No Match Found
Hear how Walmart is committed to innovation and digital transformation, in our recent conversation with John Bayliss, Executive Vice President and Transformation Officer at Walmart Canada.
Jon F: Welcome to another episode of Shift. Wow. We're continuing on from our respective homes in the pandemic. But today, we're going to be talking with John Bayliss, who's the Executive Vice President Transformation Officer at Walmart Canada. Welcome to Shift, John.
John B: Thanks, John. Great to be here.
Jon F: I just want to clarify one thing for our listeners, there are two Johns on this podcast.
John B: J squared.
Jon F: John, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up at Walmart.
John B: I have been with Walmart, it'll be seven years this year. It's amazing how time flies when you're having fun, as they say. Before this, I am a Recovering Consultant. And working in the retail practice, global leader, spent my time, both here in Canada, the UK, Australia.
But Walmart was a client on both sides of the border. One day I got called into the office of the Canadian CEO, at the time, he said, I thought he was going to chastise me about a bill, but he offered me a job.
John B: When I think of the capacity, the capability of Walmart to invest, to grow, to change, there are very few companies with that capacity and capability in the world. And you think of the retail space, there's some dynamic exciting stuff going on. And that first role I was offered was to oversee our supply chain here in Canada, which boy, in the last two years supply chain's been front and center for all of us-
Jon F: Has it ever.
John B: And was heading up our chain at the start of the pandemic. But the opportunity to come in and really rethink, how do you serve e-commerce? How do you use technology? How do you use robotics? How do you use data? Was pretty exciting for me.
Jon F: if our listeners have been looking in the news, you've probably seen that Walmart recently announced some plans to acquire Toronto startup FoodMaestro. So here we're talking about little mergers, and acquisitions, and startups and neat stuff, tell me a little bit about that.
John B: Yeah. I got to tell you, we like to say we are a everyday low cost retailer, this offering retail services, but increasingly ends more. And part of that is if you think about it, how do we personalize what we're doing for our customers? How do we really meet the needs of our customers?
So a great startup right here in the GTA, founded by a really great data strategist, Jaed Khan, and what they've done is create a great engine that can help customers personalize their choice, and decisions, and make better decisions that are going to ultimately help them live healthier lives.
So you have celiac disease and you go to the website and you're email@example.com and you want to understand, "Hey, I have celiac disease. I want to know what products I can eat." And this will go across all the products we offer up and offer up, "Here's some good combinations. Here's some good solutions. Ultimately here's some basket information around that you could use to make some great home meals solutions. Let's make some recommendations for you that others have said are really good solutions, and give you some sense of what is that healthy basket that's going to allow you and your family to really live a better life."
And so they've been very successful business servicing retailers here in North America and the UK. And what really interests us about them is twofold. One, is how do we use our data in a much more sophisticated way to personalize that experience through walmart.ca to help our customers make better choices. Because ultimately that will drive loyalty. And we think have people come back and really value the Canadian experience.
Then the second thing is, it's on this vein of, as we become more of a retailer and more, there's a phenomenal business here of helping, not just Canadians, but people in other places of the world, the UK Europe, monetize this capability, and data to really help, not just Canadians, but all folks live better lives.
Jon F: So how long does it take to integrate something like that?
John B: This is where the power of Walmart comes in
We closed the transaction in December and that team's off to a running start. You'll see some of their work come to life really by middle this year on our experience. And already doing some great work and actually building out what comes next with our platform to grow alternative revenue streams for us. And also thinking through other ways we can use that search technology to improve other aspects of the web experience.
Jon F: Walmart has also announced some major investments over the next five years, pretty big stuff, aimed at really making the online and in-store experience more convenient for customers.
I'd love to hear a little bit more about that. And what do you think success looks like and where all this transformation's really going?
John B: Yeah. So it's exciting, John. I mean, I see just going into the pandemic, or shortly after it started, three and a half billion dollar investment in Canada within over a five year period.
So it's a major sign, I think for Canadians, and as a Canadian, I'm very proud that we see this as a key market for us. And we need to evolve, again. We're moving from the classic brick and mortar retailer into frankly, a technology company, a service company, a data company, and more. And so you see these investments, the core of these investments are really helping us create a future where we're helping customers have a more personalized experience.
And so you've got a few examples of that, a couple that come top to mind.
This year, we launched in Cornwall, our Cornwall Warehouse, about a $20 million investment, where we future proofed that operations where we put in some new automation that allows us, and systems that allows us to pick out that warehouse, apparel, other items in a way that's much more efficient, but also deployed systems that ultimately, whether that order's being picked for e-commerce or a store, it doesn't matter.
So you're leveraging that asset. You make you more efficient. And kind of rethinking how we do a traditional DC. A lot of investments in Dcs, we announced last week, a new 118 million- dollar investment in a new fulfillment center in Calgary. Ultimately, it's going to have half a million [SKUs 00:20:07] in that site, servicing Canadians using some great robotics with gray orange creating about 325 jobs for Albertans.
Surrey, I'm going out there in two weeks, we'll be cutting the ribbon officially on the most advanced automated warehouse we've built in Walmart International.
Jon F: Wow.
John B: And then probably the final one is I'm excited actually in a few weeks time, we go live in Scarborough.
So we took the back of one of our stores, we just renovated, great store in Scarborough. One of our biggest stores in the country. Took 30,000-square feet of space and put in a set of robotics, which are going to pick and fulfill grocery orders. And later on this year, you can roll into the store and you have a little kiosk, and you punch in your order number and a shuttle in a robot will deliver your order to a door like a vending machine. And off you go. So-
Jon F: Love it.
John B: Some great ways we're actually rethinking again, using technology to serve Canadians and just up our game and how we're accelerating our growth.
Jon F: Okay. So you've talked about robotics, and distribution centers, and all that kind of good stuff in terms of making things more efficient and faster. Tell me what implications that has on hiring and on people. I know probably listeners are thinking Walmart's a US-based company. You sound like you're removing jobs, but actually no, no, no. Tell me the plan on hiring and workforce and all that kind of good stuff.
John B: Yeah. I think first off when you look at a lot of the companies that are powering the growth and the bets we're making on automation, on technology, on data, they're Canadian. I mean FoodMaestro, a good example, that's a Canadian business we acquired, and adding to the fold.
We built a platform with a Toronto based business, DLT Labs, a fantastic Canadian business, that's scaling and growing rapidly. Another one is Axonify, who is a Waterloo based frontline learning AI education business. They are top of their field, rolled it out to our Dcs, and rolling it out through our store, this learning platform.
Avidbots, there was lots of robotic cleaning companies in the world. This one is based in Waterloo and is a fantastic business. And in about 150 stores, and soon rolling to every Walmart across the country, you'll see an Avidbot from Waterloo, Ontario, roaming around the aisles, cleaning it up.
A few other ones, Eagle, a great Toronto based vision AI company .all of our associates for the last four, or five months as they've been walking into our stores, they've been going through automated health screening based on some great AI technology that was developed right here in the GTA.
So as we're making these bets, we're finding there's some phenomenal Canadian businesses here that we've been supporting, we've been developing, partnering with in the early stages. And the great thing is they partner with us here.
So this isn't about a big US parent coming and making the decision down south. This is a Canadian business helping seed some great things here, but also a global business that really understands the value that Canadians can bring to the global challenges we're facing.
Jon F: Let's dip into the shopping cart for a second. And tell me a little bit about, where Walmart Canada's going and where its focuses on ESG? And what Canadians might be able to expect from you kind of in the future?
John B: Yeah. Look, there's a lot to share here. And again, I think Walmart globally, but also in Canada, ESG has been front and center and a lot of the thinking for probably about a decade. But I would say in the last few years, it really started to ratchet up.
And when you think about it, increasingly the way we talk about it is, we don't want to be a sustainable company. Okay. So I know everyone's like, "Oh my goodness, you don't want to be sustainable. What do you mean?" No, no. We want to be a regenerative company. Because by definition, if you want to be a sustainable company, that means that the status quo can be sustained, and you'll be good.
And so what we're looking for is how we use some of what we just talked about on vendors on the tech side, when we look at an environmental impact, how can we use our size, and scale to make a meaningful difference where we act with integrity, we promote sustainability, and we create opportunity for all.
And so you're going to see this come to life, actually by the end of April, you'll see if you're shopping in our stores. We were eliminating single use plastic shopping bags. We made that announcement. That is a big step for us. So John, please bring your cloth bags to the store.
Jon F: I have cloth bags and they stay in my trunk in my car. So I have them.
John B: Please bring them. We've also made huge commitments to purchasing beef from certified sustainable Canadian farms. I bet you listeners didn't know, our beef in our stores, it's AAA Angus Canadian Beef.
But we're taking the additional step and making sure it's certified sustainable beef. And the other one is we were the first major retailer to offer a carbon neutral last mile delivery for orders that are going to be shopped, and sold, and shipped by Walmart.
And of course, hopefully later this year, you will see some of our first full electric trucks hitting the road. A big, big commitment there. We commit to have our fleet 100% alternatively powered by 2028. And actually that DC, I mentioned in BC earlier, we've actually built what will be one of the first and largest all electric fleet bases for transportation in the world.
John B: But actually when you play this forward and you think through some of the economic consequences of environment, and you think through costs of things like carbon taxes, they're going to go up, not down. Fuel prices are high right now. They may come down a little bit, but the long term game there I think is clearer for many. The economics start to make a heck of a lot more sense if you take a different view.
So we announced just this week, we're building one of our first green field stores in Montreal, for a long, long time. But it's going to have a lot of sustainable elements to it, including working with a developer, that's going to be a green roof option of urban farming on the rooftop.
We're looking at our parking lots, big asphalt, [hot space 00:36:14], heat magnet. What do you do with pollinator gardens? Pollinators bees, give them home in these urban spaces so that we face into some of the challenges we're having here in pollinating crops and plant life here in Canada.
Jon F: So John, you're the EVP Transformation Officer running the transformation office of Walmart. What kind of team do you have? Who's in there?
John B: Yeah, it's a great group. The reason we built this, was when you're driving a very large retailer close to 100,000 associates across Canada, there's a lot you got to do on a day-in-day basis just to perform, just to show up the way we want at Canadians every day. And we've got an amazing team.
We've got our classic strategy, Corporate Development Team, the people saying, where we're going, holding us accountable to that. And also looking at opportunities to partner, and acquire companies that can help accelerate our ambition. We've got a great team we call Transformation Services, which I like to think of as our, a bit of our internal consultancy.
Then we've got a big team format, construction, real estate, store design. When you think of the future, there's a lot there. Whether it's how we're designing our stores? How we're making them more sustainable?
Fourth group, is supply chain's a big part of reinvention. So we've got a great team reinventing how we're flowing, DC design, store design, last mile in automation.
And then the final team, which I'm really excited about is a new innovation unit called Bluelab. And this is new for us in Canada. It's a team based in the innovation district, downtown Toronto. This is a products, leaders, creative types, design thinkers that are working with the great companies here and academics, startups, businesses here in the GTA to identify emerging technologies, and ideas that are going to shape our future probably three, four years from now.
So that's our transformation unit. That's our Transformation Office.
Jon F: So to our listeners who are thinking about large scale transformations, and are maybe feeling a little bit uneasy about it, what advice might you give them?
Because you're at the front of this, you're seeing it all. So what might you say to someone who's in similar shoes to you that hasn't begun the journey yet?
John B: Spending the time up front to think through the model you're trying to create for the future of your business is really important. Because you can jump into lots of interesting things off the get go that may or may not be things that are going to ultimately reinforce that business dynamic that you want to create. So I think first off, when you have that, that you're already a few steps ahead.
I think secondly, really understanding upfront also how you're going to differentiate the resourcing between really what we call the perform agenda and the transform agenda. You need to give the space for people to be the transformers, to lean in, and spend the time to build task and learn.
The final one I'd say is just getting comfortable in pivoting, and stopping, but also starting things and changing our agenda on a regular basis. So we meet on a quarterly basis. We go through our top priorities as a leadership team and say, "Do these things really make sense is now the time do we have to pull all things forward? Do we have to push things out?”
John B: Understand if what you're doing today is going to help you generate that new business flywheel, that new business dynamic, then absolutely keep on going, because it'll help you spin. But if you're doing something that's ultimately not going to be helping you reinforce the business model that you're trying to create, or given how things are changing, then it's rethinking that.
Jon F: Walmart is being really thoughtful in where it's looking for and scaling innovation because it underscores your EDLP everyday low price promise.
Tell me a little bit more about that and how it all wraps together in terms of what's important to Walmart.
John B: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean ,a great example is the work we did on blockchain with DLT Labs right here in Toronto. It was interesting. Because this started out as we were not paying our carrier partners in a timely way. Not because we were doing anything wrong, but the way we reconcile our invoices, we're very thorough here at Walmart.
And if there's a discrepancy between what we think that invoice is worth and what the carrier partner, we usually go into dispute resolution. And this was a manual process.
And so we were spending a lot of our time debating back and forth.
I remember it was in the meeting, I had one of our great guys in the transportation tech team said, "Hey, what about blockchain?" And very articulate pitch on how blockchain as a solution could help. And we did an RFP out to the market. We found DLT Labs and we built this platform that honestly, our invoice reconciliation has gone from over 70% of our invoices before we're in dispute, it's under 1% now.
Jon F: Wow.
And so here's an example. We used innovation to solve a real problem that is saving us money, that allowed us to dramatically improve our carrier satisfaction, which in a time like this, when it's hard to get trucks is really important. But ultimately it's lowering our cost of doing business. Which Canadians are going to see at the shelf price, right?
It's things like that's going to help us raise prices in a very slow way in a high inflation environment, or lower prices in some other instances. So I think that's a great example.
Jon F: I think your blockchain is a brilliant example of doing both at the same time, even though the direct benefit to the consumer comes later. But I mean, never more now needed based on crazy inflation that's going on.
John B: Yeah. It's wow.
Jon F: All right. That's me banging my cup. It's lightning round time.
John B: Okay. Let's go.
Jon F: We get to ask John a few non sequitur questions just so we get to round him out as a guy. So tell me right off the bat. What's your favorite snack?
John B: Pita and hummus.
Jon F: Pita and hummus? Very healthy.
John B: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I've been trying to get healthy.
Jon F: What's your favorite app? What app can't you live without?
John B: Oh, boy. I would say LinkedIn. But then I'd be playing to this audience, I think. My Apple fitness app, I'm going to say that. I'm a slave to my steps in my circles, unfortunately. So that is my go-to app.
Jon F: This is a bit random. Are you a Marvel or a DC Universe guy?
John B: Oh, Marvel. All the way. All the way.
Jon F: Marvel. If you weren't doing this particular job right now, what would you be doing? All things being equal.
John B: Yeah. Oh, boy. My team has told me this sometimes, I'd probably be a professor.
Jon F: I love it.
Jon F: So that is the end of another episode of Shift. Thank you so much for listening, listeners, John, thank you so much for sharing this amazing innovation story and journey that Walmart is on. And I have to believe that our listeners, if you were listening from the top, if you've made it all the way through, not only thank you, but I have to believe that now you have a very different perception about Walmart Canada, and Walmart global in terms of what the organization is doing to transform, to embrace innovation and failure, and really deliver to customers an experience that's valuable and convenient.
John B: Yeah. Thanks, John, it's been great. Really enjoyed it
Jon F: Thank you so much for listening everybody. I know you have choices in your podcast, listening and on behalf of Walmart Canada and PwC Canada. Thank you very much for spend of the time listening to shift.
The 2020’s have seen new challenges for many companies or organizations to how they are able to create excellence in their employee experience.
On the latest episode of the Shift podcast, we sit down with Kelly Taylor, Senior Director People Ops at the LCBO, to discuss the factors that enabled them to successfully implement their first Cloud based solution.
She shares with us what was valued in a transformation partner, how change champions became key for implementation and adoption, and the benefits that are already being realized.
Jon: Hi. Welcome to Shift, PwC Canada's podcast series, and we're digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I'm your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I'm also the creative director of PwC Canada. This is a really super cool when we have Kelly Taylor, senior director people ops from the LCBO.
I'm really excited to talk to you, Kelly, about the role technology and partnerships have played at LCBO as you've really focused on empowering your employees. Welcome to Shift.
Kelly Taylor: Thanks, John. I'm happy to be here today.
Jon: So this is not a short story in a way, because this particular transformation's been going on for some time now. I think you're kind of two years in. Is that right?
Kelly Taylor: We're heading into our third year, likely.
Jon: When you think about the case for change, this is not for the faint of heart. This is a serious transformation that you guys have undertaken. What were you looking for when you were thinking about the case for change and thinking about how you were going to sell this up and how you're going to define success? How did this thing start?
Kelly Taylor: Well, it definitely started before I joined the human resources department at the LCBO. And I think one of the things that was critical to the effort getting off the ground was to really do an assessment with our leadership team about how HR was delivering services to some of our senior business leaders.
And one of the things that we heard overwhelmingly from that group is that HR is handcuffed to the basics. We're so mired in process and paper, and we really weren't delivering against some of the expectations of some of our business leaders.
And around that time, we'd had a lot of new leaders join from other organizations. And I think that was a really important juncture in our journey in that those leaders were coming to us from other organizations and the bar was high for what they expected from an HR service delivery standpoint.
So that was definitely a major accelerator for our case for change. In addition to that, what we were learning is that our employees were really expecting a different kind of digital experience from us. So as you know, we're all attached to our phones.
And so to have employees have the ability to access content, knowledge, technology for their work lives was really, really important.
And that's why when we chose Workday, what was really important was that Workday delivered a really great user experience for employees. And so again, you've got to make sure you mirror the experience employees have in their own lives to their work lives. And so that was a really critical piece to us enabling our employee access with the technology.
Jon: It's a really interesting comparison, really. Because I think when we compare our work experience digitally or otherwise with our interactions with brands around the world, we used to have different expectations, right? But it's not like that anymore. And I think employees especially are seeing these types of tools, these types of experiences as a competitive advantage or reason to choose one place over another, I would think. Would you agree or disagree?
Kelly Taylor: Yeah, I definitely think so. And especially now in this time where we know talent attraction is even more challenging, you've got to ensure that you can deliver on that great employee experience. That value proposition is really important to the employee coming and joining your organization.
And it's interesting that you mentioned that, John, because one of the things we were seeing in some of our candidates while we're trying to encourage them to come to the LCBO and the HR space was they would say, "Well, what kind of technology do you have?"
And we would say, "Oh, well, we don't really have an HRIS system." And that was a real big roadblock to attracting talent to come to our organization. So I definitely think introducing new technology opened up a world of new talent for the LCBO.
Jon: When you are thinking about a transformation of this size, there's a lot of different partners and a lot of different parts of the business that are involved.
So when you're planning such an undertaking, what were you looking for in a transformation partner?
Kelly Taylor: I definitely think one of the most important things that we were looking for as an organization from our transformation partner and our implementation partner, I sort of liken it to that friend who will tell you when the outfit you're wearing is really not flattering.
It's someone who really gets you as an organization, gets your culture, but also isn't afraid to challenge you when you might be a little bit stuck in old ways of working. And I think that's what PWC was really great at. And I think that comes from having a lot of trust and from really embedding them as part of our team.
We didn't view them as a vendor. They were our partner in this effort. And what it felt like is we were this one team really moving towards the same goal.
That doesn't mean there weren't ups and downs and friction points. But I think the great news is when you have a partner who you trust, you can be really frank and say, "Hey, I understand you're trying to take us down this path, but I'm going to tell you, my experience here is going to tell you we're not ready for that," or, "It's too much. So can we talk about a different way of working?"
And so I think that was really, really critical. I talk a little bit about the trust factor, right? Which is really and truly that your partner is someone that you can confide in as it relates to the challenges your organization is facing. Talk really transparently about what's happening in the business.
And sometimes it means being quite revealing about the challenges you might be facing in different parts of your organization. But it always is in the spirit of knowing that you're all moving towards this ultimate success. And for the LCBO, there was so much at stake.
We'd never made this kind of investment in HR technology. So the stakes were high. And I think the other thing we really focused on is this was not just an HR project. This was a project that was going to be instrumental to our organization and to transforming our organization as a whole. So it wasn't just for HR. It was for all of our employees. Now, HR was a significant benefactor, but it was for everybody. And that was really crucial in our work with PWC.
Jon: So when you were selecting the technology, it's really kind of interesting for me as sort of the outsider to think about how you went about choosing that platform. What kind of criteria did you use or how did you think about it?
Kelly Taylor: I think some of the most important things that we were considering, and I have to confess that I was relatively new to HR. So I really came to it from the perspective of an employee and a manager. What would I be looking for as an employee in the experience?
For example, I want to request vacation online. I don't want to send my boss a note and I don't want to have to wait to hear back from her. So I think there was a really important push to look at that user experience from a employee self-service standpoint.
Were these tools easy to use? Were they intuitive? Will the employee who had previously never interacted with HR technology before be able to navigate finding their pay slips, accessing their vacation calendar and looking for their T4s online? All those things, which when you say it out loud, it sounds very basic and like table stakes, but at the time we didn't have any of those tools available.
Jon: It sounds to me like you led with the needs of the people, as opposed to figuring out what the needs of the business were and then reverse engineering it that way.
Kelly Taylor: I would say the business needs were really central as well. So I don't want to suggest that the business needs weren't important. But I definitely think when you're about to embark on implementing technology and suddenly suggesting all your employees.
And remember, we have a network of over 10,000 employees who didn't have access to technology directly through our organization. So when you think about the magnitude of that change, it was really important to make sure before we headed down that path that we would be aware of what some of resistance might be to adoption.
So I think we definitely considered the employee experience. We initiated a very straightforward survey to employees prior to our implementation, which asked employees, like, what apps do you use? How often do you use your cell phone? Really to gauge what kind of adoption existed before we implemented our technology. So that we would really understand the change lift to get the rest of our population fully on board with using technology instead of our paper processes.
Jon: I think that's an important thing to call out for people who are listening. It's being able to blend the needs of the business, which are always central to anything that a business is going to do, with the needs of the people. And really trying to figure out like where that sweet spot is, I guess, between what they need and what you can offer and how it's going to have benefit to the business itself.
Kelly Taylor: Yeah, definitely, John. As you know, we have a large store network. We were introducing a pretty significant amount of change to managers in how they completed performance evaluations, how they entered time for employees. So that was really critical to saying, "We're not asking for this small incremental change. This is a pretty big change."
And we had to make sure we approached it correctly in order to be successful. And I do want to mentioned George, our president. There's something he says all the time, which I think is super, super relevant. And it really is that transformational change is never easy, but it's necessary.
And while we were super anxious about the reaction from some of our employees, and we knew there would be people who just would not adopt the technology, but we just had to figure out a way to engage them through other mechanisms. But that change was really necessary in order for us to evolve our support for the business and in order to help us support the business evolve.
Jon: So we talked a little bit about the business-led, the technology-enabled, the employee and manager focus and making sure that the tools and everything kind of matched up. There's a lot of stuff at play there. You've got IT. You've got retail operations. How did you balance and approach the partnership with all these different parts of the business?
Kelly Taylor: Well, I think anytime you're introducing a new technology, you absolutely have to have a really solid partner in your IT team. We were introducing Workday, which was really our first cloud solution at the LCBO. And so it really required us to fully engage our partners in IT.
They had to be with us at every step of the way, because there are a lot of technical components that were new to the organization, security, all those things related to privacy and protecting our employee data. So having them along the journey with us was really important.
So I think what was even more important than that was that our partnership was really still business-led. The solution we were implementing was solving some business problems and IT was helping enabling that solution. So that relationship was super, super important.
Like in any organization, there's challenges because the business wants to go down one path and your colleagues want to go down another. And so I think it's just valuing each other's expertise and making sure that the collective goal is still in mind and that was implementing a great cloud solution for our employees and our organization.
Jon: That's so hard to do. What you described is really hard to do.
It's "easy" to fall into the trap of really leading with tech. The tech does X, the business needs Y. So we're just going to put it in. And the people get left. The experience, the needs, the human centricity gets left behind. Was there anybody in your organization who was like championing the side of the people?
Kelly Taylor: I definitely think our senior vice president of HR at the time was instrumental in leading our transformation. She was instrumental to leading our transformation on both the operational and technology side.
But I think it's important to note your leaders can't work in a silo. That they absolutely need the support of their peers, as well as in this case, the support of our CIO at the time. So I think that those two people combined really led the effort.
They got all the advocacy at the senior level. And then our job or my job in particular was to make sure that I kept them informed and that we really stayed on strategy with delivering a great technology and a great employee experience with a focus on enabling business operations in the best way we possibly could.
Jon: So I know firsthand, because as a creative person and working with our clients on change, it's difficult to bring people along, even if the solution is so much better and it's going to make their lives better. So how did you approach OCM, organizational change management? How did that go?
Kelly Taylor: We had a great team internally that supported our efforts and joined by our PWC partners. And I think what was really important at the onset was to really evaluate that level of change or the degree of change. So for HR, it was going to be massive because we hadn't had these tools and we hadn't had a great technology to enable our workflows.
And for our employees, it was also pretty significant in that we were going to do things like take away a paper pay slip, which when you say it again sounds quite basic, but it was really something that was so ingrained in our culture.
We looked at all the things that would change. And we did an assessment with PWC, really critical to helping us look at leading practice and best ways to help solve employee challenges in this space.
We had a really large group of change champions in all our business areas. So in our retail areas, in our warehouses, and in our corporate functions. And I think that group of people were really critical to our success, because we could ask them or facilitate important communication through them where they have a lot of credibility with their peers.
So the message comes from the head office and sometimes you lose some of the nuances of the message. Whereas the change champions were really people who we gave a lot more information to, we shared our plan, our strategy, some of our tactics, and they were able to take those things back to their team members.
So when we launched Workday, we had a network of people who really got what our intention was and were able to help rally the troops, so to speak, to really adopt Workday. And I would say that our adoption was quite significant. I will also say one of the things that was super helpful is when we could take road shows, we took our show on the road and we went to our warehouse facilities and went to our stores, where we really wanted to talk to our team members who would be most impacted by this change.
And I would recommend that anybody who's going down this path really take time to talk to the frontline employee who's going to be significantly impacted by this change. There's a lot of things you assume that you know about the employees. And by the way, I worked in the store, but so many years ago, so much has changed. So we really have to check our assumptions and get that information right from our team members.
Jon: I think when you approach this thing holistically, a transformation holistically, like you're doing. I have to believe that you did some upskilling and maybe some additional training for those who needed it?
Kelly Taylor: So when we introduced Workday, we knew that Workday would bring with it a pretty big change on the retail operations side. And so what we did was we leveraged a pretty decent size group of store managers and employees and what we call district trainers who really got that next-level education on Workday.
And so everything that was critical to using Workday, we spent a good five days with them. We had some really good hands-on learning sessions with that team, with the intent that they would take that back to our broader network. When you're dealing with 11,000 employees, you can't get to everyone.
So you really have to leverage this network of people who are super engaged in technology, who understand the business challenges that store managers and employees might face and leverage them to the best of your ability. And I would say it's one of the things our team is most proud of because it really resulted in such great adoption.
Listen, I'm not going to lie, there were some times where we probably didn't communicate as much as we should have, or we maybe thought, "Well, they don't need to know that," or, "It's not really relevant." I think what we quickly learned is it's actually better to tell too much than it is to not tell enough.
The feedback we got from our employees was, "We really appreciated knowing what was happening throughout the life cycle of the project." So definitely encourage anybody to make sure they keep those lines of communication with the people who are most impacted wide open.
Jon: How did you find the people who had the heart for the change, who had the enthusiasm and the effort and wanted to step up and help? How did you recruit them?
Kelly Taylor: When we started our Workday implementation, the first thing we did was engage our senior leadership team. And we built this pseudo steering committee of senior leaders who were really our sounding board for a lot of our efforts. And we really leveraged their knowledge of their team members.
And we did an outreach and said, "Hey, we're about to head into this massive technology change. It has many arms and legs and it's going to require a lot of advocacy for us to be successful. And so what we want from you is some recommendations for people who are either super engaged in technology or just really vocal about the change that impacts them directly."
We didn't just handpick the people who were going to say all the things we wanted to hear. We had to choose some of our team members who were going to give us some opposition and challenge us so that we would do better when we delivered.
And I do think that one of the things that we learned from working with PWC and from PWC connecting us, by the way, with some of our peers who had implemented Workday, was the importance of having that really solid change management culture woven through your entire project.
So at all the junctures where it was critical, it was stopping to ask ourselves, have we properly built the right communication strategy? Do we have a good training plan? Is this like a high-touch training plan approach? Or is this we can send this by email? And when we weren't certain, we leveraged our change network to really help orient us down the right path. And they were really instrumental, I do believe, in our success.
Jon: So you're going into year three of this transformation. That's approximately how long we've been dealing with COVID. And I'm curious as to the impact of the pandemic on the transformation. Did it hasten anything? Did it slow stuff down?
Kelly Taylor: Well, I definitely think that being part way through our transformation journey really set us up to be able to navigate the pandemic from an HR perspective more effectively. We launched not only technology, but we also changed our operating model. And we didn't just introduce one technology, we introduced two.
So when you think about all those changes coming to HR, if we hadn't had those things in place, I'm not sure navigating the pandemic from an employee perspective would've been as effective as it was.
We launched Workday in January of 2020, right before the pandemic changed all our lives. And in doing that, we were really ready to enable employees to access HR services in a more effective and meaningful way.
And I think if we didn't have that model ready to go, it would've been a lot more challenging for HR team members to navigate the volume of inquiry. As you can imagine, the pandemic brought with it all kinds of questions around, what does it mean to continue to go into work? What are the health and safety protocols we now have to follow?
The other thing that I think is really helpful or was really helpful is when we built our case for change, we talked a lot about how we're going to measure the benefits that are so important to an organization.
And one of the things that was really critical was that we could be agile and that we could adjust and move really quickly. And during a pandemic, that's all we were doing was shifting and moving and adjusting. And with the implementation of Workday, we really now had a tool that would enable us to do that.
So for example, if you needed to send out an important communication to employees, you used the broadcast function in Workday. If you needed an essential worker letter, that could be pushed out to employees. Before, we'd be printing letters, stuffing envelopes, and mailing them. And that would not be an effective way to operate during a pandemic.
So I would say the timing for us, while challenging, couldn't have really been better for us to really demonstrate the value of Workday and our new operating model.
Jon: Using agile methodology in the middle of a pandemic just seems to go hand-in-hand. It's like, can you imagine doing it any other way? Waterfall, for example. It just really wouldn't work out for you because the world is changing too much. Everything is in flux. So that was so great that the methodology to bring it to bear kind of matched what you needed anyway.
Kelly Taylor: Yeah, for sure. Our current chief people officer, she uses this amazing terminology, which is that operations team becomes the shock absorbers for the organization.
So employees bring to you challenges and you've got to help them navigate when you yourself are navigating a pretty significant amount of change. So I think, it really helped reinforce that we needed the technology, we delivered the technology, and now we're seeing the benefits of having that technology.
Jon: So I'm curious about what kind of benefits you're seeing?
Kelly Taylor: Well, we're seeing a lot of great things from an employee experience perspective. Definitely we are seeing great adoption of Workday. We see a lot of great interactions with the technology, which is really important. We also see great efficiency in how HR as a department is working. Our processes are more straightforward. We are now technology-enabled.
And so we're definitely seeing a lot of benefits from that perspective. The other thing we're really seeing is results as it relates to accuracy. You have technology, you can set up rules that prevent things that shouldn't happen from happening. So I definitely think we've closed some important audit gaps that might have existed within our organization.
Jon: In all of this, Can you share any lessons learned or unexpected challenges you can share with us?
Kelly Taylor: Oh gosh, there's so many I could share. I think number one is really recognizing that the project itself is going to be taxing. That the team members that you have join your team have to be people who are super committed to the end goal.
And I think what was great about the team that we assembled at LCBO was we really took a mix of subject matter experts, some technical experts. We brought in people from the business who were really going to help make sure we implemented our project with that business lens in mind.
And I think it was also acknowledging that there was going to be a lot of ups and down, and those downs can really drag your team down. And so making sure you take time to celebrate those wins and acknowledge the efforts of your team, to give people breaks and to give them their vacation.
I think what was surprising about the team that we assembled and what we really learned about ourselves was that those connections, because you spend so much time together, we got to know each other on the next level. And so we now have different kinds of relationships. And also we have people we can go to when we're struggling with something.
So when we look at optimizing Workday in the future, we now have a network of people who are going to give us advice, who are going to challenge us on whether or not that's the right thing to do. And I would say that was crucial.
Jon: I know change fatigue is a real thing. How did you combat that? How did you avoid people really burning out?
Kelly Taylor: Our leaders were behind us, encouraging us through difficult times. Our senior leadership team, led by George, was really encouraging. "Don't worry, this is a small shift and you're going to get back on track and we're with you." So I think having that encouragement and the support of the team really made it all worthwhile.
On the change fatigue side, when you're introducing a lot of change to an organization, you do get to a point where you're like, "Oh gosh, not more information," or, "Not more things that we have to do differently." I think our employees are really great at adapting to change.
It doesn't mean it's easy. It just means that as long as they have the information, they feel informed, they feel ready, they'll do their best to embrace it and they'll tell us when they're not ready.
Jon: Change and transformation is one of those things that never ends. It always goes. You can always improve. What's next then? What's next for LCBO?
Kelly Taylor: From an HR transformation perspective, I think one of the things we've learned is our leaders are adapting to that change as well. And so there are some refinements we want to do from a communication standpoint. We want to evolve our operating model and that's going to require some additional effort to communicate with our leaders, to talk to our leaders about what's working and what isn't working. So those regular checkpoints really help humble us. As we think we're crossing the finish line, it reminds us that there's still work to do.
Jon: So this is the part in the podcast, I get to ask you some completely non sequitur questions so that I and the listeners can get a little bit more of a view into you as a person, Kelly. So I'm curious. This is a new question for me. Do you like pineapple on your pizza?
Kelly Taylor: That's a definite yes. For sure. Absolutely.
Jon: It's such a polarizing topic because it's like either yes or no. There's no, "Well, I don't mind it." I'm a full on advocate of pineapple, I must say.
Kelly Taylor: Me too.
Jon: Kelly, what's your favorite TV show?
Kelly Taylor: I definitely have to say Yellowstone and Ozark are my top two right now.
Jon: Yellowstone. Oh, I love discovering. I haven't watched Yellowstone, but Ozark.
Kelly Taylor: So good.
Jon: So good. Yeah.
Ok red wine, white wine, or rose?
Kelly Taylor: I'm a big fan of Prosecco right now. We have some really great Prosecco, top notch right now.
Jon: Prosecco is such an under... For me, it's one of those things I don't even really think about that much. But when you have it, it's like, this is like celebration right now. This is so great.
Kelly Taylor: Why didn't I drink this before?
Jon: Exactly, right?
Kelly Taylor: Yeah, absolutely.
Jon: All right. Well, that really wraps up this episode of Shift. I learned a lot and I'm so glad that you shared both the successes and the complications of doing such a big HR transformation as the one that LCBOs undertaken. And I know that our listeners have... I know our listeners have lots of choice when it comes to podcasts listening. I really appreciate you for listening. And Kelly, thank you so much for being on Shift and sharing everything with us.
Kelly Taylor: Thanks, John. My pleasure.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at pwc.com/ca/shift. If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, subscribe to our podcast series. You can find us on iTunes, Google Play, or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, LLP, an Ontario limited liability partnership for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice. Until next time.
A conversation with Sharon Haward-Laird, General Counsel, BMO Financial Group on the role Canada’s banks can play in facilitating the changes we need to see around environment, social and governance issues and why BMO Financial Group is committed to leading this transformation.
Jon: Hi, welcome to another episode of Shift. Thank you so much for joining us. We have an amazing guest today, Sharon Haward-Laird, who's General Counsel of BMO Financial Group. Welcome to Shift.
Sharon: Hi, Jon. I'm really pleased to be here today. Thanks for having me.
Jon: Sharon, lead counsel at BMO, tell us a little bit about how all that came to be and how you came to be in the position that you're in right now.
Sharon: Sure. As you said, I'm General Counsel at BMO and I've been in that role for just over a year. I've worked at BMO for about 22 years though, which is amazing, it's gone so fast. My main job is leading the bank's legal and regulatory compliance groups. I'm also the executive sponsor for three areas of focus, which are sustainability, which is what we're talking about today, the BMO for Women program, which has a connection to that as well and digital currency. All of these things focus on the bank's role in society and how we interact with society to make it a better place.
Jon: The neat thing about what we're going to talk about today, I think is one of the most talked about things in, I don't know, the business world right now, I suppose, and that's ESG. And for those of you who don't know what ESG stands for, it's environment, social and governance. And it's a really big topic and it's hugely important to organizations right now. So I'm really delighted that you're here and that we get a chance to talk about what BMO is doing, because I'm not too sure, even though we're going to talk about how amazing BMO is in this space, I can't imagine that too many consumers necessarily think that a financial institution is one of the leaders in this space. Is that surprising to you?
Sharon: That’s a great point, Jon. I think that one of the biggest surprises for me when I took the role as General Counsel, which was about a year ago, is how much of my time I spend on ESG. Our former General Counsel, Simon Fish, likes to say there are three letters in ESG, E, S and G, and the one that matters most right now is climate. So C.
But the truth is, all three elements of ESG are equally important and getting the balance of those right is important. When you think about a bank really sitting at the intersection of finance and the amount of transition and the involvement in growing economies and helping people achieve their own financial goals, I do think that banks like BMO, but all banks can play a really important role alongside governments and their customers and other parts of the economy and really facilitate the change that we need to see.
Jon: Well, I mean, I think as a financial institution, you guys have the scale and the clout to actually make significant changes that other organizations can follow.
I wonder whether or not a lot of organizations think about ESG as a box they need to check off.
And I love the fact that for BMO, and I mean, this may sound like a tagline or something, but you're finding value in your values. There's things that are intrinsic to the organization from the environmental sustainability and governance side of things. You guys are taking it really seriously. It's not just an add-on, it's an actual thing that's important to you. Can you tell me a little bit about why?
Sharon: That is a great point. When you think of any of these topics, like climate, sustainability, diversity, these cannot become performative things where you say one thing and do something else. It's not a marketing tool. It really has to be about what your company stands for. You do really have to have focus because if you try to say, "I'm going to have a position on every single thing that any stakeholder might care about," it's actually hard to manage all of that and do all those things well.
Jon: That's really interesting because I love the fact that you're not just making stuff up. You're actually going out and speaking to your stakeholders, to really create solutions for the people that you're making them for. So I'm just really curious, who's in that stakeholder group? Who are you asking?
Sharon: It's interesting, especially in Canada where the banks play such an important role in the economy, our stakeholder group is really broad. It includes customers of course, because without customers, you don't have a business. Our investors, because they are the ones who provide the capital that allows us to continue to serve our customers. Our regulators, they tell us from a risk perspective, what aspects of ESG they want to make sure we have a good handle on, and then the general public.
People look at what you do and they judge your conduct against what they care about. I have missed a really important stakeholder group, which is employees. Employees want to work for an organization that reflects what they care about. They don't want to go to work and do something for a company that doesn't feel connected to their own purpose. Everybody wants to feel proud when they read a story about their company in the paper or when friends use the products that their company generates.
Jon: Do you see a shift in your employees and how important purpose and values are?
Sharon: I don't even know if I would call it a shift as much as a transformation. I look at myself in my role prior to the pandemic. I spent three or four days a week travelling to Chicago and not being at home. I just thought that was normal and I was used to it. Then when you're at home every day, all day with your family there are times you drive each other crazy, but you realize how much that connection to your family matters.
When work and home boundaries seem blurred, I think it's even more important that your work has purpose to you.
Jon: It's almost like a bit of a win-win or it's exponentially excellent. Because you're helping society, you're helping Canadians, you're helping the bank, you're helping employees, it all dovetails together. I love the fact that the Dow Jones Sustainability Index puts you guys as ranked as one of the most sustainable companies in the world. I just have to say, "Wow, that's amazing."
And I think, one of the things that people will find really interesting is that you actually do stuff that matters and I'd love to talk about some of the initiatives that you're doing that are actually making a huge difference. Especially around your support for women.
Sharon: Sure, as I said earlier, I'm the executive sponsor for BMO for Women. It is a big part of our Purpose commitments. We have three broad Purpose commitments, and one is for a thriving economy. In 2018, BMO committed to make $3 billion in capital available to women business owners over a three-year period.
Sharon: Then in 2019, we made a commitment to double our support for women entrepreneurs by 2025. We became the first Canadian bank to sign the UN Women's Empowerment Principles. We have a bunch of different programs that provide specialized support to women business owners. When I was first asked to get involved, I was like, "Well, is there really anything different about being a woman business owner than a male business owner?" And the truth is that there is. I have my own personal experiences. I've never owned a business, but when I interact with business professionals, when I've gone to buy a car, even if we're very clear that the car is for me, that I'm the one that's paying for the car, that I'm the one that's going to be driving the car, sometimes it's very difficult to get people to address me versus my husband.
I think those kinds of implicit biases, we're still making progress towards understanding that women are uniquely positioned to identify areas of need and to grow businesses that will help the economy. It's important and I'm really excited. It's a new part of my role, support for BMO for Women and the clients that we interact with are so inspiring to me, way braver than I've ever been in my career.
Jon: How do you go about prioritizing and deciding where to lean in? There's so many things that you could do. How do you decide?
Sharon: Our stakeholder’s expectations really are a large driver of our strategy. Now, you have to listen and then you have to develop a strategy. No strategy is going to please every stakeholder. There are some people who would want a very rapid transition and there's a lot of discussion now. I think everybody understands the transition has been too slow.
We benchmark ourselves against other banks. We're part of a lot of different organizations. Along with the other Canadian banks, we joined the Net-Zero Banking Alliance, which is a UN convened group of banks that have all made commitments to aligning with the net zero future by 2050 and to setting interim goals for 2030. So, we benchmark ourselves, we think about approaches and framework.
Then going back to something you said, we've obviously won a number of recognitions and awards, but that doesn't make us complacent. We know that the data, the science, the expectations, the climate events will continue to change, and we need to make sure that our approach is flexible enough that we can make changes based on what we're seeing from peers, and from our customers. All of those sorts of things are something we really need to think about.
Jon: I love that you're saying, "We're not complacent." Because going back to something we talked about earlier in terms of ESG being one of these boxes that a lot of organizations just check off and if it's checked off, it's like, "Okay, that's good. Pretty good. Yep. Check." And there's no desire, hunger, drive. There's no fuel to it. And it's like, "Okay, that's good. We got that box checked. Now we’ve got to do more."
I wonder whether some organizations see this as a cost of doing business. So I'm trying to figure out how to convince people or show them that it's not just a loss leader, if that makes any sense.
Sharon: It's a great point. Maybe the right way to put it is there's an offense and a defense part to addressing climate change. So, if you look at some estimates, it will take $150 trillion of investment to meet the Paris goals. De-carbonization is not going to be easy and there are opportunities to finance the necessary investment, but we can also play a role to quantify, analyze, and disclose information on climate related transition. That provides information that policy makers and markets can use to drive different changes in policies.
The commitment says we will only succeed if everyone does their part. There has to be an expectation that governments will follow through on their own commitments to ensure the objectives of the Paris agreement will be met. It is an ambitious goal and there are a lot of inter-related and economy wide confirmation that is required.
Like addressing diversity, addressing climate change is both good business for a bank and the right thing to do at the same time. Those two things are not in opposition. They are mutually beneficial. But they're complicated as well. There will be many different views about the pace and the means by which transitions should be facilitated.
Jon: Well, I want to underscore what you just said, it's so important because I think a lot of organizations, maybe a lot of leaders feel like they're diametrically opposed, driving value for the organization and driving value for the environment, and that they can be symbiotic. They can work in concert, they can support each other as opposed to, you can either make money or you can save the world, it’s and both. Yeah.
Sharon: Right, the truth is no one company, bank, or government can save the world in isolation.
Sharon: It really does all have to work together. Let's use a very specific example. The Canadian government has said, I think it's by 2035, that 100% of new vehicle sales will be electric vehicles. When you think about all of the infrastructure that's required, where is everybody going to charge their cars? If you have street parking, where are you going to charge your car if you have an electric vehicle?
There's a cost, a risk, and an opportunity for whoever develops solutions for those sorts of things. What we're trying to do, especially through our Climate Institute, is really help our customers see the opportunities as well as the areas that are going to be hard. It’s no different than other areas of business. Because the technology, the expectations, and how people live their lives changes and you've got to be constantly changing and your approach towards climate is not going to be any different than that.
Jon: If there are organizations out there that want to do more, but don't really know, how do you get started? How does a big enterprise think about ESG and incorporate it in a way that's authentic to them? How do you do that?
Sharon: I've talked a lot about stakeholders. I'd start there, talk to your stakeholders. Who are your customers? Find out what's important to them. Challenge your own assumptions about what your business is about. What is your purpose? What social good do you create? How do you integrate these broader stakeholder interests into your own plans? Asking these questions will help you to focus on what matters.
One of the things we're doing so that our bankers are well equipped to talk to their customers about this, and there's lots to talk about, like are there grant programs they can use to try to convert to solar, or if you're in the agriculture industry, or there are agricultural programs to help you make your farming more sustainable, for example.
We also have customers who are people, not companies. I mean, I guess all companies are made up of people. But on the individual level, we've talked to some customers who really want to do their part. It's actually more complicated than you would think.
Jon: It's very hard.
Sharon: But you can start to explore some of those things, what are the things you can do to get ahead of all of the transformation that's going to be required?
Jon: So as you're deciding what initiatives to do and what initiatives not to do and prioritizing and talking to stakeholders, figuring this out, how do you manage the fact that there are probably people out there that think, "Oh, BMO should do X," but you're not? Or you shouldn't do Y but you are. How do you manage the expectations from employees and customers?
Sharon: I think you have to look at the prioritization, you have to develop your own strategy. You need to socialize it in your company. Then you need to be transparent about it and say, this is why we've taken this approach. Or this is why our target is X instead of Y, or this is why we don't have a target yet in some areas.
Then I think you have to be open that sometimes people will share some additional information and if you hadn't considered it, you should be open to saying, "Look, we put out our sustainability and our climate report once a year and we make changes in our approach. But you also do need to link it to your purpose.
Jon: You touched on this notion of iteration and agility. And it's like you start with one thing, you test your assumptions, you prototype something, you put it out there and then it's okay to iterate and to change things based on what's working for you, what's working for your customers, how the world is changing, But I love the fact that you're saying it needs to be true to the organizational values. What is the brand about? What are the attributes that are important? Those aren't going to change. How you think about them and how you execute them out in the world will change, but the fundamentals don't. And I think it's very easy to get caught up in shiny objects and change your values and your purpose. I'm delighted to hear the advice that you're giving.
Sharon: I think a lot of that alignment to your purpose, really comes with that important tone from the top, a strong top level commitment. Our CEO, Darryl White, is very committed to this topic. That makes it much easier to drive ESG into your culture and integrate it into your core business processes.
Investors are much more engaged about this topic. The knowledge of your different stakeholders is growing. So it's important that your knowledge grows along. You don't want your stakeholders to know a lot more about a topic than you know yourself, because then you can't engage intelligently with them about it. You can't give them the confidence that even if they might not agree with everything that you've decided, if they have the confidence that you've really thought it through and that you have a plan that makes sense, even if it's not the plan they personally would've come up with, I think you can come from a place of mutual respect on these topics and agree to continue learning from each other.
Jon: When I first started researching and getting into understanding BMO's perspective, my first reaction was, "Wow. One of our biggest financial institutions is a global leader in this." And at first I thought, "That's really weird and unusual." I didn't expect it as a regular citizen, if you will. Now that we've had this discussion, it makes perfect sense. Who better? Who has the clout? Who has the scale to do this properly and to actually show it is a two-way street? You can have value, you can derive value from your values. It's good business for everybody. It's not an either or. And I always thought about it some ways it's an either or. But it isn't, it's an and both. I love that.
Sharon: We obviously have strong competitors. All the Canadian banks joined the Net-Zero Banking Alliance. Because I think there is knowledge across financial institutions that there is a role for banks to play. Banks cannot do this alone. They cannot. And I don't think anybody thinks they can.
But we can be an important driver or partner with our clients. At BMO, we want to be our client's lead partner in the transition to a net-zero world.
Jon: Yeah. Having the multi tentacles, if you will. The banks touch every part of business, from the most sophisticated large enterprise down to the yous and mes of the world, just the regular people who have a checking account or whatever. And so being able to be the leader or the instigator, the inspiration, just show the way, lead the way and to help people along makes absolutely perfect sense.
Sharon: I’d end by saying we have our Purpose commitments and we have talked a lot about climate and that’s the sustainable future part of it. We do have two other pillars: the thriving economy we spoke a bit about that, and then our zero barriers to inclusion pillar and we have goals around all of those.
Jon: So before we get into our lightning round then, do you have any final advice or things for our listeners to be thinking about as they go off and start to think about ESG?
Sharon: I will just say that there is a role for everybody to play in this. We are really proud as I said of the awards that we've won, but we know we're not perfect. We know we have more to learn and more to do, and we're going to continue to push ourselves and help our clients because that's what we're here for as bankers. We're here to help clients and we don't exist without clients. I would say reach out. We have a lot of resources. We're continuing to build them through the Climate Institute. And I'd say, just continue to educate yourself.
Jon: And don't give up.
Sharon: We can't give up.
Jon: Difficult is worth doing.
Sharon: Failure is not an option.
Jon: So I'm going to ask you a few questions and then we'll wrap it up, okay?
So lightning round.
Sharon: Lightning round.
Jon: I'm curious, do you put pineapple on your pizza?
Sharon: Never. I don't like to mix sweet and savoury flavours. Never.
Jon: So it's sacrilege. Okay. Cool. I like pineapple in my pizza. And there's two kinds of people, people who like pineapple on their pizza and people who don't.
Sharon: Now I'm not so sure.
Jon: Are you a night owl or an early bird?
Sharon: It depends on the day, early bird for work, night owl on the weekend.
Sharon: Which I know is against all of doctors' advice for sleep etiquette.
Jon: Best place you ever vacationed?
Sharon: I love going to my cottage.
Jon: Now, where's your cottage, if you don't mind me asking?
Sharon: Stony Lake.
Jon: Oh, nice. Awesome. Do you have any Netflix recommendations for our listeners? Or binge worthy shows?
Sharon: I love Ozark, which I just finished watching and they really teased us with that. My guilty pleasure is Selling Sunset.
Jon: Oh, I haven't seen that one. And then last lightning question, if you weren't doing what you're doing now at BMO, what might you be doing?
Sharon: I'd like to be a history professor. I always wanted to be a history professor. I loved ancient Egypt history.
Jon: An Egyptologist.
Jon: Well, I want to thank everybody, obviously Sharon for being with us and all of our listeners for listening. I know you have lots of other choices for your podcast, so really appreciate you spending the time with us. I learned a ton and I'm super inspired by what you're doing. Sharon, thank you so much for being on Shift and sharing your amazing ESG journey with us.
Sharon: Thanks so much for having me. Have a great day everyone.
Jon: Until the next time, we'll see you on Shift.
A conversation with G Adventures Founder, Bruce Poon Tip, where we discuss community tourism, and what it means to be a responsible traveler.
Jon Finkelstein: Hi, welcome to Shift. It's PwC Canada's podcast series, and we're digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I'm your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I'm also the Creative Director of PwC Canada.
All right, this is an amazing one and it's actually super, super timely. We're here with Bruce Poon Tip, who is the founder of G Adventures. Hey, Bruce. Welcome to Shift.
Bruce Poon Tip: Thank you, thanks for having me.
Jon Finkelstein: Just for the purposes of our listeners, who, I mean, I can't imagine that they would be unfamiliar with G Adventures, but perhaps as a Canadian success story and an amazing entrepreneur yourself, you can just give us the two second bio about you and what you're up to.
Bruce Poon Tip: Well, I founded G Adventure back in 1990. We are the largest small group adventure holiday company, I guess, is how you'd recognize us today. But, we've transitioned over 31 years.
Bruce Poon Tip: We have our foundation of the work that we do that's connected to being responsible when we travel and creating wealth distribution. Just creating travel for good.
Jon Finkelstein: Tell me, in terms of where you're coming from and what you're seeing in terms of travel, what are seeing people, how are they shifting? What are they thinking about? What's on travelers' minds now?
Bruce Poon Tip: It's about being more purpose driven and being connected to destinations. Just before COVID, people weren't connected to destinations. The destination became irrelevant, because people were buying amenities. There was a huge push for capacity. Bigger resorts, bigger cruise ships. They commoditized experience. That's what we were in danger of.
Bruce Poon Tip: So, it has to be important to you. People are going to be way more purpose driven. If you want to go to this country, you know why you want to go to this country over that country. I don't think we saw that before COVID.
Jon Finkelstein: Are people more or less risk averse, in terms of where they want to go and what they want to experience from travel, pre versus post-COVID?
Bruce Poon Tip: There's not one defining way people are handling COVID, or how they process it in their life. There's some people, that are early adopters, these are the people that line up outside a store for a week to get new iPhone. The early adopters were rushing to travel sooner and take the opportunity to travel when there's no other tourists in some of the most iconic destinations in the world.
Bruce Poon Tip: Then, we all know people that were borderline germophobes prior to COVID. This, mental health-wise, has really affected a lot of people. I think there's going to be just different people. Everyone's going to have their own experience and everyone's going to have their own limits. It's our goal to get people traveling right away, but I know so many people saying, "I'm not traveling for five years."
Jon Finkelstein: I'm a pretty safe traveler for the most part, I haven't been out too much into the wilderness or into countries that are deemed more dangerous than others. But now, I might. I was just wondering whether you saw any of that…
Bruce Poon Tip: Well, we do see a huge growth in active and outdoors. I don't know if that's because people were locked up for so long that they now want to be active and outdoors. Because we have many different trips and some are more active than others, but we're seeing people searching. We have search data where people are searching for active trips, trips that are outdoors. The other thing that we're noticing through data, is that people are looking for very specific experiences.
Jon Finkelstein: What would you say to people as they start to think about traveling again and how to really weigh out their options?
Bruce Poon Tip: Well, I think the biggest change that has to happen, and it's on the way, is that people have to understand the privilege they have to travel. There's so few people on the planet that have the opportunity to travel, to do international travel.
Bruce Poon Tip: You have a privilege to travel, you have a right to nothing. So, we have to get that across the consumer and to the traveler. I think that more and more people are thinking that way naturally.
Jon Finkelstein: You mentioned education and retraining a little bit. I'd love to talk a little bit for a second about your internal, your employees and the culture of responsibility, sustainability, community. How do you make sure that you can move an organization and align them with the type of vision that you have?
Bruce Poon Tip: Well, the most important thing is in the recruiting process.In order for you to get a job with us, you have to go through culture fit and culture fit is done by cross section of people across the company who's going to make that choice to bring you into the business. So recruiting is the number one, but then it's about getting and retaining the best people. Retention is everything in business. And so it's how you run your business. It's about transparency. It's about inclusiveness.
Bruce Poon Tip: And it's about being ahead of doing what's right. Lots of people are changing now, whether it's because of the me too movement or because of the LGBTQ movement, but really companies should just do what's right. And when you do that, you get buy in from everybody. And so how you recruit people becomes really important, but how you retain them, how you create something special from why they chose to work with your company, is really one of the most important factors in running a business, especially in people businesses. We have this philosophy. If you build it, they will come, from Field of Dreams.
Jon Finkelstein: Yeah.
Bruce Poon Tip: We don't have the same problems because people love working at G Adventures, but that's all part of our philosophy, our culture, our business strategy is attracting and retaining the best people.
Jon Finkelstein: It must take a lot of focus to keep that going because I have to believe or think that as the world changes and ebbs and flows in this kind of stuff to not lose what makes you fundamentally you, to just kind of keep the lights on. Do you find a lot of pressure?
Bruce Poon Tip: We've been very courageous over the years of really putting money into our people, into people programs. And we do amazing things for our people that nobody else does.
Jon Finkelstein: Care to give us an example or two.
Bruce Poon Tip: Yeah. Well, leadership camps, we run leadership camps all over the world.
Bruce Poon Tip: And everyone in the company can apply. And some of our leaders from all over the world, we would've never known them if they didn't come through leadership camps. When we see the graduates of our leadership camp and we were doing two or three a year, we have to do women's leadership camps as well that was specific for women that can just all apply. And it's a huge expense because we're flying people all over the world. There's mentors and content and it's a whole leadership camp for a week. And they're all over the world and that's not something that anyone does, teaching people to be good leaders.
Bruce Poon Tip: And the content isn't relevant for just G Adventures. People come and think they're going to leadership camp, and the number one thing that people say when they come back from leadership camp is there was no mention of G adventure. But G Adventures is training people to be great leader. There's so many fans. Making sure people take trips within our company. Everyone gets a free trip once a year and an allowance for air as well. And if you take a trip, you get an additional week's holiday. Stuff like that.
Jon Finkelstein: Sorry, sorry. I just want to repeat that in case anybody missed that. If you take a trip, you get another week's holiday.
Bruce Poon Tip: Because we want to encourage people to take trips. So if you don't take a trip, you get the standard holidays. But if you take one of our trips, you're doing us a favor. You're learning about our product and our people are our greatest brand ambassadors.
Bruce Poon Tip: And so we have so many things, I can tell you so many things that we do on a regular basis. On Friday, we do this thing called Christmas in the Community in Toronto. We've been doing it for 15 years and I was out there wrapping presents for the kids. So we found out that the city has a party in Toronto for zero to five, a Christmas party for kids below the poverty line. And it was only zero to five.
Bruce Poon Tip: And with COVID, it's changed a little bit, but I consider that a perk and our people love it. It's such a blast getting ready for the kids on Friday. I was on Turkey carving duty. There was like 40 turkeys on a table, and I was carving turkeys all evening, but everyone does their part. And then on the day, every department has to run a station because the kids come in and all of these kids are identified by the city for being below the poverty line.
Jon Finkelstein: Incredible. Guys, congrats for doing that, man. That's amazing.
Jon Finkelstein: So Bruce, just so everybody's really on the same page here, I love this notion of community tourism and it's such a great term. Do you think that you could just describe it for us? Give us your definition of what community tourism means and how it plays out.
Bruce Poon Tip: Well, there's two paths to community tourism. The first one being that everyone benefits when you decide to travel. It's not the one way experience that you're taking travel. Shouldn't be about taking, it should be about giving. And so everyone should benefit and it takes a community to make... When you do one of our trips, there are so many people that are participating in making an amazing experience for you and everyone has to benefit and creating community. And then the other one is taking people to areas that don't normally benefit from tourism.
Bruce Poon Tip: We have a whole series of local living trips where you can stay on a ranch in Iceland or a farm in Italy or a winery in Chile or a Mongolian tribe, nomadic tribe, or an Amazon rainforest tribe, and just live with local people. It's not about entertaining you. Sometimes travel could just be cultural immersion, cultural sharing, where local people benefit equally by learning about your life as you learn about their life. And creating that community is really what makes travel so special. It allows us to transform. And not just us. By you traveling you're going to transform people on the ground. You're going to transform communities. The 40 poorest countries in the world, tourism is one or two in terms of our revenue to those countries.
Jon Finkelstein: There's a lot of different factors and a lot of different people involved in trips. And one of the things that, in preparation for the podcast interview, the notion of leakage I really find alarming. And I think I'm familiar with it in the context of retail and people mean theft, but leakage and travel is a very different thing. And I was wondering if you could just take a second to explain what that is and how what you're proposing, your take on community tourism, turns that on its ear.
Bruce Poon Tip: Well, it's about the money that you spend on your holiday staying in the country. There's so much of that that leaks out. So some of the biggest travel organizations in the world are public companies, and that breeds a certain process in decision making, but that money doesn't stay in the country. There's so little of the money spent when you go on holiday that stays in that country for local people to benefit. But everyone knows that. And so we ask ourselves all the time as an industry, not just at G Adventures, how badly do we want travel to benefit local people? How badly do we want travel to be truly a transformational industry? Because in order for us to do that, it has to be significant change in how we do business. Everyone's starting to do something, and it could be donating or starting a little foundation but we really have to look at where we're spending.
Jon Finkelstein: Do you think people are like, "Oh, I can't do anything."?
Bruce Poon Tip: Yeah. Well, that's the problem because people are fatigued. Especially with the definitions that I told you before, ecotourism, responsible tourism, sustainable tourism, ethical tourism, green tourism, whatever the ism, it's confusing. And people, they'll only go so far because they just want to go on holiday and we have to make it easy. We have to make the choice easy and the definition easy. And it's complex because everyone's fighting to do it their way for their... They're putting it as part of their brand, so they're shouting on rooftops about what they're doing, but it's to serve their brand. It's not to serve the higher purpose.
Jon Finkelstein: I wanted to ask you, when you think about your trips and planning them, and there's so many different people and operators involved, how do you make sure through the line that the people that you're dealing with, that you're working with live up to the values or doing the things that you want?
Bruce Poon Tip: Well, you can't do everything. We have something called the Ripple Score. The Ripple Score is a very, very unique thing. It was a five year labor of love that people thought I was crazy to try and create. And what it does is it actually changes the behavior of our buying because we give a score on every trip. And we're the only company in the world that gives a Ripple Score, meaning that we give a percentage, when you travel, of the money spent running your trip, how much of it stays in the local economy.
So every trip will say 90%, 80%, 100%, 60%. And so we're motivated to work with local operators and local people that hire people within a radius of their business and don't have outside leadership coming in.
Jon Finkelstein: So I wonder whether something like the Ripple Score could be one of those things that suddenly becomes a bit more defacto, a little bit more prolific.
Bruce Poon Tip: We've had a lot of big mainstream companies contacting us about the Ripple Score, how it works. And we openly share that information because it was all done by an outside group of consultants, because we couldn't create the standards for that. It had to be verifiable outside. But our goal is to have it available. Again, if you can't travel with us, travel like us, that's our whole motto. So it's available to anyone.
Jon Finkelstein: It makes me think of if you're a company or a destination or whatever that would like to be part of the G Adventures family and your Ripple Score is not quite where it needs to be… Does that motivate change with some of your partners to say, "How could we do better so that we could be more involved and more of a partner to you?"
Bruce Poon Tip: Oh yeah. No, that's the behaviors on the ground. So everybody knows what it takes to work with G Adventures, and if you want to work with us, that's a really important component now because it's all done in our buying. So G Adventures is a massive company and I can't control all the behaviors that go on, but the Ripple Score really created behaviors within the organization. And in the right way, to buy in a way that benefits locals, that matches our brand and it's our brand promise to our consumers.
Jon Finkelstein: What advice have you given or would you give to CEOs, presidents who need to make difficult decisions, who know deep in their heart that the difficult stuff is worth doing? How do you even begin to redefine a business, an industry, your company? What's the first thing you can think about?
Bruce Poon Tip: I don't think many companies set out to do that, to redefine. It's all about doing the right thing and also doing your best in every circumstance because there's times where you just can't make those decisions or you can't... It's not, and... But as long as you could stand in front of your people and say, "We did our best."
Bruce Poon Tip: When COVID hit and it escalated so quickly, we had so many layoffs and terminations because we didn't need all the people. We had thousands of people, it was over a thousand people affected. And we got a lot of people for the first time criticizing the organization, criticizing me for the decisions we were making.
Bruce Poon Tip: And we did our best. And we did make mistakes. We made a ton of mistakes because we, who knew the world could shut down?
Jon Finkelstein: Yeah.
Bruce Poon Tip: I can safely say to everyone that along the way, every decision we made, we did with the information that we had at the time and we did the best that we could to make the best decision for our people and for the business.
Jon Finkelstein: So did you give CEO keys away? What is that? What's that about?
Bruce Poon Tip: So this goes back about 15 years ago, where I was trying to make a seismic change in the business by putting our customers first. Right? And our people first.
I had to send a message of the most important people within our business and change the way the business looked at our people. So the most important title in business is the CEO title. And so I decided the most important people for our business is anyone who deals with a customer. It's not me. I barely meet customers. I barely meet customers. I'm not important.
Bruce Poon Tip: I want to change the thinking right across the organization that the most important people within the organization are anyone who deals with people. And we changed the CEO to Chief Experience Officer. And the number one position to elevate the position was our tour leaders. So traditional tour leaders who run trips, because they have access to all of our customers every day. They're right in front. They're our face. They're the face of the company. And so I wanted to give them the most important title within the business.
Bruce Poon Tip: And what it did is it created an incredible differentiation for us. And CEO has just taken on a life of its own. All of our tour leaders, and originally all of the people that answered our phone to deal with our customers were Chief Experience Officers. So they had a CEO title because I had to change the way we were thinking of our customers and change the way internally we were viewing the most important people of the business.
Bruce Poon Tip: And now the CEO title, everyone proudly uses it right across the world. And we are the employer of choice, best in class. And everyone wants to be a CEO, no one wants to be a tour leader. Whenever we go into a country and we start hiring people to be our CEOs, the best of the best come because they want that title, because we created a brand around Chief Experience Officers.
Jon Finkelstein: That's so amazing.
Jon Finkelstein: All right. Ding, ding. Time for the lightning round where we get a chance to ask our guests some non sequitur questions that may or may not have any bearing on anything. For example, Bruce, what is the worst meal that you've ever had?
Bruce Poon Tip: Yak butter tea in Tibet.
Bruce Poon Tip: Tea shouldn't be salty or chewy. That's what I tell people. Yak butter tea or camel yogurt in Mongolia. Those are the two worst. And everyone serves it to you when you go into their home, so it's rude not to eat it. It's awful.
Jon Finkelstein: Yikes. Okay.
Jon Finkelstein: What's the scariest mode of transportation you've ever been on?
Bruce Poon Tip: Oh boy, probably New York subway.
Jon Finkelstein: The New York subway. Nice.
Bruce Poon Tip: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jon Finkelstein: I'm curious, what's your comfort food?
Bruce Poon Tip: I'm from the Caribbean, I'm from Trinidad, so my comfort food is all around Caribbean dishes. Roti.
Jon Finkelstein: Oh, I love roti.
Bruce Poon Tip: Flying fish. Yeah. Any kind of Caribbean food is my comfort food.
Jon Finkelstein: Very nice. And would you be willing to tell us what your hardest life lesson so far has been?
Bruce Poon Tip: My hardest life lesson has been this last two years of dealing with the pandemic. I was taught, growing up, that business was unemotional. It's black and white decisions. And I fought against that throughout, if you read my book, I fought against, that business can be compassionate. And I open my book, Looptail, in Tibet, and I talk about how that changed me when I got home to business. Because going through business school, you're taught that business is unemotional.
Jon Finkelstein: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bruce Poon Tip: But here I am in this pandemic. And I had to make a lot of just unemotional decisions. I don't know what the lesson is there, but for the first time, I had to look at positions and cultural heritage preservation to save the business, as opposed to people, when we were deciding who we're going to keep and who not. It's the worst position to ever be in.
Jon Finkelstein: I just, maybe just for myself on the last question, where is one place that you haven't traveled that you'd want to go? Because I have to think that you've been probably pretty close to everywhere.
Bruce Poon Tip: That's Russia.
Jon Finkelstein: Oh.
Bruce Poon Tip: So I have not been to Russia or the Trans-Mongolian that goes through Siberia and Northern Russia, that train that goes from Beijing to Moscow.
Jon Finkelstein: Amazing.
Bruce Poon Tip: The Trans-Siberian train. I want to do it, but it takes a long time. It's a long trip. And so I reckon I'll do that when I'm much older and I have time.
Jon Finkelstein: All right, well, that wraps up another episode of Shift. That went by really quickly as we talked about travel and tourism and what it means to be responsible, all kinds of interesting things beyond, beyond. And hey Bruce, thank you so much for being on Shift and sharing your journey with us and giving us some really awesome things to think about when the pandemic is over.
Bruce Poon Tip: It was my pleasure. Great questions. Thanks for having me.
Jon Finkelstein: Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at pwc.com/ca/shift. If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more subscribe to our podcast series, you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an Ontario limited liability partnership for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice until next time.
A conversation with Rogers for Business President, Ron McKenzie, where we discuss the current remote work model - how businesses are adapting, innovating, preparing for the future and what it means to be a strategic advisor to their customers.
Jon: Hi, welcome to Shift. It's PwC Canada's podcast series, and we're digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I'm your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I'm also the Creative Director of PwC Canada. Okay, welcome to another episode of Shift. This is a really great one. We've got Ron McKenzie, president, Rogers for Business. Ron, welcome to Shift.
Ron McKenzie: Thanks, Jon. Great to be here today.
Jon: Well, it's a very timely conversation because as we think about technology and business and where Rogers is going in terms of being able to be a trusted strategic advisor to companies, there's a lot of stuff to unpack here. So I'm super glad that you're here. Maybe for our listeners you could just quickly tell us a little bit about yourself and how your career led to this particular moment.
Ron McKenzie: Happy to, Jon. So my role is I'm president of Rogers for Business, and have the honor and privilege of being responsible for all of our connectivity, technology solutions, services, and support for both our small and medium business customers, all the way up to our large and public sector customers across Canada. Joined Rogers a little over two years ago, leading our technical operations, so I'm very familiar with how we deliver and how we support and how we take care of our customers every day.
Jon: I have to imagine that when you started two years ago and what happened as a result of the pandemic and everything, I have to believe, there's so much that Rogers did as an organization to really help small and medium businesses. There was this huge gap between what small and medium businesses needed from technology and from connectivity and from digital tools, and your opportunity as president of Rogers for Business. Did you feel like there was this interesting convergence of time and place?
Ron McKenzie: It's so interesting, Jon, and I'm sure for many of our listeners today who have embarked on transformation, and sometimes one of the biggest challenges in transformation journeys is how do you rally an organization to really adopt a new way? Because change is tough. I think everyone that's been in the industry a long time, whenever you're adopting change, it comes down to the human element, and how do you get people comfortable to adopt new ways of operating?
Ron McKenzie: When we were confronted with this pandemic, there was no playbook that said we're going to have to completely transform, and we're going to have to do it literally overnight.
We pivoted to how we can serve our business customers and play that trusted advisor in ways that, how do we help them adapt, and how do we help them evolve, and how do we get them pivoted, how do we enable them to keep operating with all their employees working from home in safe places?
Ron McKenzie: So I think the crisis and that pandemic drive kind of forced us into ways of operating and really brought out the best of so many businesses in terms of their ability to adapt.
Jon: Large enterprises probably had a bit of an easier time pivoting and switching over, like for example, with PwC, we already had the tech, we already had the computers, we already had the network and really kind of the culture that enabled remote working.
Jon: But it dawned on me that small and medium businesses don't have the capital. They don't have the flexibility. They don't know what to do. And what I loved about what Rogers has been doing is it's almost like no one gets left behind, right? It's like as a company and as a country, we're going to band together to try and figure out how to enable everybody to succeed.
Ron McKenzie: I think, like PwC, Rogers pivoted years ago to the concept that you could work from anywhere, in any location, in any building. As large organizations, I think we had already made the pivot. And so when the pandemic hit, our employees could work from anywhere.
Ron McKenzie: So we had the technical experience, having done it ourselves, and knew how to actually execute and what solutions needed to be in place. How do we take what we've learned and share that as an advisor, they don't have a tech department, they don't have a CIO, they don't have the expertise.
Ron McKenzie: And so I think one of the things that Rogers for Business, we were able to do, is leverage a solution portfolio that we had designed for small business, which we call the advantage solution. So this is more of a managed service offering. What we mean by that is it does include your connectivity but it's your managed wifi. It's your mobility. It's your security solutions. And it enables the ability to work from anywhere.
Ron McKenzie: So I think having done it ourselves, it gave us a great opportunity to be that kind of trusted advisor and I think that's the difference in how we can help our small business customers really focus on growing their business and leverage our experience to help them get there.
Jon: Yeah, that's amazing. We're going to talk about the survey in a little bit, but I just found this particular stat really interesting that 71% of those surveyed, small businesses, felt like business improvements were linked directly to connectivity and your online solution. So it's almost like necessity became the sort of the impetus for invention or pushing people to do stuff.
Jon: But let me ask you, did you find that you had to customize your solution offering based on what people wanted or did you go, "We know what you need, we've done it ourselves, let us tell you what the best things are. How did you blend what we have versus what customers need?
Ron McKenzie: When the crisis hit, we were in a really good position from experience and having already transitioned to shared space and work from anywhere. For our customers, though, they had to completely pivot their business and deal with the technology transition in parallel.
Ron McKenzie: And so that's the difference. A good example is, the customer I'm referring to is called Rocket. And Rocket is a small business. They did graphics and high end commercial print. And when COVID hit, in 24 hours, all of their customers put their orders on hold. That was it. Their business just completely dried up. And they're one of the local employers. This is one of the things that sometimes the power of small business, it makes up 70% of our workforce outside or in the private sector. And it's 98% of all businesses in Canada.
Ron McKenzie: Small business is the growth engine. And more importantly, it's the powerhouse in every community. It's the largest employer in every community across Canada. So for Rocket, what they focused on is they put all their energy into pivoting their business and started to make personal protective equipment, shields, guards, things for healthcare workers.
Ron McKenzie: And we stepped in to say, we've got your back, we'll put the infrastructure in place. So we literally could move them to work from anywhere, integrating all their wireless into the cloud, so that now with collaboration capabilities, they could have their receptionist essentially working from home, but having all the functional capabilities as if working inside the building.
Ron McKenzie: So what it did was it enabled them to pivot literally overnight. We were able to step in and say, "We can transition you right now. We'll take care of this for you. We'll get you set up that you can work from anywhere." We migrated them. And then they were ready to go.
Ron McKenzie: The power of connectivity became more critical not only to stay connected as a business, but it became the lifeblood for them to stay connected with their customers. And that way, every employee could work safely from anywhere and I think that was the power that enabled businesses to survive.
Ron McKenzie: That's where we found ourself being able to step in and really work side-by-side with the small business customers. We'll put the platforms and technologies, we'll handle the migration, we'll show you how to do this, and we'll implement it and manage it for you, and you focus on taking care of your business. As I shared earlier no business had a playbook for this. So I think this is where the best of companies really stepped up and worked together collaboratively. That's what I'm probably most proud of for Rogers for Business, everyone stepped up to taking care of our customers.
Jon: So Rogers works alongside small and medium businesses to keep them competitive and I'm just wondering what were people saying? What did this do for the Rogers brand?
Ron McKenzie: I would say, Jon, from what we experienced when we surveyed customers throughout this, was the level of trus. The level of trust went up, such that we were on par with pharmacies, grocery stores, critical infrastructure for survival through this pandemic. Businesses that we surveyed said, "We're continuing to invest in this pivot to online solutions and keeping connected, even after the post pandemic. So much of it was earning the trust of businesses that they could rely on us and that's the one that I'm certainly most proud of as how our employees stepped up to take care of our customers and keep everyone safe.
Ron McKenzie: This is a new way we'll operate together with our businesses. They can rely on us to support them in that trusted advisor role. And I think of it as ‘grow your business with Rogers for Business’.
Jon: You mentioned something earlier, and this is from the survey you guys did about small business, this notion of 96% really see the value and are going to continue to invest in technology. And I'm just curious, a lot of small and medium businesses are up and running with the first pass of managed services and technology to get them going. What happens next now? What do you think they need to continue to be successful in this changing world?
Ron McKenzie: The need for connectivity is going to continue, but I believe beyond connectivity is the other values that really help you accelerate. We saw that with our small business customers, 85% rated reliability as the top priority to connectivity. The other thing that we're seeing is businesses now looking to get closer to their customers. And one of the ways we do that is with our advantage brand and solutions for both collaboration and, I'll call it, analytics insights is the next wave of things that big enterprises have the capability of doing, but now we're going to offer, and is available today to all small businesses.
Ron McKenzie: So what it does is that technology of managed wifi, the power in it is the analytics that it offers the small business, so they have insights into all the activity inside their little bar or restaurant. Now imagine as a restaurant owner, they wouldn't ever have had access to that level of insight into their business, but now they do.
Ron McKenzie: The way I think of it is it's bringing all the power of a large scale enterprise, but packaging it and making it affordable for a small business. And that's the real key. Connectivity is just foundational. Reliability is next. Now you really add the power of analytics, security and building that relationship with your customer, and then adding the mobility to be able to, depending on your business, work from anywhere so you can scale up and scale down without having to change out with big capital outlays. That's what's so important is the packaging. A lot of these solutions that I'm describing, we've packaged specifically with no capital outlay. So it's basically a scale to your business, so the technology should adapt and scale to the way your business scales and what I'm so excited about is how we can help small businesses with solutions like I just described. And so that's where I see such an opportunity for small businesses in that digital transformation. Staying connected and being able to have that predictive view of their customer, so powerful in the future.
Jon: Well, that's what I was saying earlier. It's like nobody gets left behind. I just think that's great. So the neat thing about what's happened as a result of COVID and a lot of things that Rogers for Business has been enabling is this notion of work from anywhere. What are you hearing from your small business, medium business customers in terms of what they need to enable this hybrid working style? How is Rogers helping?
Ron McKenzie: It's been really interesting. I'll start with the lessons we learned and how we're seeing small businesses go through that same transition. So at Rogers, we're in a full shared workspace model. So there are no offices. We pivoted during COVID and everyone is connected. So for our employees, they're able to work from anywhere today. What becomes the next step though is how you maintain culture and how you stay connected with your employees and so for small businesses, we've been able to use ourselves as an example in all the tools that we use.
Ron McKenzie: So what we're seeing is small businesses following very similar paths that we did as Rogers in our business, that transition to wireless and wireless now becomes your business phone everywhere. So we're seeing small businesses make that transition to cloud.
Ron McKenzie: And the last piece of the puzzle is we're seeing all of this now happen with all this secure reliability, and I'll call cloud-based services. So as we migrate customers, one of the things we do at Rogers for Business is offer the whole solution. And I think that's the big difference of what we've seen happen is it's not just, "Okay, I've got these technologies as a small business, and I have to figure out what to do with it." They're actually turning to more of a trusted, "Help me use this in a way that I haven't done before." And I think being able to offer that level of innovation, but be able to manage it, I think that's where small businesses have really pivoted quickly. Following a lot of what we've had to do as large organizations for many years.
Ron McKenzie: And so now the big win in this is that a small business has a couple of big advantages. The flexibility to flex up and flex down. You can work from anywhere. And more importantly, you can add to capacity.
Ron McKenzie: The second big advantage is when you are working from anywhere, you have the ability to attract the best talent in the industry, because now, you don't have to get them to move to your location. You can attract the best talent anywhere, whether it be anywhere in Canada, or what we're seeing is cross-border now. And I have some of our team that are in the US, that work side by side as if they're right here in our backyard or within our community. Small businesses now can tap into that talent pool that traditionally they've never been able to tap into. That's where the collaboration online has really powered small businesses in ways that I would say in the past without connectivity and without collaboration, they wouldn't have been able to tap into that.
Jon: I was just going to make an observation about the notion of the extended talent pool. And it's really interesting because I'm seeing that in our side of the business too.
Ron McKenzie: Businesses that move to this kind of shared virtual environment are going to have a real competitive advantage because they'll be able to tap into that talent pool. That's the difference where I think solutions like we're building and Rogers for Business, we'll be able to enable a small business to have all the power and capabilities to compete with a large business and tap into that talent pool and really offer differentiated ways of operating.
Ron McKenzie: Prior to the pandemic, they would never have been able to tap into a customer base that is anywhere, anywhere. And because they could offer that service, it's just one example of how staying connected with your customers, and having the online collaboration capability or in this case, the online retail capabilities, it really opened up a broader market for that business.
Ron McKenzie: And I think you can almost go across so many industries that I don't think John, will ever go back. I actually think this moves us forward in ways that our level of competitiveness as a industry, I think we're a game-changer moment here. And it does open up to bring the best that we do in Canada and open us up as a global player and in many industries. So that's the part obviously, I'm very excited about how we enable that for customers.
Ron McKenzie: One of the things about Rogers, and I think it's fairly well known, but we don't outsource our call centers. They're all managed in Canada. Every phone call for the Rogers brand is answered by a Canadian in Canada. And we do that on purpose. Not only because of our commitment to the community and commitment to Canada, but it's also because it enables us to introduce innovation in different ways of understanding how we can better serve the customer and as we look at how we apply technology to adapt and how we can be better predictive, and how we can sort of predict where there may be challenges or areas that we can offer improvements, we think we can turn that into something to help our customers do the same.
Ron McKenzie: And so that's one of the things that very much, that role as a trusted advisor, is using ourselves as an example first, and learning from that innovation, and being able to apply and share that with our customers.
Jon: I do think it's important for organizations to drink your own champagne. I mean, we do it at PWC, obviously with a lot of stuff… I think it also goes back to the idea of trust too, because you're not going to recommend or do anything that you yourself haven't done.
Ron McKenzie: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jon: Tell me a little bit about what you're seeing next in terms of hybrid working, and how 5G and internet of things, everything's ramping up super fast. How do you think that's going to impact small and medium businesses?
Ron McKenzie: Staying connected is kind of a foundation. The next sort of big area that we see is the access to information, or the ability to pivot from reactive to proactive and then to predictive, is the way I would characterize it. And what I mean by that is if you think about sort of the ways businesses and the ways networks and things operated, everything was reactive.
Ron McKenzie: What we're doing now is enabling businesses to be much more proactive and in 5G, what it enables us to do is really observe and become predictive. The way I describe it is if you have elements in your network, or you have elements of devices that are connected, we can start to almost create virtual capabilities for every use case. And so the way this is done is within 5G, it can do high bandwidth, and yes, it can do millions of connected devices, like you see in stadiums in high-use case where you have thousands and thousands of devices connected.
Ron McKenzie: It can also enable though what we believe is going to be one of the big game-changers, and the term is called spectrum splicing. What it enables you to do is actually create almost like a virtual slice just for this application, just for this device, just for this company, just for any part of the business. So just to let your imagination expand for a bit. So imagine now I have autonomous vehicles. I can create a-
Ron McKenzie: ... now I have autonomous vehicles. I can create a slice that is secure, ultra-high bandwidth, low latency, and just that slice is carved out just for autonomous vehicles. And I have another slice which is monitoring traffic profiles. Imagine now, I've got the ability to control for a smart city all the pedestrian traffic and all the vehicle traffic through a downtown core to optimize the efficiency. Nobody wants to sit on the Don Valley Parkway. So there's that ability to actually enable that to come to life, because you can actually slice the spectrum specifically for each use case. And so what this is going to enable us to do is capture this information, and then add the edge capability of... Mobile edge computing is the term, but be able to capture all this information, feed it to a cloud data lake, and be able to real-time process that information to make decisions and start to become from proactive, now predictive.
Ron McKenzie: I know the traffic patterns are going to be this way. I know there's going to be a requirement for extra capacity here required. Or I know my customers are going to go online to order this time, this hour. I better be ready with capacity. It's going to enable us to take our businesses and apply technology in ways that start to create differentiation in competitive advantage. And I think that's really the power of 5G. And what I'm so excited about is at Rogers for Business, we're really leveraging a massive investment of building a native 5G network coast to coast, from Vancouver Island all the way to the Maritimes. Rogers is an on-net network, coast to coast for 5G, and we're servicing more communities and light up more communities every week. And that is what's going to enable us now to offer those capabilities direct to businesses dedicated for various applications.
Ron McKenzie: Offering that as a managed service is really how I believe we'll be able to offer our businesses and our customers that competitive advantage
Jon: So here's a kind of hot-off-the-press question, but I'm really interested as to what the Rogers-Shaw deal might mean for consumers and for small business.
Ron McKenzie: Well, Jon, we're honestly super excited about what... Coming together with Shaw, the real power is it will enable us to offer a coast-to-coast national on-net network for both wireless and wire line. And what that enables for both our consumer and our business customers is that enables us to offer services and innovation anywhere coast to coast across Canada. So the power of that network coming together really leverages both the great capabilities that Shaw brings and the capabilities, many of which I've described today, that Rogers brings from a business perspective, and allows us to serve small businesses, communities, public sector, large enterprises that have operations or want to tap up into customers anywhere across the country. And we'll be able to enable that network. And when we look at innovation and some of the examples I gave with 5G, having that coast-to-coast network and that ability to do spectrum splicing... Being able to do that natively as part of our 5G core, we can offer that anywhere in Canada as we come together with Shaw. That's going to enable a level of innovation that has never been done before.
Ron McKenzie: The second area is as part of us coming together with Shaw, we've made massive investment commitments to Western Canada in terms of serving underserved communities. And we've been committed to building and investing over a billion dollars in rural expansion, serving indigenous communities, enabling connectivity. Sometimes, the word digital divide becomes even more real when you move out into rural areas, and especially within our indigenous communities, that today are underserved. Being able to offer those capabilities and that commitment, we'll be able to connect Canadians anywhere coast to coast, and then bring to life the level of innovation building on the best of both companies.
Ron McKenzie: And having that native network enables us to launch that anywhere in Canada. So I truly believe we're going to bring for our customers new ways of operating, new innovation, and new ways of being connected, anywhere coast to coast. And it's such an exciting time. It really is the first time ever in Canada we have an opportunity to build really a new national carrier. That's a very powerful position to be able to differentiate and bring innovation to life and I really truly believe our customers are going to benefit from so much innovation and investment that we'll make across Canada coast to coast.
Jon: And you're right in the thick of it. I love that. Think about the legacy and what you're creating here. Congratulations, because I think that that is absolutely spectacular. Okay, we have just a few minutes left. So I'm going to put you on the spot for that in a second. Okay, so ding, ding, ding. Here comes the lightning round where we get to learn a little bit more about Ron as a person. Okay, I'm really curious. What is your favorite app on your phone?
Ron McKenzie: Oh my goodness. I probably spend too much time in traffic, so my favorite go-to is probably Waze.
Jon: Waze is a good app. I like it too. What is your favorite or perhaps the most surprising application of internet of things, of IoT?
Ron McKenzie: Temperature monitoring real time in restaurants. So food safety, food safety. A huge application of... I need to be able to monitor to make sure my food is safe and do that real time. Instead of today, most restaurants, it's manual. They have somebody that goes in and maybe keeps a log, all monitored real time, and alarmed if there's any temperature fluctuation due to power outage, et cetera. That's a great example I've seen in restaurant industry, and I thought, "Yeah, why didn't I think of that? That's a great idea to automate-"
Jon: That is a super smart one. I love that. AM or PM?
Ron McKenzie: PM. PM for sure.
Jon: PM, nice. I'm going to date you now. I'm going to ask you: Do you remember your first make and model of mobile or cell phone?
Ron McKenzie: Yes, Jon, I do. It was the Motorola Bag Phone that I proudly carried around, that probably generated one watt of power with a little flip-up antenna. And yeah, that would probably be... I just dated myself big time, but my Motorola Bag Phone was my first cell phone.
Jon: Two last questions, completely non sequitur. I'm curious as to what your view is on whether or not a hamburger is a sandwich.
Ron McKenzie: That's a dilemma. I think it is a category onto itself. I really do. You think about... You're blending. That's a merged category, Jon. I'm going to take a different direction on you. I think it's a merged category, because it is a meal, it is a lunch, but you know what? It's bread and beef. So I got to say, it's a new generation.
Jon: Nice. And last question: If you had to recommend one book to someone, what's your top recommended book?
Ron McKenzie: Gladwell's Tipping Point. I've always believed there are moments that happen, and then you create momentum, and the tipping point happens. And I think that has probably been sort of the adoption of innovation coming together with what we think of today as crowdsourcing. You bring the adoption of innovation, you bring the crowdsource capabilities, you bring the moment in time when it happens, and it just comes to life. Off the top of my head, that's probably the one that comes to mind first.
Jon: Well, I think we're in a tipping point right now, aren't we? With Rogers for Business and what's happening with mobile edge and spectrum splicing, and all the amazing, cool stuff that's happening at Rogers right now. So Ron, we're at the end of our time, which is a real drag, but I really enjoyed the conversation we've had today. And I really want to thank you on behalf of PWC for spending the time to talk with us and to educate and inspire our listeners and good luck in the future. And hopefully, we can chat again really soon to see where things have evolved.
Ron McKenzie: Wonderful. Thanks, Jon.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at pwc.com/ca/shift. If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more subscribe to our podcast series, you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an Ontario limited liability partnership for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice until next time.
We sat down with Rizwan Khalfan, Chief Digital & Payments Officer from TD Bank Group, to discuss how he is focused on empowering customers and employees. The importance of ingesting empathy into personalization. And the value FinTech collaborations and acquisitions can provide in the ability to be agile, as the world around us is shifting.
John: Welcome to another episode of Shift. Why I'm really glad you're here, we have a doozy for you today, believe me. I'm super excited. I'm joined today by Rizwan Khalfan, chief digital and payments officer at TD Bank Group. I think we're all witnessing some seismics change going on in the world right now, especially when it relates to things like what our expectations as consumers are, whether we're worried about data and privacy. So I'm so glad that you're here. Rizwan, welcome to Shift.
Rizwan Khalfan: Thanks, John. Good to see you again. And I'm looking forward to this conversation.
John: Me too. It's interesting, because I think we take a lot of things for granted right now, how organizations are adapting to this kind of post COVID world, if you will. I mean, it's been a whirlwind. And of course, we're recording this from our separate homes. Maybe you could just take a second and kind of let our listeners know a little bit about you, and what led you to the position that you're in right now?
Rizwan Khalfan: Oh yeah, sure. I've had various roles at TD. The last 10 years, I feel like a founder of a startup within the bigger bank, working with amazing talent that I've learned so much from. And we've gone on to create the largest digital bank in Canada over the last 10 years with millions of customers who depend on our digital capabilities, experiences, properties for their day to day financial needs, and we look forward to continue serving them as, as the pandemic has shifted behaviors.
John: I was wondering, you're probably in a really awesome position to answer this question, because you talked about how TD is the largest digital bank, and we all know as consumers, what digital has meant to us over the last sort of 18 months or however long we've been home. Do you see this new kind of, we'll call it a rapid growth in digital customer engagement? You see that powering a new normal, as we kind of think about going back to work or back to the office.
Rizwan Khalfan: Across our customers, we've had over a million new customers engage with us digitally. When you think about how we used to bank, where we used to go into a branch say two or three times a month, and over the course of the year, that would lend yourself into 20, 30 times a year, that interact with your bank and the branch. Well, today we have over 10 million active mobile customers.
John: 10 million?
Rizwan Khalfan: That's right John, and over 15 million active digital customers. Now the mobile customer is really interesting, because it's still growing. The mobile customer engages with us over 20 times a month.
John: That's a lot of interaction with an institution, if you will.
Rizwan Khalfan: Exactly. That is the point, that the engagement has gone up 10X, between our customers and the bank. And that's a really unique opportunity that it creates. Engagement allows us to effectively deepen that relationship with the customer, understand them better. The digital transformation has created new opportunities probably in every industry. But we can speak with some level of confidence in the financial industry, it has driven engagement, and created opportunities for us to serve our customers in new and exciting ways.
John: Do you think that customer expectations are forever changed, and that this notion of going into a branch or interacting with the branch... Unless it's something really big like a mortgage, or something where they need face to face? And will that allow the bank to kind of rethink how to offer new services that are really pinpointed in what people want?
Rizwan Khalfan: Our preferences have changed, and in some cases on a permanent basis. But you can say with confidence that that all led to the fact that our expectations have increased. To me, when we talk about trends in the market, that is the mega trend. I describe it sometimes as the era of empowerment, where consumers like me and you, our expectations are really high. Our expectations of our local grocery store is changed. How we go about shopping, buying, and getting our groceries delivered has changed forever.
Rizwan Khalfan: If I look at my Netflix expectations, the content that they're recommending. All these providers need to know who I am much more intimately than they did pre-pandemic. So there is a new normal emerging where consumers are going to be even more empowered, and I think that the concept of personalization is going to take a whole new fold. To truly understand who they are, what their needs are, importantly what their preferences are, and how with the right experience to best meet their customer's needs. I think this is an exciting time for all consumers. And it's an interesting time for industries to adapt, to evolve, to meet this trend.
John: The notion of transactional data, and preferences and purchase behavior, this wealth of data is really interesting. How do you think that organizations are going to be able to best use it? How do companies go forward thinking about how to use data for the benefit of consumer personalization and overall awesomeness?
Rizwan Khalfan: I think about it in four layers as to how we utilize this data to deliver personalization. The first one is obviously data as a platform and that's data that you have within your firewall. The second layer is the intelligence layer. This is where you would use decision engines, you'd use data analytics to understand your customers better.
Rizwan Khalfan: But now we have access to machine learning and AI models. From a predictive perspective, you can now anticipate your customer's needs based on the data. Then in walks the capability layer. So the example I'd say is that, "Hey, John, we realized that John has a bill payment coming up in five days. The data shows us that you want the bill payment capability and then sends John a reminder. The fourth layer is really important. The fourth layer is the interaction layer. So how does John want to be reminded? What is his preference? Is it an email notification? Is it a push notification on app, on a real-time basis?
Rizwan Khalfan: So the four layers would be the data layer, the intelligence layer, the capability layer and the interaction layer. In the industry, I think most are investing in all four, but I believe the interaction layer is one that we can get right. We using a human-centered design approach in order to figure out the preferences of the customers. And then in work and experience at the interaction layer there's best meets a customer's preferences. And this to me is how we can deliver personalization in a unique way going forward.
Rizwan Khalfan: But you can take it one step further, because now you have access to AI models that can actually allow you to anticipate the needs much more proactively.
Rizwan Khalfan: I'll give you a simple example that we launched, which I think is fairly unique. We have an amazing capability from an AI perspective through an acquisition, Layer 6. We acquired them three plus years ago. Just an amazing asset that's part of the TD family. And we use the Layer 6 AI model to predict customer balances two weeks out.
Rizwan Khalfan: With a high level of accuracy. And when we were able to do that, we're able to reach out to customers and provide them with these soft nudges to say, "Hey, if your balances is going to run into issues to meet your monthly financial commitments, here are actionable insights that can help you navigate through those commitments." And the response was amazing.
John: We talk about preferences and how we like to use channels for different things. So keeping that balance and understanding how people like to interact. And I think understanding what channels have power for different types of tasks is really, really important. Making sure that your customers have choice about how they want to engage and what makes sense to them both now and for the future.
Rizwan Khalfan: I do believe that every customer is unique. And I know we come from an industry where we are so used to segmentation, we segment everybody into boxes and I feel like the last two years in a trend that existed before, which now has been accelerated, is understanding the preferences of customers on an individual basis. On a one-to-one basis. We've seen a huge surge in digital. But does that mean that customers, at some point don't want to have a one-on-one conversation face-to-face? Of course not. You know we have a saying that customers want everything. Which is true.
So you end up, as I said, coming back to the era of empowerment for a consumer. Organizations that can adapt to meet their customer's needs on an individual basis are best positioned to win going forward. And that's not easy. It's easier said than done. Are large incumbent organizations, do they have the flexibility to be able to adapt to meet customer's needs? Because one thing is for sure, customer expectations are growing exponentially.
John: That's really interesting. I'm just trying to think of the role of empathy because empathy on the one hand, it feels like a very human behavior, whereas what we're talking about is largely digital and automated, where do you see that balance happening?
Rizwan Khalfan: I think empathy has a significant role to play in personalization, and I'll give you an example, right? So as we talked about the digital service through the pandemic, we saw two groups of customers. One group of customers, or those that already used digital capabilities for banking. And so through the surge, we saw existing digital customers use digital capabilities more holistic, but we saw something more interesting. We saw a massive cohort of customers who had never used digital before.
And as a result of the safety and health protocols, they were actually forced to use digital as part of their safety and convenience. And I was amazed, as you know, at how they embraced digital. Given that their digital fluency was not at the same level of those customers who had been using digital capabilities for a long period of time amongst them, or obviously a lot of seniors, and the feedback I got from seniors was predominantly very positive. And I was actually inspired by their feedback. It was to the effect that, Hey, I've been forced to onboard online or digitally, and it is more convenient.
Rizwan Khalfan: Having said that, it is really important to recognize the journey they are on, and not assume a level of fluency. So I think that was an important takeaway for us, that we want to develop experiences for different levels of digital fluency.
Rizwan Khalfan: And so that's a good example of where empathy comes in. When you put yourself in your customer's shoes and say, if they're not onboarded to digital, how would you onboard them right now when you understand that their fluency level is not as high as you expected and what guard rails would you put in place? What training, what education, what visuals, what videos would you put out there so that it helps those customers.
Going forward, we've incorporated empathy into all our design practices, designing experiences that are relevant for them, based on what they are trying to achieve versus what I would say the industry has typically done before is designed for mass market, design one digital experience.
John: Oh yeah. There was a time and I think it's still that with other organizations where technology leads the experience and that's a real problem. I think the best organizations who are starting to integrate that sort of empathetic technology bent are the ones that are really going to win.
John: So there had to have been lots of adaptations and pivoting and really getting kind of TD thinking about how to serve customers when the pandemic hit. I'm really interested to know how that happened, how you transformed quickly.
Rizwan Khalfan: As somebody who's worked at TD for close to 20 years the response of our colleagues across the bank to do what's right for our customers and their colleagues and in our communities was inspirational. I would say that our colleagues across the bank rose up to the challenge. Developed hundreds of capabilities in weeks. And in some cases, days, which otherwise would have taken months, if not more.
Rizwan Khalfan: And it was amazing to see John. I'd definitely say that was one of the more proud moments in my career, just to see the response of our colleagues and the question kind of comes on reflection, how are they able to navigate and to move with purpose, speed agility, in a way that we have never seen before.
Rizwan Khalfan: So we have a lot of agile bots where we've embraced agile as a practice. It was clear that those agile boards were able to move faster. They were able to reprioritize what was important to our customers and their colleagues and tailored to deliver those capabilities in a way that if we had used a more project based methodology would have taken us a lot longer to pivot. I'd also on reflection, highlight that we have a robust innovation ecosystem at TD that we've developed over the years, that includes incubator, includes an accelerator, includes FinTech partnerships, amongst other things.
Rizwan Khalfan: And we were able to leverage these partnerships in a way that I had not seen before. And if it was not for the fact that we had these partnerships, we'd be starting from scratch. So a simple example would be John that we had launched a chat bot in Canada with a FinTech partner before the pandemic and the team in the U.S. were able to identify a need that they were seeing. A lot of our mobile customers were calling into the contact center from a specific area of the main app, which implies that they were looking for a capability they couldn't find. So right away, they use the data and analytics to figure out what are the main reasons that the customers were calling in.
Rizwan Khalfan: Why not actually pivot those for the chat bot to serve. And they were able to launch a chat bot three weeks. In three weeks, which for the next three months served 1.7 million customer requests successfully.
Rizwan Khalfan: So here's an example that the foundational investments we made in an innovation ecosystem, in the talent, in an operating model, combined with modern platforms. You want to remind yourself that look in the moment it may seem like a big investment. But it has wider repercussions in how you can adapt as an organization as the world around you is shifting and how best you need to adapt and evolve to meet your customer's needs.
John: Have we trained ourselves because of the pandemic, because of rapid speed and agility and acceleration, to do things more quickly than they should be done?
Rizwan Khalfan: I would say, look, we've learned a number of things through the pandemic. And responding to our customers' needs with agility is clearly one of them. Lots of times, when the request comes in, you're like, here's all the different obstacles that you need to get over. And yet what we've experienced in the last 15 months is remarkable.
Rizwan Khalfan: I describe at TD [00:46:19] that we always knew that we had the speed muscle, but we saw it in action. This is the way we want to actually stay connected with our customers and be able to serve them on a go forward basis. And actually, the fact that their expectations are rising and changing as fast as they can, that becomes a competitive advantage for TD as long as they can continue to adapt.
John: Yeah. That's so fundamental.
Rizwan Khalfan: When I talked to hundreds of colleagues across the bank, they felt empowered. They always wanted to do what's right for customers. But the difference in the last 15 months was they felt empowered to actually action what was right in a way that I had not seen before. And that, to me, is something that we want to continue to build on. We want to continue to figure out ways to empower as many of our colleagues to be able to do what's right and enrich the lives of our customers on a go-forward basis. Because to me, that's a winning proposition.
John: That was amazing what you just said, by the way. What is greater than empowerment? What does... the cascade effect of that is incredible.
One of the things that we like to do on Shift is do a lightning round of never before asked questions to our particular guests, just to get a little sense of who they are and what they're all about. So [Rizwan 00:52:52], here we go. What is the weirdest COVID habit you've picked up?
Rizwan Khalfan: Oh, I actually go and check on my children, who by the way are 21, 19 and 17, on a regular basis. I'll knock on the door just to see what they're doing. And they're like, "You've never done that before," multiple times a day.
John: I do the same thing. Okay. What's your best working from home tip?
Rizwan Khalfan: Intimately understand your wifi network, to make sure that you're actually optimizing the network for everybody who's using it at home.
John: I don't think I've done that. I'm going to look into that. And then finally, what is your favorite movie or binge watching TV series?
Rizwan Khalfan: We just started a new series on Netflix called Manifest. It's really interesting. I think they've got two seasons on it on Netflix. We're still working through the first season as a family, but it's about a plane arriving at an airport after departing five and a half years earlier.
John: Is it worth watching? Because I saw the trailer.
Rizwan Khalfan: Yeah. I think it is. I'm still early into it, but I find it fascinating.
John: All right. Well, that wraps up another episode of Shift. I don't know about you, Rizwan, but that went by really quickly for me. Thank you so much for appearing and being a guest on here and sharing all your insights about what's been going on with TD.
Rizwan Khalfan: Thank you, John. It was an absolute pleasure, and I'm looking forward to meeting in person.
John: Me too. And I'd like just a quick shout out to our listeners. Thank you so much for listening. I know you have lots of choice when it comes to podcasts, especially business ones. So we really appreciate you spending the time to listen to PW Shift. Until next time.
We talk with Vancity about their plans to address economic inequalities, the climate crisis and how technology is enabling them to be a force for change.
The global pandemic has shed light on the need to address a number of crises and inequities our society faces. Solutions won’t be immediate, but Vancity understands that we must start to work on ways to address the climate crisis as well as bring people who have been left behind back into the economy.
In this episode of Shift, join Kirsten Sutton, Chief Technology and Information Officer at Vancity, as she speaks with PwC Canada’s Jon Finkelstein about how her organization plans to use technology as a force for change.
Jon: Hi, welcome to Shift. It’s PwC Canada’s podcast series, and we’re digging in to key digital trends and topics, that can make your business transformation a reality. I’m your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I’m also the creative director of PwC Canada.
Jon: All right. Welcome to another episode of Shift. Here we are again, it's still the pandemic, but you're still with us, which is amazing. Thank you so much for being here. We have an amazing guest today, Kirsten Sutton, Chief Technology and Information Officer at Vancity. Wow. Thank you so much for making the time.
Kirsten: Thanks for having me.
Jon: It's so great to see you. I have a real soft spot for out West. We have lots of clients out there. My parents lived out there for almost 30 years, from '88 to last year. They were right down in Coal Harbor.
Jon: So as you know, we love to talk about digital transformation and what big organizations are doing to really change the game. And it's very interesting because in a lot of the podcasts we've had previously, a lot of our guests have been talking about how COVID has really been a massive accelerator for digital transformation.
Jon: Yeah. But it's pretty interesting because the pandemic has really shed a lot of light on inequalities, weirdnesses, things that are really broken in our system, in our society, if you will. That's something that's really I think foremost on your mind as a person, and I think in your job, that's a big part of what you're really focusing on. This notion of technology as a force for change. I'd love to hear a little bit about what you're up to and how that's and why that's important to you.
Kirsten: Absolutely. So Vancity, it's our history. It's why we started. It's our 75th year this year, and we started to try to meet the needs of members who were having difficulties in mainstream financial institutions. So we're a member-driven organization focused on where members are at and meeting them where they need to be met. So when you see the pandemic, you can imagine the needs of our members have shifted considerably. Whether you're an individual or a business, what's happening during this time has been consequential, and we're watching the divide get even wider.
Jon: It is getting wider. So tell me a little bit more about that because you're seeing it all unfold, and pre-pandemic, what did members care about and want? And now that things have really changed and their needs are different, what are they asking for? What are you hearing from them?
Kirsten: What's interesting I think is that what they mean and what they wanted before the pandemic is the same. They want to be healthy. They want to have a vibrant business. They want to be contributing to their community. They want to run good decent lives and great businesses that contribute. So that hasn't changed.
Kirsten: But then the pandemic came and it was so hard for them to continue to do that. The access to capital was difficult. The customers. If you were a bricks and mortar business, they just weren't coming. So they had to think about, "We still want to do the same thing, but we really need help in order to do it." So we jumped in as quickly as we could. We said, "Okay. What help do you need?" When the government came out with a program, we made sure we could facilitate that for them through our institution. Whether it was SBA loans or other programs that came out, whether it was taking away fees. So we waive fees on our ATMs. We waived fees on our VISA or e-transfers in all kinds of places to just give people some respite so they could keep the wheels running and do what they always wanted to do,
Jon: I didn't know that. That's really, really awesome actually. the notion of every little bit matters. Every little thing matters, whether it's ATM fees or whatever. But one of the things that I really gravitate towards is this is all part of Vancity's DNA, isn't it? You didn't have to make it up. It's not suddenly we're all about champion of the people or this kind of stuff. You're living it every day.
Kirsten: That's right. That's why we were formed. That's what we've done for 75 years. I mean, we want to be that financial force for teams. We really want to be able to provide services for members the way they need them. Since we started, we've used the tools that we have in order to support people that perhaps weren't able to be supported in the past. So it's really truly why Vancity was started, and it's what we live every day.
Jon: I'm always interested in the boardroom... Well, I guess it's now Zoom room or whatever conversations in the sort of C Suite when it comes down to doing important but potentially initiatives that impact the PNL and all that kind of stuff. What was it like when you're making these decisions? Was it difficult? Was there a lot of discussion?
Kirsten: Well, I joined and the pandemic was already in full swing. So I joined May the 4th, and yes, I am a Star Wars fan. [crosstalk 00:05:47]-
Jon: Awesome. I was about to say May the 4th.
Kirsten: So some of the decisions were already made. So I wasn't at the table, but I can tell you from when I joined on, it's really we don't see them as trade-offs. We see them as our responsibility to be able to do these things. It's not going to serve any of us if our members can't survive and thrive. So it's our job to figure out what do they need today and figure out how we can support them.
Jon: So I'm curious then, how did you go about really fundamentally understanding what your customers, what your members wanted? Did you go talk to them? Did you see it kind of observationally? How did you make those important decisions?
Kirsten: Well, I think the beauty of being a credit union and being part of the corporative model is that we're very close to our members. We know them very well. We are them. So I'm a member. Everyone who's a staff at Vancity's a member, and we're very close to those who are part of our community. So very quickly our account managers reached out to their business members, and their account managers reached out to their personal banking members to find out what's going on, what do you need? Certainly our phone lines were overrun with, "Please help me. This is happening. That's happening. I need this; I need that." That's really what drove us to figure out what do we need to do now.
Kirsten: So I can't come into the branch, "Now what do we do? How do we get e-signature into place? How do we do online account bookings? How do we manage cues so that people don't have to be physically present in the branch?" Things like that.
Jon: So it sounds to me like there was an interesting blend or synergy between empathy and technology, if that makes sense.
Jon: It's like what do people need? How can we help them? That's part of our DNA as a credit union. And then you had to look at different technologies. How did you go about that? How did you decide?
Kirsten: Well, the hard part was how to decide what to do first. The lift of needs was so huge, and it was so concentrated. The very first thing we had to do was make sure we could operate and continue to provide service. So our very first thing was to figure out what do our branches need to safely operate? So figuring out what that might be. Next thing, for everybody who was in the office space that needed to go home, they all worked in the office. We had to provision for about 1700 people within a week to be able to operate from home. So you can imagine the flurry that started at the beginning of the pandemic, provisioning, sending machines, laptops and monitors and all of that to make sure that we could be up and running and process all of the work that's happening through the branches. So that was really where we started. That was the most urgent need to make sure that we could continue operations and serving members.
Jon: That makes sense. It's like in the airplane, you have to put the mask on yourself first before you can help others. So you got your house in order, if you will, made sure that all of your employees could function and serve members remotely.
Jon: I have to think that the goodwill generated the brand equity that's generated from even these measures. We're going to talk about more in a minute. What were members saying? What did you hear back from them?
Kirsten: Yeah. It was such a hard time at the very beginning, so uncertain for all of us. So as you said before, any little thing that we could do, which is not so little. There's revenue behind those VISA charges, and we are paying for things that were now not able to cover at all. So it's not like we just didn't make money. We actually had to pay out money in order to support that, and we willingly do that. I'm not sure everybody understands that, and nor do we need them to. But right away the littlest things engendered such, again, goodwill and support, and members just needed us to be there. And we don't do it for any accolades. We do it because it's the right thing to do.
Jon: So we talked a little bit about how Vancity is using technology as a force for change. I'd love to hear a little bit more about that and what that really means to you as a person and what it means organizationally to Vancity.
Kirsten: So we just launched a few things. We've been doing some rebranding and really pushing what we're calling I think a movement that we have been part of for 75 years and really want to accelerate. We want to accelerate right now because we're seeing, as I said before, this widening of economic inclusion. People are falling further behind, and we just don't want to see anybody left behind. We're also seeing that there are real life needs now, and I think it might have been masked before. But when you have something like the pandemic that comes, you really get down to what actually matters. What matters to people and trying to really help people with things that they normally wouldn't be able to get access to. Now perhaps because they're more visible, people are finding ways to do so.
Kirsten: The biggest thing is is that we know, just like climate change and racial equity and the big topics that we're all really faced with very clearly these days. It takes systemic change, and that systemic change is not done by one institution or one set of membership or our 450,000 plus folks that we work with every day, but it's going to take all of us. So that's the movement we're really trying to push forward. People are in need, and we have ways that we can support. But that support's going to take all of us to really change the underpinning of how things work.
Jon: As an organization when Vancity was deciding to reshape its positioning, this notion of leading a movement... How do I say it? You have to be confident, and was it hard? Was it difficult? It's bold. I love it.
Kirsten: Well, the truth is all of what we're talking about we've been doing. We just haven't been so vocal about it. I think again, it's been the past year that's just put things into such clarity that you can't just sit back and do your work quietly. You need to step up, step out, and really lead this charge so that we can get there. So we're just making really visible the things, perhaps, that people didn't know before.
Jon: How are you going about being... I'm using agile in inverted quotes for those of you who can't see me because it's all audio. But the notion of... I'm not talking about agile product development frameworks. I'm talking about you try something. You measure it maybe. You look and see how it's responding. You make incremental or big changes. Did you find that you had to do many different iterations of some of the technology or some of the ideas or product improvements that you've done?
Kirsten: Absolutely. Absolutely. And probably the hardest thing I think what I learned first when I moved into financial technology is that it's both the expectation is that it should be really fast and quick and Facebook like experience and it's heavily regulated. So how do you actually operate in an agile fashion, just even from a speed perspective, let alone from an empathy perspective? A regulation is a regulation is a regulation. What do you do?
Jon: So how do you?
Kirsten: Well, you look for systemic change in regulations, and you advocate for that on behalf of members and the population at large. So that's one thing you do, but that's sort of the long term strategy. And you do what you can within the constraints. So we try to rebuild our landscape to be more flexible so that we can within the confines of this regulations move as quickly as we can to deploy new services.
Jon: Oh, that's great. Yeah, because latency's a killer.
Jon: How is technology helping turn your commitments as an organization from a vision, mission DNA standpoint into reality?
Kirsten: Yeah. When I arrived at Vancity, the very first thing I did was ensure that we embedded whatever we did with technology into our business strategy. It wasn't a separate strategy. It wasn't a different idea. It wasn't on a different timeframe. It didn't have different goals and objectives. It didn't have different investment. It was part of our business strategy. So wherever we needed to go and wherever technology might enable that to go further, faster, better, we were ingrained in that plan completely. So that was a very first thing I did. Believe it or not, that takes quite some time to do.
Kirsten: conceptually, it was very quick. Everybody understood that. But actually operationally to be able to link it so clearly into the business plan and have it time-wise fall into place and with COVID throwing things at us every single day at our heads and our feet and poking us in the eye, it's taken a bit of time. But we're now on track. We have a technology roadmap that foundationally will enable our business plan. It takes us further than our three year plan, of course, because the world of technology is much further out.
Jon: So let me ask you something, I'm sure there are other CTOs who are listening to the podcast, and if you are, hello to you. What advice might you give them if they're experiencing some resistant at the top of that organization that says, "We want to keep these things separate," or, "That's too much work," or, "That'll take too long." What would you say to them to convince them to follow a similar approach that you have?
Kirsten: That's a great question.
Kirsten: No, it's a really great question. I think it really depends on where you're at on the journey and what your business is and what the experience you've had in the past was. So I think it's hard for me to say exactly. So other than figure out where you are in the journey, figure out what you need to do, and I would say that this really works for us, or at least I'm going to give it a really good try. Because we're just starting. I really have only been here a year, and really it's taken us all this time to just manage the crisis that we've been involved in. So I would say proof is in the pudding whether this is going to work for sure.
Kirsten: But I would say don't give up. It's hard actually. You have to relinquish some control, not great. I don't love that. I'm really a control freak, ask my family. So I have to say this is a shared responsibility. It's not just mine.
Jon: So eventually, hopefully soon this year, we'll be on the edge of COVID ending. I'm starting to see signs of reopening and stuff like that thankfully. So the momentum is certainly going in your direction right now, and I'm curious about how you'll keep that up and what kind of future ideas or plans you might have that will continue to catalyze the Vancity DNA of really being there for its members.
Kirsten: Yeah, it's one of those be careful what you wish for moments for people in technology. We've always wanted the digital channel to be the strongest channel, and we wanted people to really adopt digital services because we can really scale and the reach is much more easily done. So with that in mind, here comes the pandemic and now the speed that digital's being adopted is crazy.
Kirsten: But we have really been just trying to make sure that people can access their financial services right now. So there's things we have not been doing, and we get criticized a bit about this. So for instance, we have not upgraded our digital banking platform. There are pieces of it that is very functional. It's very stable. It's very secure, and it's the only channel that some of our members use now. So the idea during this time to have disrupted that channel, we simply couldn't do it. It's just benefit of doing that versus the risk of some folks not being able to transact with us was not worth it.
Kirsten: So there's things we have not been doing that we will start doing. So we are going to start renovating some things where when we feel it's safer to do so, where we can disrupt a channel potentially in a way that wouldn't be absolutely devastating for members. So there's a little bit of a pint up backlog of things that we've been holding onto. So that's one thing.
Kirsten: The other thing we're doing is because digital has been adopted so quickly, we're really trying to leap frog. So instead of catching up, we're trying to figure out, "Well, we might've missed that. So let's get over that and move past it and see if we can start up a year from now. Looking a year from now instead of just trying to catch up now." So a lot of work looking at payments modernization and what's happening there.
Kirsten: A lot of work at looking at consumer directed finance and being really ready to be just extremely flexible at the time when the floodgates open and we can start really running in that direction. So a lot of work to do a few things we've held onto, and a lot of work to try to leap frog.
Jon: I would love to talk a little bit about the intersection or the interplay between cybersecurity and privacy. I have to believe that as you continue to expand your digital channels, your offerings and really embracing that for better or for worse because of COVID-19. How do those things interplay? That's got to be head scratcher. It's like the more tech you use, the more you open yourself up to security and cyber risks. So how did you manage that?
Kirsten: Yeah. I don't think there's a CIO or CTO out there that hasn't done the math on that. The more transactions online, the more you have to invest in this area. So we were no different than anybody else. Certainly the front landscape continues to increase. It's incredibly sophisticated. If I wasn't so terrified by it on days, I would be amazed at what people have come up with. It is extremely sophisticated. You only have to look at the silver lens breach that happened in the US to see the creativity that people are applying in this area.
Kirsten: So we done a lot, and we continue to do a lot. We have increased in our investment. We've increased the team. We have beefed up our program. We have many, many more people monitoring our systems than we had a year ago for that matter. We're really looking to figure out how do we leap frog ahead? So no just play catch up with what's going on, but try to really be in that predictive place when it comes to more behavioral based fraud management and security landscape.
Jon: Before we get into lightening round, which is nonsecretor anyway. If there's any other topics that you'd like to talk about more or things that we missed or anything about the business.
Kirsten: Only something small. I think I would just really ask that people join us. I'm not saying please join us as a Vancity member, but please do that if you're so inclined. But we really need to work together to come out of this recovery in a way that really is better than the way we went into it. Our eyes have all been opened to many things that we just simply cannot not look at anymore. So I would ask that when you see something out there in the world and you want to make a difference, it's going to take all of us to do it together. I would just ask folks to take a look at what Vancity's doing and if it's something that you can get behind, please do so in your own organizations or join us and do it with us as well.
Jon: I love the heart and the empathy that you're talking about and that you're showing to your members. I just think that's awesome.
Jon: All right. It's time for the lightning round. This is where I'm going to ask you some nonsecretor questions, some random stuff to kind of round you out as a person. So I love the fact because we're kind of kindred spirits there on the English literature. Do you have a favorite book? That's a hard one, I know.
Kirsten: It's really hard. The first one that springs to mind for me is 100 Years of Solitude.
Jon: Oh, 100 Years of Solitude. I haven't read that one.
Jon: You studied French cooking. You have a cookbook. Favorite recipe from the book?
Kirsten: Oh, god. That impossible.
Jon: Let me ask this. You have guests coming over to your place, and you're going to chef something incredible. What might you make?
Kirsten: So let me let you in on a secret that drives my family crazy. Every single time we have a dinner party, I never make the same thing twice. It for me is an opportunity to try a new recipe. So I come up with a theme. I spend copious hours coming up with a menu, all the prep lists and everything as if I was back on the line at one of the kitchens I worked in, and I make a meal that I have never eaten before.
Jon: Do you have a new or interesting COVID hobby that maybe you've picked up in the last year?
Kirsten: Much more gardening. So I have a really big vegetable garden outside now, and we ate... I've had more tomatoes in the past year than I probably have in 20 years just from the garden.
Jon: Love it. Favorite thing to eat for breakfast?
Kirsten: I eat the same thing every day for breakfast. I eat Gabi and Jules fresh granola. If you haven't been to Gabi and Jules, they're in [inaudible 00:52:11] or Port Moody. Best bakery, best that I've ever been to and a great organization that hires people with disabilities. Huge proportion of their organization. Enough about Gabi. So I have granola, yogurt, and frozen blueberries every day. Getting my antioxidants and my gut health all at the same time.
Jon: I think we're out of time. So I want to take this moment to not only think you so much for being here and for sharing what's going on at Vancity and all the amazing work that you're doing that's really, for me, it's like empathy meets technology. I think that's a pretty interesting way for me to remember how it all fits together. So thank you very much, and I'd also like to thank our listeners for hanging with us and for listening. I know there's so many different business and different podcasts that you could be listening to but you chose ours. So that means a lot to me and to PwC and to our guests. So thank you very much. We'll be back with another podcast very soon. Hope we'll see you then.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at pwc.com/ca/shift. If you enjoy this episode and want to hear more, subscribe to our podcast series. You can find us on itunes, google play, or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP. An Ontario limited liability partnership, for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice. Until next time.
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