Getting to grips with the future of banking operations: Introducing ActiveOps’ newest advisors

At ActiveOps, we’re committed to making sure that we don’t exist in a vacuum. We’re proud of the value that our Workware+ platform and our Active Operations Management methodology deliver to clients; to make sure that value stays constant over the years, we know it’s important to take on board feedback from existing clients, and to pay attention to the challenges that organisations are experiencing outside our world.

But how do you do that effectively? Well, at ActiveOps our solution has been to appoint advisors who can keep us customer-focused by providing an external viewpoint on what we’re doing. We’re extremely proud to welcome Jude Pinto and Aravind Immaneni as our first two advisors. We sat down with them to understand more about who they are, and their perspectives on the world operations professionals are living in today.

ActiveOps: Jude, Aravind, welcome. It’s great to have you here! Firstly, let’s talk about you both. What’s your story been up till now?

Jude Pinto: Hi, it’s great to be here! I’m really excited to be advising ActiveOps like this. My background, like Aravind’s, is in banking and also insurance. Much of my career has been spent with the same organisation, CIBC, where I found myself leading our retail operations for 7 years before heading up technology and operations across 17 jurisdictions in the Caribbean as CIO, and finally leading our Intria subsidiary as well as leading our operations in collections, lending, accounts, cards, and retail channel and product support services. At that point I was managing a team of 3,500 employees.

In 2021, I decided to take a different direction, though. I wanted to take the things I’d learned and the capabilities I’d gained and see how I could apply those to improve our industry as a whole. That led me to set up my own advisory firm, JPintoAdvisory, Inc.

Aravind Immaneni: My background is also in banking, though I’ve hopped around a bit more than Jude! My first major ops role was as head of retail operations for TD Bank, which is also where I first heard of ActiveOps. After TD, I was chief operations and technology officer at Fifth Third Bank, and  after that I went to head up global operations and fraud prevention at CitiBank.

In 2020, I decided I wanted a change. The fraud prevention side of my role at CitiBank had been hugely interesting; I decided to combine that with my desire to run a startup, and Guardinex was born. Guardinex offers a range of tools and advice to help organisations fight identity fraud, and it’s been an amazing journey!

AO: So, you’re both veterans of banking operations – and no stranger to ActiveOps either, as Aravind mentioned?

AI: That’s right. I worked with ActiveOps during my time at TD Bank first – and I took them with me to Fifth Third, and we ran pilots at Citibank. So in total, I’ve known ActiveOps for around 10 years.

JP: I first met ActiveOps in 2018. At the time most of my organisation’s capacity management was Excel-based, so the tools that ActiveOps has were a godsend. But the thing that resonated most with me was the methodology behind the tools. What started as a neat enhancement to our capabilities soon became a larger cultural shift, and that’s one of the things that makes ActiveOps so exciting – and why so many organisations can benefit from ActiveOps right now, in my opinion.

AO: Thank you, that’s great to hear. Next, tell me a bit about why you wanted to become advisors for ActiveOps.

JP: This advisory role really fits neatly with my desire to effect change and improvement at an industry level. I think there are so many opportunities for banking operations to improve how they work, not just to deliver efficiency gains and cost savings, but to improve the employee experience and to improve the quality of service that banks can give customers.

AI: Same here. I’m passionate about what ActiveOps and Management Process Automation can bring to the industry, especially around improving the employee experience. I guess my focus is slightly different to Jude’s since my focus these days is on data security and the risk of identity fraud. But it’s great to keep one foot in the world of banking operations – and I believe that my perspective can uncover new insights that help banks the world over to work smarter, and more securely.

AO: Let’s talk about the banking industry. I know it’s already been talked over nearly to death, but the pandemic is still the event driving so much change in banking. We’ve seen some organisations come out on top, and others struggle. In your eyes, what has helped those organisations that have thrived to do so?

AI: I’ve felt all along that, of all the industries out there, banking was one of the better-prepared ones to meet the challenges of the pandemic head on. Firstly, after the financial crash of 2008, most banks knew that they needed more liquidity to account for unexpected upheavals, and most banks had that in place.

JP: I also think that many of the changes we’re seeing now – digitisation, the accelerated introduction of bots, hybrid working – were already beginning to happen in the banking industry pre-pandemic. So organisations that were taking note of these developments and championing them found that, when the time came for everyone to work from home, the disruption was less than it was for organisations who hadn’t been exploring these avenues.

AI: That’s right. I was at Citibank when the shelter in place orders were given, and I was responsible at that time for around 50,000 employees. It could have been a huge headache; there were programmes that needed launching, risks to mitigate, policies to change, and equipment to procure. We were fortunate that we’d already been building the team mindsets at Citibank to facilitate these changes, meaning that we successfully moved to a working-at-home policy within a few weeks. It was still an enormous effort, but everyone was pulling in the same direction.

JP: In my team of 3,500 individuals, I had just under half who were doing roles that couldn’t be performed from home due to logistics and material handling requirements of their work. So from the very get go we had to embrace a hybrid model of working – and even more importantly, a hybrid model of managing. I think the most successful organisations out there right now understand that work isn’t either at home or at the office; it’s a mix of the two, and it’s a mix for different reasons. Some people can’t perform their roles at home; other people need to come in for social reasons; some people work better at home. Hybrid working, sometimes unwittingly, highlighted all these realities, and the most successful organisations out there knew to listen to that.

AO: Looking forward to the post-pandemic world, how do you think organisations are going to get back to work?

AI: You see that term a lot, don’t you: “back to work.” It always makes me wonder what people think we’ve all been doing for the last year and a half? It’s not about going “back” to work at all, but how to continue working and how to take advantage of the lifting restrictions. In my experience, the most progressive organisations aren’t really looking at changing much compared to how things are now. As offices and local branches open back up, there will be more opportunities for employees to work from a central office – and of course there will be some employees who need to be in the branch to provide front-line services to customers. But given how well many customers have embraced digital services, I wouldn’t be surprised if in-person front-line services never return to the levels they were before the pandemic.

JP: I totally agree. Hybrid work will continue. During the pandemic, banks had to build new lending and payment enablement programmes practically overnight to support government relief programmes; those were all largely digital and scalable and facilitated where required through hybrid work arrangements. They worked. Why would we go back?

What will change, I think, is how organisations try to manage their people. In the early days of the pandemic things were very reactive, and in that press many employees became vulnerable to overwork and burnout. That’s now got to change.

A lot of my thinking here is driven by observing my kids – I have five all in their 20s and early in their careers. They fully expect career shifts every 3-5 years – quite different to my 25-year stint at CIBC! Loyalty to one organisation is not assumed and meaningful, engaging work with flexibility to drive the best of their performance is something they all actively seek. For employers, not being actively aware of team stresses, individual needs, indications of burnout and reverting back to a one size fits all model can be a perilous choice, having just proven that hybrid working is viable. It may unwittingly accelerate the departure of talent.

AI: It makes a lot of sense not to mess with something that’s working. What’s key is to make sure that management is actually happening in this new environment.

AO: OK, that’s a really interesting point there. Building on that, what three things would you say organisations should bear in mind to implement the best hybrid working model possible?

JP: That’s a great question. Hmm… OK. My three things are these:

First, decide where you are weakest in your hybrid management approaches, and then work on those weaknesses. I must say this is one of the areas where WorkiQ is really useful. You need data to tell you what’s working about your current setup and what needs to change. That data all used to be relatively easy to obtain when everyone was in one place; now you really need the support of technology to gather and interpret that data. Is it capacity management? Are people working too much overtime? Are employees burning out? You need to know what your weaknesses are (and if you don’t think you have any, that’s a very dangerous assumption to make!) so you can fix them before they have a long-term impact on your operations.

Second, focus on culture and engagement in new ways. This is one of my aspirations for our industry. Digital tools are changing the experience for both customers and employees in organisations all over the world. That includes in banking operations. Tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom have re-engineered how teams and colleagues work with each other – and while the focus has up until now been on ensuring work can get done, it now needs to shift to focus on keeping employees engaged, teams collaborating, and promoting a happy, healthy workplace culture.

Finally, your managers need special attention and support. Just as working remotely is a challenge, so too is managing remotely. Most operations managers have been well trained, but in an on-site environment and often following homogenous processes. They aren’t in that environment anymore, and they need new tools, insights and training to refocus their efforts and actually ensure they are feeling motivated and engaged in their ability to manage differently too.

AI: that last point ties in nicely with my first one. Workforce management practices have to adapt to match a hybrid working environment. A lot of organisations think it just happens – but it doesn’t. You have to do it thoughtfully, and as Jude says, you need the data to make those decisions. Currently I think a lot of managers are lost in gathering data to make decisions that they used to make based on what they could see and hear. Organisations need to find ways of speeding up the data gathering and aggregating process so that decisions can be made, and managers can get back to their people.

That brings me on to my next point - frequent touchpoints with employees are essential. Don’t leave them on their own! This is true at all levels of the organisation – from managers talking to team members, to department heads talking to managers, to senior leaders talking to department heads. I should say I’m not suggesting death by Zoom here – these touchpoints can be very brief. What’s important is that everyone should feel able to connect with someone else in the organisation at any time; a culture of open communication has to be consciously built when everyone is behind a screen.

Finally, I would advise organisations against big, bold moves without the data to back them up. As we’ve both said, things are largely working in the new world. For many organisations it’s more about refining hybrid working than implementing it at this point. What’s essential is to get a clear picture of how things are going, so refinements can be made here and there, and the impact of those refinements measured. At every step, the change should be justified, the outcome predicted, and then evaluated.

AO: Thank you both, you’ve given readers some great insights to consider here. Finally, what does the rest of the year hold for each of you?

JP: In my role as an ActiveOps advisor, October looks to be a busy month! I’m joining the Future Fit Hybrid Work Roadshow in Toronto on October 4th, to talk about the challenges facing operations executives in the new hybrid working world. I’ll also be talking to a similar theme at Money20/20 later in the month – look out for me there!

Beyond that, now that we’ve had our second vaccine shots, I want to tick some travel things off my bucket list! After the year we’ve had my next few months are about surviving and thriving on a personal level. I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with my family and friends, and gaining new experiences so I can get back to work with passion in September.

AI: Well, now I’m jealous! I’ll be flying the ActiveOps flag in October too at a dinner event for senior leaders in banking ops along with Richard Jeffery, ActiveOps’ CEO, in New York City on October 5th. And I too will be at Money20/20.

It’s also full steam ahead with Guardinex for me – we’re aiming to get through our series A funding round and recruit a team this year. It’ll be a busy one, but I’m so excited to see where it goes and to help organisations transform how they measure, monitor and combat identity fraud.