“Head of digital” is a catch-all title for executives who oversee domains touched by digital. Other titles might include chief digital officer or head of product, among others. No matter the name, heads of digital are a lynchpin in the organization: leading teams that support channels, product, innovation, and customer experience. They can officially sit within lines of business, work with multiple lines of business, or head up digital for the whole enterprise.

The banking head of digital has more agency and responsibility now than ever: Agility is a top priority for over half (51.0%) of today’s banking executives, according to a May 2021 survey conducted by BDO. Digitization in banking was once a separate channel and an outgrowth of traditional branch banking. Now it’s pivotal to the customer relationship—and agile, cross-functional teams will become the cornerstone of culture and long-term digital initiatives at banks in the US.

Digitization in banking affects the entire organization

The modern head of digital is both a product and strategy executive with a companywide mandate. No matter where they sit in the organizational chart, heads of digital have broad reach. They can have purview, directly or indirectly, over digital strategy, product development, customer success, and marketing. If a function isn’t under their purview, it’s often at arm’s length. That’s either via who they report to—heads of digital report to top executives like a line of business leader, client experience executive, or the CEO—or through internal, interdisciplinary partnerships like marketing and technology.

It is primarily the head of digital’s job to make sure that tech, product, marketing, and design teams work together efficiently to achieve product and user experience objectives.

Key collaborators include:

  • Heads of verticals (e.g., payments) or flagship digital banking products (e.g., Bank of America’s Erica).
  • Heads of lines of business: e.g., leaders of the consumer bank, small business, commercial, corporate.
  • Corporate heads of digital: heads of digital responsible for the enterprise.
  • Core product teams: e.g., checking, credit card, home loans, wealth.
  • Heads of marketing: central to rollout of new services and “digitally enabled” products.

How heads of digital drive digitization in banking

To help ensure compliance with the new solutions that their teams create, heads of digital and their teams collaborate closely with compliance and regulatory divisions. These functions can either be embedded directly in digital teams or brought in as stakeholders in the development process. Heads of digital and digital teams also work closely with governance, financial crimes and fraud units, and security teams to ensure the safety of their products and services.

Meanwhile, dependence on core technology demands close collaboration with the CIO and information technology. Core technology and account processing manifests in the customer experiences that heads of digital are responsible for. The digital customer experience depends on legacy technology, process, and product built up over time. In some organizations, the CIO and head of digital (or product) work hand in hand. At others, the chief digital officer is also the CIO—with responsibilities covering both user experience and product design and data management, governance, and analytics.

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Why a banking digital transformation is in demand

Heads of digital keep an eye on competition outside the financial industry. Executives at incumbents and neobanks alike say they keep an eye on Big Tech, given its outsized influence on customer expectations. A key customer-facing objective is to match—and ideally surpass—the slick digital customer experiences offered by Big Tech. Big Tech companies’ unparalleled access to consumer data and unrivaled ability to glean detailed insights from them mean they’re setting the standard for digital customer experiences—making a digital transformation in banking all the more critical to success. As such, heads of digital and technology in banking are striving to compete with them on key metrics, such as personalization and engagement.

Insider Intelligence interviewed 12 heads of digital at banks and three heads of product at neobanks to identify their biggest challenges, emerging priorities, and winning strategies amid the backdrop of uncertainty and accelerating digitization. Read the executive summary.