by Stephanie McDonald

Q&A: Citi’s Deepak Jain

Mar 03, 20125 mins

Deepak Jain, head of operations and technology at Citi, previously worked in Japan for Citi as acting head for operations and technology. He has also worked in Hong Kong, the UK and the US and previously held the CIO title for Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein.

Jain spoke to CIO about why appreciating experts is important, navigating the tightrope of delivering flexible customer service while reducing operational costs and how to become a ‘trusted advisor’.

What skills do you think it took to get to where you are now?

I think I am a good problem solver. I’ve always had the ability to decompose a complex problem, which at first view is daunting, into manageable bite-sized issues quickly. I like to think this reflects an analytical approach and strong sense of numbers.

What obstacles have you had to overcome?

I am naturally analytical and detail oriented, so I am more likely to make my decisions based upon hard facts rather than on gut instincts. Using my intuition has been something I’ve had to learn and is something I continue to work on. However, I think self-awareness of my natural tendencies is a good starting point.

What has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learnt?

I think learning to appreciate the input and value of other experts has been a crucial lesson to learn. As a leader, there is great value to be derived by facilitating and building on the work of others. This was a lesson learned early on in my career when I was studying and working as an apprentice in a traditional engineering company. It was there I witnessed people in every aspect of the manufacturing and servicing process who knew every [part] of what they did through decades of experience.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

When you take up a new role, don’t spend time explaining/justifying to everyone why you got that role, but rather just do the role. Very quickly it will feel to you and everyone else as if you have been doing it forever.

What has been the greatest challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?

On occasions being asked to manage people who were my peers or my seniors or directly managed me previously. I overcame it by acting on the above advice!

How important is it to have peer support from other CIOs?

Peer support is extremely important. When I worked for Citi in Japan 10 years ago, I was involved in forming an organisation for CIOs across different banks to share experiences. While there were some topics that were off limits – particularly relating to areas where we were trying to deliver specific competitive advantage to our organisations – the forum provided an ideal opportunity to solve shared challenges.

This is particularly relevant in the finance industry where we are solving for legislation changes, market changes and so forth. Also, there is a sense of upskilling together and raising the status of what we do. And it’s fun to talk to fellow ‘former geeks’!

What do you think is the biggest issue facing CIOs today?

CIOs are often tasked with developing solutions that fulfil conflicting business objectives. For example, we might be asked to deliver flexible customer service and at the same time reduce operational costs. This means there is the risk that one objective may be met at the expense of the other. I think our key challenge is to make sure that both objectives are met. I want to turn an ‘or’-type solution into an ‘and’ solution – and meet both.

What do you think will be the biggest issue for CIOs in five years?

Getting the right technical resources will be a challenge. Today’s university graduates have a more generic skills-set, so they’re very adept at integrating systems but perhaps lack the hardcore technology understanding to actually write systems.

In the past, technology experts cut their teeth by working on hardware and coding in low level languages. I don’t think those people are coming through the ranks anymore. So this means there may be a gap for technology experts with that deeper understanding to solve problems and innovate. There is also a very high dependency on the security and availability of core systems, and in some respects we are being asked to put all of our business’ eggs into the technology basket.

What technological change do you think will have the biggest impact on the industry in the next two years?

One of the biggest changes to affect our industry will be managing our physical capacity through our software. In banking, consumer behaviour and capital markets modelling will allow banks like Citi to create better tools and approaches to servicing our clients and customers without manual intervention. A real example of this might be allocating resources in real time to a call centre because a foreign exchange movement will generate a spike in phone calls. The proliferation of customer engagement channels such as online, physical and mobile will add to that complexity.

What advice do you have for other CIOs who are just starting their careers?

I’d urge CIOs to find every moment they can to engage with the businesses on their own terms. The aim is to become the ‘trusted advisor’. It’s good to be involved in regular IT project meetings, but it’s even better if you can engage in the business forums where technology isn’t the central focus, for example, business growth meeting or controls meetings. This gives greater insights into the broader business objectives and also provides food for thought in anticipating future needs and opportunities.