Ather Williams III is Senior Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy, Digital Platforms and Innovation at Wells Fargo, a position he has held since October 2020. In this role, he manages corporate strategic planning, identifies and manages digital platforms and capabilities, and oversees the company’s innovative priorities, capabilities, and efforts to drive transformation.
Williams’ strategic role covers five areas of Wells Fargo’s business, three of which are consumer-focused and two are corporate-focused. “We work with all of these businesses, with all of our capabilities, embracing our 69 million customers and all of our functions to put together a coherent strategy to serve those customers in an innovative way,” Williams said.
One of the key strategic pillars that Williams and his team have identified and is helping to develop focuses on technology and innovation, as well as focusing on digital, primarily mobile, though not just mobile. “Digital platforms are a natural place to sit with me because it’s a transformation of how we combine a consistent consumer experience that starts with the mobile phone in our deposits and payments, consumer lending and capital management,” Williams said. . «[This intersection] it will be easy to migrate through our other channels, be it an ATM, a branch or a financial advisor’s office. ”
Williams sees innovation as part of his mandate as “fuel for the future.” The inspiration for this innovation often comes from interacting with customers and the needs they articulate, and the innovation is then driven by the team he has at Wells Fargo along with the partner ecosystem he oversaw. As an example, Williams noted the desire of customers to rethink how they move their money around the world or new ways of investing their money. He also noted working with clients on how best to decarbonize. Wells Fargo makes its innovation channel accessible to customers, and the wider ecosystem can help bring these ideas to life.
Williams noted that the pandemic has become an excellent accelerator of mobile adoption. “All the metrics I look at weekly on our digital platforms, how we work and interact with our customers, compared to the same period last year, they all grew with double digits, and that’s continuous growth,” he said. “Mobile phone is our number one channel for consumers in the house. Between the mobile phone and the internet, we have about two billion interactions with our customers every quarter. ”
However, Williams quickly adds that these growth rates are not a death knell for Wells Fargo affiliates. It offers coin and currency transactions and mortgage initiation as two of the various examples of interactions that customers are often more comfortable doing in branches. Williams describes a strategic approach that the company is taking as mobile, but not just mobile. “Make this transition from what many banks have traditionally been, which is primarily physical interaction, the technologies that support it, to being technology, physical support,” Williams said. “This coup is what we are moving forward in terms of strategy.”
The company has also reversed the traditional scenario of how innovation happens. Previously, companies such as Wells Fargo created products and technologies internally without external partners. Counter-examples include payment networks for credit cards, or for clearing payments internationally, but these were the exception rather than the rule. “Banks are increasingly becoming organizers of an ecosystem where we create some things, but we allow you to experience this through the API,” Williams suggested as an example. “This change, the transition from an internally oriented culture to an externally oriented culture, which means participating in a wider ecosystem for our customers, has been a big change.” Williams stressed that this trend is happening on both the consumer and wholesale side of the business. Businesses now bank through their ERP system at their treasury workstation. Wells Fargo has developed a tool to connect to this.
When asked how he measures innovation, Williams voluntarily reported on the speed of ideas through the company’s pipeline. “We control the funnel process and I measure the ideas and ideas we launch into production, but it’s also how fast we can implement them,” he noted. “For example, everything in the area of cryptocurrency is changing so fast that I just need to make sure we get enough reps or enough attacks to see what can stay.” He also noted that he remembers the patents filed by the company. He also mentions that it is no longer useful to simply compare Wells Fargo with other banks as it was the main measuring stick. “We’re looking at some companies that are traditionally very innovative, mostly in technology, but not necessarily banks,” Williams said. “I watch how fast they launch new products and how they move the industry.”
Each of the activities has a strategy and innovative leadership. Their main task is to help each company think about how they are going to meet these changing customer needs and how the company will respond to competitive forces. In addition, these leaders explore the challenges that Wells Fargo is trying to solve and then connect to the innovation flow of what is happening in the market. There is also a team that is focused on innovation strategy. This team is “focused on thinking about what we need to follow in five to ten years,” Williams said. “It could be technology, or it could be an industrial trend that we see happening to affect us.”
Leaders of each of these teams often come together to share ideas and identify moments of collaboration. The Innovation Team manages research and development as well as pilot and delivers, tests and studies a continuum of large-scale ideas. “We get an idea like the cross-border movement of money through a distributed book,” Williams said. “Here’s the customer, here’s the business case, here’s the customer’s script, how do you do that? You pull it into the lab, you can install the prototype and run it. Then, once you get to a certain place, you can commercialize it and get back into business. ”
This well-designed innovative engine is already bearing fruit, and Williams is confident that the best is yet to come.
Peter Hai is the president Metis strategy, a business and IT consulting company. He has written two best-selling books and a third, How to get to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates Technology a series of podcasts and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.