by Mark Chillingworth

What ex-Barclays and Nike CIO Anthony Watson’s Bitserve move tells CIO peers

Apr 08, 20153 mins
CareersFinancial Services Industry

Anthony Watson, formerly CIO of the retail banking arm of Barclays here in the UK, and a high profile hire as global CIO of Nike, has taken up the role of COO and president of startup Bitcoin banking service Bitreserve, having left Nike after 10 months in role.

Watson has always been clear that sectors such as financial services will in time become entirely technological processes and organisations that place technology at the heart of their strategy will not only disrupt the market, but eventually overtake incumbent operators. So it’s fitting that one of the UK’s transformational CIOs should become the president of just such an organisation. Just as Amazon has become the yardstick for retail, the banking sector will soon face its Amazon moment.

Online payments, currency and banking services are already proving disruptive and not only in a business change sense. A recent analysis by The Economist showed how cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin-type services were being used to pay local security forces in Afghanistan and as a result decreasing corruption by terror organisations. Similarly in India, experiments with pension payments have empowered women in rural communities where before they had suffered physical violence. Watson cites the opportunities Bitcoin offers to disrupt and empower previously marginalised sectors of society as one of the reasons he’s opted for this career move.

As we finalise the 2015 CIO 100, we can see a wealth of CIOs that are achieving technology transformation within their organisations; with the top 30 achieving transformation of the whole business. Watson is in that latter camp too, his decision to become the COO and president of a startup that could disrupt an entire vertical market through technology demonstrates the business technology leadership CIOs need to demonstrate today.

Watson has always been a strong communicator and I’ve always respected his candour; he was interviewed by this title in the spring of 2012 while Barclays was embroiled in the Libor scandal. He is one of the few banking CIOs to take part in the CIO 100 and speak at the 2013 CIO Summit, side-stepping PR handlers to tell a vital story of the role technology and leadership has in an organisation like Barclays and to face head-on difficulties like Libor by giving the media the facts.

Watson is also well known for his campaigning on improving diversity and the rights of gay workers in modern business. Again, if the business world fails to embrace this community, just as it is failing women workers, then business will suffer. The campaigning by Watson obviously has a personal nature, he is one of a few successful and openly gay business leaders, but its more than just fighting a personal cause, when he and I have discussed the issue, either on stage at the CIO Summit or when we meet, it is clear that Watson has strong emotional intelligence and as a result strong business leadership skills. Technology is important, but a business thrives on its people and CIOs must ensure they have strong people skills. As a minor leader myself with far from strong people leadership skills, I can see daily how important such skills are.

Although our brand name is CIO, my strategy for this title is that it is for the community of business technology leaders, whatever job title they adopt. What we constantly advocate is that the community must embrace and lead change, not just the introduction of new technology.