When Insider Intelligence asked Truist chief digital and client experience officer Dontá (pronounced “Don-tay”) Wilson about what digital transformation means for Truist, he steered our discussion toward people.

“Personally, I don’t think we’re going through a digital transformation,” Wilson said. “We’re going through a client acceleration and a client transformation.”

Wilson went on to talk about how clients’ expectations for a simpler, easier, all-in-one experience are accelerating the pace of digital adoption within financial services firms.

“Look at Big Tech and the experiences clients get from those innovative companies. … Clients’ expectations for a financial app have now been changed and accelerated,” he said. “They not only want it better than what it was in financial services, they want it to mirror what it’s been like for them interacting with other industries.”

Wilson is one of the executives Insider Intelligence recently spoke with to better understand how heads of digital define their roles and their place in the organization, how trends are shaping their responsibilities, the greatest challenges they face with digital transformation, and the priorities they’ve set for the future.

The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Insider Intelligence (II): Could you talk about your professional background and career path to where you are right now?

Dontá Wilson (DW): I started at BB&T in an internship while I was in college, reconciling the branch general ledger in the afternoons—basically doing bank ops. I’ve been in corporate banking, commercial, retail, mortgage, wealth, and full banking operations. I’ve led sales teams. I was a regional president when we were doing lots of M&A. But what clearly influenced how I view my role today and what I prioritize is that I spent about 18 years working directly with clients and leading teams that work directly with clients.

I joined our executive team as the chief client experience officer. And over the years, as the client experience moved toward digital, we expanded that role to become a chief client experience and digital officer.

II: If you were to write a job description for yourself as chief digital officer, what would you say were the leading requirements?

DW: The first is having empathy for the client. That drives everything else you do. We’re building these solutions—be it nondigital or digital—to solve a client’s problem, meet a need, or give them opportunities.

By client, I mean internal clients—our teammates—as well as external clients. Most of the time, when people are talking digital, they’re talking about external clients. But the chief digital client experience officer brings as much value to teammates as to the clients.

You also need to have a high aptitude for tech and strong analytical skills—those are table stakes.

All of that adds up to your chief digital client experience officer needing to be a caring problem solver.

II: A buzzword we often hear is “digital transformation.” Could you define what that means for Truist?

DW: In one sentence: It fosters a seamless experience between clients’ financial lives and personal lives, using data analytics to enable distinctive experiences to support their unique journeys. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Personally, though, I don’t think we’re going through a digital transformation. We’re going through a client acceleration and a client transformation. Clients have accelerated the use of some capabilities that have already been there—and now, they want them to be better.

Clients have already been able to buy things through ecommerce. We’ve offered them the ability to use an app—and now, the clients want it to be better; they want more things in it. Look at Big Tech and the experiences clients get from those innovative companies. You have to meet the clients’ expectations. They not only want it better than what it was in financial services, they want it to mirror what it’s been like for them interacting with other industries. Clients’ expectations for a financial app have now been changed and accelerated.

II: If we were to step back five years into the BB&T days, what are the biggest things you think have changed about digital since then?

DW: The biggest change is that commercial segments are more aggressively adopting digital solutions. Five years ago, that segment was primarily relationship-based—as opposed to treasury services, which have always managed reporting and initiated wire and ACH transfers digitally. But originating loans and opening up deposit accounts, and how they interacted to do this—that was all managed through relationships.

Now, clients value getting things done digitally. If they can’t apply for a loan or open a deposit account online, or if they can’t officially and seamlessly access their merchant, deposit, and treasury reporting in just one stop, then you’ve lost them. That’s how they judge us.

II: Could you talk to me about some of the challenges you faced over the last year and how those have affected your priorities?

DW: We closed the BB&T-SunTrust deal in December 2019, and then in March, we went into the pandemic. The pandemic delayed the normal course of business across all industries, so Truist had to work within that on top of being in the middle of a merger of equals.

But the pandemic also gave an opportunity to show how we live our purpose, and it accelerated our build-out of capabilities that were already on our digital road map.

In a matter of weeks, we had to build a chatbot, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan portal, a digital brand scheduler—with brand-new teams that had never worked together before but had to come together immediately and work remotely in an agile way.

II: In the next year or two, what are your top priorities?

DW: We co-create with our clients—that’s the term that we use. I’m not talking about surveying a client to get feedback. There’s a difference between running a survey and running an ongoing research lab with real people. Clients are in our journey teams at the beginning, before we even start to design a solution. We ask them questions, they help us with our design, and we build it. Their priorities determine how we move forward with what we want to ultimately accomplish.

II: What challenges do you think you face in that journey?

DW: The industry has to move faster and remain client-focused. The client’s at the center; we build everything around them. We’re not producing tech or digital solutions for the sake of what’s shiny, cool, or new—we’re solving a client’s problem that we can connect with a key performance indicator to measure whether we can eliminate that problem or make a client’s life better. That’s the win at the end of the day: Did you really make a difference in someone’s life?

II: What skills and experience have been most important to your success as chief digital officer?

DW: To the skills I mentioned earlier—empathy, caring, tech savvy, and strong analytics—I would add being collaborative. In our role, we have to cross channels and lines of business and work with business partners. So you have to be a great collaborator.

You have to be forward-thinking and creative and be able to reimagine things—because banking has been broken for so long, you need to create a new experience. And if you don’t have that skill of knowing where the puck is going—and even beyond that—then it would be limiting for this role.

The last skill would be execution. Vision without execution is hallucination. You can have a great forward-thinking insight and you can be super collaborative, creative, and brilliantly tech savvy—but if you can’t project manage and work through teams collectively to deliver, then you won’t be successful.

II: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your peers?

DW: We need to focus on the No. 1 priority—the why. Once you know your “why,” you can figure out your “how.” Our “why” is the client. We’re here to help a client achieve financial happiness. By that I mean eliminating friction, anxiety, and stress. Feeling financially insecure is one of the top 10 reasons why people feel depressed, get divorced, even commit suicide. It’s our job to wake up every day understanding that our real calling isn’t to provide a business solution—it’s to help clients reach a level of financial happiness.