Being Technical In a Personal World with Neesha Hathi, CDO of Charles Schwab

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Your finances are one of the most personal aspects of your life, so the idea of trusting a robot or some technology to guide you on your financial journey might make you uncomfortable. Neesha Hathi is the CDO of Charles Schwab, and she knows exactly how you feel. At Schwab, everything comes down to creating the best possible client experience, and for Neesha, that means finding a way to make the digital experience personal, comfortable and intuitive, yet still joined with the real-life advisors and experts working for the company. It’s a tough job, but one that very much is focused on a future that is more technical than ever. Neesha discusses all of that and more on this episode. 

Best Advice: “Top-down support is critical. Getting transformation done is really about the entire company. So building those relationships and getting your peers really bought in to where you’re going, helping them see the win for them, is really critical. And then, of course, everyone says this, but it’s all about the team.”

Key Takeaways

  • Thinking about the client experience means creating excellent, value-added experiences
  • You have to be able to combine the digital experience with the experience of working one-on-one with experts
  • Being a CDO is about building a more agile company with a future-focused mindset

Being a CDO at Charles Schwab

Neesha explains that her role as CDO is a blend of being technology-driven with a business strategy mindset. She has to ensure that everyone who uses the Charles Schwab platform is having a seamless experience. There is also a lot of collaboration with the internal teams at Schwab, particularly the production and development team. The client experience is the most important thing to everyone at Schwab, so they expend a lot of energy and resources in researching and implementing the best methods and products to ensure that clients are having the best possible experience. That means democratizing the experience of investing, which can be intimidating for many people. One of the ways to do that is by creating a digital platform and tools that are easy to use and understand for everyone.

“One of the things about Schwab is that we actually do a lot of our development ourselves. There are a lot of companies that outsource their development. We have over 600 agile teams here at Schwab – we have a very large development organization.”

“We break it up into the things that are around improving the baseline experience, creating simplicity and intuitive experiences. Just trying to make it easy because investing is not easy necessarily….How do we help provide guidance and help in a way that’s understandable? And that’s where I think we create value-added experiences. I think of our Schwab Intelligent Portfolios – those experiences are really about trying to take the everyday investor and give them the kind of help to get them invested where it might’ve been daunting for them to shop and try to figure that all out on their own.”

“One of the things about Schwab is we really focus on trying to take all that investing jargon out of there and be very simple and basic about language to make it less intimidating and help a client feel confident.”

Executing a digital transformation

Getting buy-in is always one of the hardest parts of going through a digital transformation. Segmenting things out to different teams and making certain teams responsible for new products or digital tools helps the process because then you don’t have to impact an entire organization. In the past, Schwab separated the teams that worked on internal applications and customer-facing platforms and products. There is a need to bring the two together, though, and it’s critical that customers can have a good digital experience and still be able to work with Schwab employees who can show them how to use the tools at their disposal. After all, not everything can or should be digitized. And when it comes to something as personal as your finances, clients often want to have a personal connection to the company they work with. 

“We were way too siloed in the way we thought about the channels, meaning the human channel. That means the branch channel, the call centers, the contact centers and the digital channels all operated a little bit more independently. But our value proposition is when you bring them all together – that’s the power of IT.”

“Everyone needs something different. And I think the thing about money and your financial life is it’s very personal. It’s actually very emotional. People think money is about the head. It’s often about the heart. I think that our ability to connect with people is going to be paramount in the long run because a lot of things can get digitized, but there are things you’re not going to be able to automate at least for quite a long time such as that emotional connection with people. And I think when it comes to their financial life, sometimes they just want to be able to talk about what they’re thinking or have the financial consultant ask them the question behind the question.”

CDOs of the future 

As the CDO role becomes more prominent in various organizations, there is still a sense that what the role actually is is still being written. Neesha was the first CDO at Schwab and she says that they created the position because they wanted to be more future-focused and try to scale in a new way using technology.

“What we saw is that we had the opportunity to bring things together and focus on going faster and maybe thinking a little bit further out into the future and bringing some of the newer practices around product management into the company in a more scalable way.”

“If someone asked what is it that you are really trying to do, it’s about changing the company and transforming the company and helping us be even more agile because the future is going to require our company to be more agile. The technology part or the digital part is just a mechanism for that.”

Using data

Neesh explained that transforming how they use data is one of the biggest initiatives at Schwab. People want a more personalized experience and data is the best way to create that.

“Where we start is the client problem and the client need. And I think because of that it liberates us to innovate. And so I feel fortunate because there’s not a lot of lobbying that I have to go do because we’re able to show such tremendous progress on things like client experience.”

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Neesha Hathi, the CDO of Charles Schwab, discusses the challenge of bringing technology into the personal world of finances and investing.

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