Building a Culture That Embraces Data and AI

Building a Culture That Embraces Data and AI
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Many organizations aspire to have cultures that embrace data, analytics and AI, and other new technologies, but few make specific attempts to create such cultures. TD Wealth, the wealth management unit of Toronto-based TD Bank Group, is one organization that isn’t content to think wishfully about this sort of cultural change. It created a program called WealthACT—for “Accelerate Change through Technology”—to try to get senior and middle-level executives in the business unit excited about what technology can do for their business.

I was only a bit player in this program, having spoken to participants in the first WealthACT program in the summer of 2018. They visited Cambridge and Boston to hear from MIT faculty, startup entrepreneurs, and assorted “experts” like me. At that program I met Atanaska Novakova, a heat-seeking missile of a banker who led the design of the program and in her day job leads operations and shared services for TD Wealth. Novakova, who originally hails from Bulgaria, worked with TD Wealth business head Leo Salom—an analytical, data-driven decision-maker—as executive sponsor of the program. Senior leaders of the unit felt that its data assets were finally ready to be used, and the most important factor in using them effectively was demand from executives. Novakova’s passion for technology and change was evident even to an outsider like me, and I’ve now heard from many at TD that her personal example inspired a lot of program participants.

An Ambitious Program Design

The first participant group of about 100 wealth specialists didn’t just troop to Boston. They also visited Silicon Valley and the UK, studying not only new technologies but also the open banking movement. It wasn’t just “industrial tourism;” participants had various assignments throughout the five-month program and even participated in a hackathon to develop new apps. The trips were memorable, but the bulk of the program involved expert-led instruction and hands-on and immersive workshops to build customer empathy, understanding emerging tech, and practice pattern recognition to spot trends and opportunities ahead.

The specific goals of the program were to develop six core skills:

  • Human-centered design
  • Business case development/storytelling
  • Business agility
  • Data-driven decisions
  • Emerging technologies literacy
  • Growth/innovative mindset.

TD Wealth worked with consultants from Deloitte Canada (I am a Senior Advisor to Deloitte, but only to the U.S. firm) to help design the program and to serve as coaches for the participants. Alex Morris, Deloitte Canada partner and head of innovation and design, has a particular focus on user-centered design. He told me that from the beginning of WealthACT he wanted participants to recognize that mindlessly throwing technology at customers is not the answer. He hoped the program would foster not only much deeper awareness of technology, but also greater sophistication about it, and a deep understanding of the customers TD Wealth serves today and how they are changing. Some aspects of the program involved visits to customers’ homes, for example, and penetrating conversations about death and inheritance.

Morris said that the design of the program continues to evolve. The first iteration, he said, involved a lot of classroom learning with blather (my word, not his) from talking head types like me. Subsequent program versions—WealthACT 3 is just getting started—have become more experiential and immersive. The second cohort did go to exciting places like Israel (to learn more about cybersecurity advances), San Francisco (primarily for voice technologies), and Montreal (which has a thriving AI ecosystem), but it also involved more interviews and collaborative projects by participants. Morris thinks the program is working: “It has certainly nurtured the innate curiosi

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