in order to bring consistency to the technology decisions that take place across all businesses.

“Historically [experience strategy] has been the purview of design groups or marketing organizations that was embedded into everyone’s job,” said David Schiff, a principal at PwC whose practices focuses on digital and customer-driven transformations. “There’s a much greater sense of responsibility and accountability now starting at the top and driving all the way through.”

One financial institution — that doesn’t have a chief customer officer or experience strategy head or someone with a title to that effect — told Scott Evoy, partner lead of the financial services digital consulting team at PwC that to get funding approved, the teams involved have to say how the project or investment will affect the customer experience.

In the past, Evoy said, it was never a requirement to ask “how does this affect the customers in a positive way?” Now that question is a formal step in the process; the team looking to make a change to a process or implement a new technology has to answer that question and describe it in the business use case.

“I don’t know if that organization is moving toward a chief customer officer but the change being affected out of the technology part of the organization — and in that case interfacing with business as well — requires that question to be asked,” Evoy said.

Schiff and Evoy said they don’t see many institutions where there’s a dedicated chief customer officer, yet. A survey by American Banker last year identified “customer experience officer” as a growing C-suite title.

Karen Larrimer has been chief customer officer of PNC Financial Services Group since January 2016; Marcia Mitchell is the “customer experience lead” at Capital One Bank; Alice Milligan is Citi’s chief customer and digital experience officer — within the cards unit; and JPMorgan Chase promoted Allison Bennett, a former marketing executive, to “head of customer journeys” this July, according to LinkedIn.

But experience focused roles are more common at smaller banks like Citizens Bank in Providence, Rhode Island, Union Savings Bank in Connecticut, Eastern Bank in Boston, TCF Bank in St. Paul, Minnesota, LinkedIn shows.

The role may become increasingly important as banks of different sizes go through the unbundling and rebundling of financial services. Larger banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have been adopting fintech solutions aggressively, like joining the Zelle network. In the last month both banks launched sub-branded neobanks and Wells launched a private label roboadvisor powered SigFig. As they add services and more, it’s important to maintain the same customer experience across all parts of the organization.

They need to “make sure there’s one face of the bank,” said Schiff. “The customer doesn’t care if they’re working with the bank’s mortgage group, credit card group, deposits group… they’re just working with the bank. When the bank loses them from one area to another, [customers] just stop interacting.”

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