All About The Problem: Q&A With Matthew Mehrotra

A conversation with Matthew Mehrotra, chief digital officer for BMO Bank of Montreal’s North American Personal, Business Banking and Wealth Management division.

Global Finance: What mandate were you given when you assumed your current role?

Mathew Mehrotra: In my role, I am focused on driving BMO’s journey to becoming a digitally enabled, future-ready bank. “Digital First” is core to BMO’s strategy and our focus on meeting customers where they are with leading digital experiences.

We work hard to drive end-to-end digital transformation broadly and deeply across our business—with the goal of unlocking growth, loyalty and efficiency opportunities that free up our front-line colleagues to focus on the advice-based conversations that matter. We’re driving this change through an operating model where business and technology are wholly integrated, driving efficiency, speed and scale.

In this context, the digital team I lead focuses on the client-facing digital experience across our businesses. Our priorities include driving digital sales, accelerating the digital experience, driving transaction migration and digitization, protecting our clients and innovating and partnering for customer and business value.

GF: Which features should a successful innovation plan have?

Mehrotra: Our approach is laddering back to outcomes—innovating to drive client and business benefits in the context of our broader strategy. As far as the features of a successful innovation plan, it should include clarity of strategy and target outcomes, capacity with the right teams of experts, and a clear innovation process for an idea to proceed through the various stages of the cycle.

One way we have brought innovation to life at BMO is through our BMO Innov8 program, which we run in partnership with IBM and launched in 2018. Innov8 tests and develops ideas to improve the customer journey. In its first year, it developed many proofs-of-concept, and one—BMO QuickPay—made it to production. QuickPay helps solve the challenge of paying bills on time. Using the service, customers email their bills to BMO, where we leverage machine learning to recognize fields like the biller and account numbers and then pay those bills for our customers.

GF: Does your team “move fast and break things”?

Mehrotra: We’ve adopted a strong test-and-learn mindset and a continuous experimentation culture to ensure BMO is well-positioned for the future. We try not to “break things,” but sometimes it happens. The key is having a culture that promotes and celebrates experimentation. To facilitate this, we innovate and deliver incrementally. We find that it drives a faster path to value accompanied by a lower cost of failure, if that happens.

GF: Which are the most common pitfalls that innovative organizations should avoid?

Mehrotra: It’s important to ground innovation in ideas and solutions that drive value. The starting point should always be a meaningful customer or business problem. It’s critical to ensure that innovation is an integrated part of the organization, not run from an “ivory tower.” I have found that “pure innovation” programs often lead to ideas that ultimately do not drive value. Once identified, an organization can gather a cross-functional team to address the problem. And it’s essential that the organization’s culture allows for risk-taking and has a bias for action. Organizations generally learn more by doing.

Also, small ideas are OK. If an idea is too big, it can be difficult to get internal buy-in and present other challenges, such as determining how to commercialize it effectively. A series of small ideas can generate internal momentum while having a measurable impact on an organization.

GF: Which project has given you the most pride?

Mehrotra: Credit View, BMO CashTrack and BMO Insights have given me the most pride because they demonstrate our commitment to helping customers make real financial progress. CreditView allows BMO customers to view their current credit scores and learn how different types of credit can impact them over time and helped clients improve their credit scores by 21 points. CashTrack has let customers avoid negative cash flow events 8% more often than those that don’t use the feature. We have also seen customers engage with BMO insights nearly 50% in some months. Innovation is an ongoing journey for us.