We sometimes forget how quickly technology has changed our lives. While this process is, if anything, accelerating, what I learned over my career in Canada’s largest financial institution is that it’s always a process that starts with meeting needs and joining them to possibilities – not unlike the art of politics.
In the old days – not as long ago as you might think – tellers had to calculate interest on your savings account using tables on sheets of paper, and write it into your passbook by hand. Early in my career, I started working on posting machines in a branch. The first programs were on punch cards (I still have samples of them today)!
Then I worked on branch automation, converting customer paper records to mainframe databases, posting cheques in batches and printing statements. I trained the first data entry clerks in head office on online payments system to replace the telex payment system. I led the design, development and implementation of banking machines, point-of-sale debit and credit card systems, internet banking, the SWIFT, INTERAC and PLUS networks – always based on the needs of our customers and our staff.
It’s hard to imagine, but none of the speedy and convenient financial transactions we take for granted today would be possible if we were still dealing with the limitations of paper-based systems being handled at the branch level.
When I became Chief Information Security Officer, my role was to protect all these systems, and to set the strategic direction globally for information security, working with other banks and companies like Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and others. And yes, it’s true, I became used to sleeping with two Blackberries in case there was an emergency somewhere in our network around the world!
Just as we have to do in society as a whole, I had to make sure that as they evolved, all these technological changes were integrated seamlessly and efficiently, with minimal inconvenience to our customers and staff. The volume of transactions has increased more than one hundred-fold and technology jobs have multiplied from the original 200 to more than 3,000 in my old organization alone.
This has created all kinds of new jobs and services, including the manufacturing of new products such as retail devices, banking machines and pin pads; the launch of banking machine services, operational services such as online help, payments settlement and balancing and interbank services.
We have become used to the idea that we can move, spend and access money from anywhere, immediately. Supporting this convenience requires a vast and largely invisible infrastructure that must be managed with the strictest rigour and competence.
I’d like to bring some of this experience, rooted in the values I have lived by in my years of volunteer and community work, to bear on the operations of our federal government. Shouldn’t our government be able to offer the same openness, transparence and excellent quality of service that Canadians take for granted from their financial institutions? This is one of the areas where I think my contribution could make a big difference.