Though he has always recognized the importance of technology to a financial services organization, Bill Pappas, whose professional background is in finance, never imagined he would be a CIO. Yet today he finds himself as a top executive in a combined bank technology and operations team of some 100,000 employees and contractors worldwide, reporting directly to Bank of America's top tech executive, head of Technology and Operations Cathy Bessant.
"I used to run big client services and operations teams [at Bank of America], and I always used to say, 'Technology can make or break me,'" recalls Pappas, now chief information officer for global wholesale banking technology and operations at Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America Merrill Lynch. His prior experience in finance, operations and client services, Pappas adds, has given him a unique perspective on the role technology plays in driving the bank's initiatives. "I came into my current role with a very good understanding of the power of our technology organization, what it can do and how it helps to differentiate us in the marketplace," he insists.
Indeed, Pappas refers to the tech and ops organization as the "spine" of the enterprise and the driver that allows the bank to carry out strategic business initiatives. And as CIO, he says, he must drive "relentless execution," balance conflicting priorities and enable risk management while reducing costs, among many other priorities. "We have made some significant investments over the past three years to make sure our [technical] capabilities are on par with or exceeding those of our competitors," Pappas notes. "The ability to scale is very important."
In addition to supporting the strategies of the different businesses within Bank of America ($2.18 trillion in total assets), Pappas and his team also are tasked with helping the financial institution modernize and streamline its technology environment. As the bank looks to get more lean and gain efficiencies, the technology and operations organization is charged with simplifying IT and minimizing operational risk, or, as Pappas sums it up, "reducing, rebuilding and replacing."
After going through a number of acquisitions over the past several years, BofA realized it had "two of everything," Pappas notes humorously. "We are looking at every opportunity to drastically reduce those multiple overlapping platforms," he says.
According to Pappas, he and his group are involved in several initiatives toward that end, including efforts to reduce the number of data centers globally and a "very aggressive goal" to cut in half by 2014 the number of applications the bank uses. But, Pappas stresses, the tech and ops team is working just as much on replacing and rebuilding as on reducing. He points to a number of "midrange lifecycle platforms that are still commercially viable but need investment to continue to best service our clients."
In addition, Pappas says, other platforms are being out-and-out replaced. "Some platforms, while they are still performing well, won't take us into the future, so we're replacing them. We want to get to a target environment where whatever the technology of the future will be, we will have the foundation to support that," he relates. All of this, in turn, helps the bank reduce operational risk, Pappas contends. "Our teams have had a laser focus on ensuring our processes have the right controls in place to ensure we proactively identify and mitigate risk," he says.
Treasury Management: A Shining Example
Pappas says he is particularly proud of the work his group has done on the bank's CashPro Online suite. Bank of America Merrill Lynch's treasury management portal, CashPro provides a single place for a company to view its total financial position across all accounts with the institution, he explains, adding that he and his team labor to continually improve the product. Features added to the portal recently include CashPro Connect, a multicurrency solution that facilitates global origination of all payment types with corresponding online acknowledgements and reporting; and CashPro Payments, a global payments hub that facilitates multiple payments types, including wire transfers and ACH.
Pappas is certain that the CashPro suite, which is now available in 11 languages and more than 40 countries, is what BofA's corporate clients are looking for — primarily because they helped develop it. "We have developed this in conjunction with our clients," he reports. "We are guided by an advisory council of corporate treasurers. We started doing this in the U.S. and have expanded globally with these kind of groups." According to Pappas, he seeks to incorporate client feedback whenever possible. If tech and ops are the spine of the company, he says, then clients are its "heart."
Pappas also has overseen the effort to launch a mobile version of CashPro. The mobile offering allows clients to complete actions such as approving payments and authorizing account access via a mobile device. While mobile is more mature on the consumer side, Pappas says, he believes it will become a regular part of corporate banking as well.
"To put it simply, all our treasurers are also consumers, and as consumers they're very comfortable with mobile technology," he relates. A mobile solution for treasury management "is something they are asking for and something they are very keen on," Pappas adds, noting that the key for mobile in the corporate banking space will be to offer solutions "that are applicable to every single device."
Sharing a Passion for Tech
Of course, successfully executing so many new technology initiatives requires an innovative workforce, and Pappas is confident that Bank of America can continue to attract top tech talent as the bank's technology evolves further. "We have a very deliberate plan to develop and attract talent," he reveals.
Part of that development plan is a program offered in partnership with the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. Designed to allow BofA associates to apply what they learn to their normal work environment, the program -- which includes a combination of classroom lectures, case studies and action learning projects -- teaches employees how to design, implement and manage technology programs, processes and people so they align with the business strategy and add business value, according to Pappas. He notes that employees must be selected by management to participate in the program; they cannot apply for it.
The aim of the program, Pappas indicates, is to equip the Bank of America tech and ops team's high-potential leaders with a better understanding of how to deliver competitive advantage through superior technology management. But the partnership also gives the bank the opportunity to recruit top talent at the school, he adds.
The most important thing for any professional, Pappas believes, is not just career advancement, but to "broaden your experience, even if that means moving laterally or even taking a step down to get a new skill set." An avid runner, Pappas goes for a five-mile run every morning at 5 a.m. He picked up the practice some 10 years ago as a way to keep healthy, but, he says, it now provides him with other benefits, too. "It helps me balance before I come to the office."
Reflecting on his own early career, Pappas says he remains as excited about his job today as he was on the day he first walked in. In fact, he adds, that is one of the keys to a successful and fulfilling professional life. "My still-mentor told me a long time ago to make sure you come into the office every day with the same intensity and excitement as your first day on the job and execute every single assignment you have with passion," he recalls. "That is still the best advice I have ever received."
Bryan Yurcan is associate editor for Bank Systems and Technology. He has worked in various editorial capacities for newspapers and magazines for the past 8 years. After beginning his career as a municipal and courts reporter for daily newspapers in upstate New York, Bryan has ... View Full Bio