The future of retail banking

A Bank Relevant interview with SPENCER JONES

Syed Bukhari
Mar 24, 2018 · 18 min read
Spencer Jones, former BofA, TD, and Chartway FCU


Pari Bose: Let me start by asking you about something that’s highly probable: Let’s imagine that you’re appointed as the CDO of a top 10 bank next month. Let us say, you are a bonafide Chief Digital Officer; you sit at the CEO’s table. Your chief mandate is to leverage digital to reclaim the central position in the consumer’s financial life. Would this be the right task to focus on as the new CDO? What would be your top three priorities?

“I think that the role of Chief Digital Officer is suffering.”

Spencer Jones: I think that the role of Chief Digital Officer is suffering. I think it is partly because the other conventional C-suite officers are saying, “Let’s get a Chief Digital Officer, and somehow shazam, we’re fixed.”

“Are you a baker, or are you a cook?”

Spencer: Haha, well, as a new CDO, you gotta know what your skill set is. For example, I’ll refer to one of my favorite interview questions, “Are you a baker, or are you a cook?” Neither is wrong, but they’re different. Similarly, you gotta know, are you a leader or manager? Neither is wrong, but they’re different.


Pari: Whether your charter is to deploy technology or to build experiences or to grow the business. What’s the North Star for a CDO, or any c-level banker? Shouldn’t the North Star be the customer in the digital age?

“I actually don’t think the customers are most important. I think the employees are. If you take care of the employee, they’ll take care of the customer.”

Spencer: Maybe. I actually don’t think the customers are most important. I think the employees are. If you take care of the employee, they’ll take care of the customer. If you have a business proposition that you think is truly valuable and unique, and you’ve surrounded yourself with great employees who equally think it’s unique, then all you have to do is take care of those great people, and they will take care of the customer.


Syed: Pari and I have been involved with many digital transformation strategy initiatives, even speaking to banks’ boards on occasion. Invariably, we hear about the inhibiting effect of culture and leadership. Other industry commentators such as Chris Skinner has claimed that legacy leadership is a bigger problem than legacy technology.” What are your thoughts on the importance of culture in digital transformation, and how might we shape that in banking?

Miracle Speech — You were born for this — Herb Brooks, Movie: Miracle


“…the retail banking model is now becoming symmetrical, transparent and democratized.”

Syed: Would it make sense for banks to try to emotionally connect with their customers?”

“I don’t think the dearth of investing and cutting-edge innovation among large banks is a money problem… I think the model has permanently shifted. The relevance of banking and the role it plays has become diluted.”

Spencer: Pari, your question belies a point of view. Let me play this back here… the reason relationships have changed — and the reason banking potentially has become less relevant — is simply because the banks didn’t have enough funds to invest against disruption? If you believe in that as your premise, then of course yes. Regulatory relief, lower taxes, and rising interest rates will provide banks the incentive to invest against disruption and finTech, etc. But I think you gotta ask yourself — do you agree with this cause-effect relationship? I don’t.

“But the word “bank” today is more of a verb than a noun.”

Spencer: You’re absolutely right. In 1994, Bill Gates made the provocative and still controversial statement that banking would be needed, but banks themselves would not. Commerce will continue to occur. But the word “bank” today is more of a verb than a noun.


Syed: The subtitle of Brett King’s book Bank 3.0 is, “Banking Is No Longer Somewhere You Go But Something You Do.” On the other hand, Bank of America just announced last week that over the next four years they plan to open 500 new branches. How does the “future branch” fit into the worldview you’re talking about where the model has shifted, and things are becoming democratized and transparent?


Syed: Amazon just announced they plan to deliver a checking account-like experience. We all noticed that a few weeks ago they reduced their interaction with Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. When they did so, I posted on social media that it was a signal that Amazon is serious about getting into the banking space. Lo and behold, a couple weeks later, they’re now partnering with Chase, and they plan to enter the space. What are your thoughts on Amazon’s plan?


“…is banking more like a utility?”

Pari: Spencer, I’d like to hear your thoughts around the Revised Payment Service Directive (PSD2) in Europe. How do you see changes similar to PSD2 affect banking?

“Should banks run toward the 1950s classic, or do we run towards 2020 and become technologically advanced? Playing in traffic is the worst possible place to be. Pick one side of the road and go.”

Syed: That’s pretty cool. That’s akin to a secondary lending market where you package checking accounts, grade them and trade them. Very interesting. We’ve never had anyone say that. A few weeks back, we had a conversation with another Bank Relevant guest who said the old 1950s community banking model needs to be translated into the digital age. At what points of interaction will customers and banks meet?


Pari Bose: When Pari is not being a father of two very busy daughters, and trying to get his resting heart rate below sixty, he manages to dabble a bit in digital banking and payments. A resident of the beautiful town of Fair Haven on the New Jersey Shore, Pari draws upon his product management and operations background to take ownership of strategic directions and operations of digital customer experiences for banks and credit unions. Pari is almost always reachable by LinkedIn.

Bank Relevant

The pursuit of human-centered banking

Syed Bukhari

Written by

Design-led Digital Transformation Advisor for CXOs at top 20 Banks | former Gartner, PwC, JPMC

Bank Relevant

The pursuit of human-centered banking