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Jo Ann Barefoot explores how to create fair and inclusive consumer financial services through innovative ideas for industry and regulators

Innovating at a Bank : Dominic Venturo of US Bancorp

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Innovating at a Bank : Dominic Venturo of US Bancorp

Jo Ann Barefoot

Dominic Venturo, CIO of US Bank

Visiting Dominic Venturo is a little like walking onto a James Bond movie set during the Q gadget briefing scene. There is a wonderful "wow" factor in encountering the most fascinating new technologies in banking.

The title "CIO" used to mean Chief Information Officer. It still does, of course, but today that "I" increasingly stands for another word too:  innovation. Dominic Venturo, the Chief Innovation Officer of U.S. Bank, reflects a growing trend of banks assigning specialized leaders to spearhead their work in innovative technology.

U.S. Bank actually took this step long ago. As we learned in Episode 12 with CEO Richard Davis, this is the country's fifth largest bank, and its focus on innovation caused them to name Dominic for this role eight years ago. In fact, he was such an early user of Twitter that he got the extremely cool handle @innov8tr (be sure to follow him on Twitter - he's one of my favorites).

I always love hearing the backgrounds of our podcast guests, and especially noticing how they break down between people with financial backgrounds, and people with anything but.  Dominic is a career banker with 16 years at U.S. Bank and 26 years overall in financial services product development and management, commercial risk management, commercial lending and sales management. He talked with me about how he's complemented that background with a wide mix of the other skills. He has 25 people, including many who, as he says, probably "spent a lot of time in the principal's office."

In our conversation, he talks about how to make these trouble-makers highly productive and more broadly about the "art" of making great innovation happen inside a big company.  There's a lot of conventional advice about that challenge, including the need to wall-off the innovators. Dominic agrees with that, and also emphasizes that innovation must be a full-time job - he thinks it's delusional to imagine that part-time people will somehow stay on top of today's tech trends by catching up on their reading backlog after hours. At the same time, he talks a lot about how to keep innovation focused on the practical. One key, he says, is that "innovation loves constraints." Another is not to start with an abstract white board session, dreaming up brilliant solutions in search of problems, but rather to focus on finding the real problems that need to be solved - especially problems impacting the customer. When you do that, your bank will usually want them, even if implementation is going to take some work.

At the same time, though, the practical focus has to be balanced with imagination and vision. Dominic's group tries to look 3-5 years ahead in thinking about the bank's operations, and at how people are behaving differently and doing jobs differently. They brainstorm trends and find the insights that will reshape markets and technologies.

One key to getting this balance right is to set up new kinds of success metrics. Dominic discusses the dissonance between bank cultures built to keep risks and failures extremely low, versus innovation that requires trying a lot of things that will fail.  Financial companies need new ways to keep score.

Our conversation also covered the downside risks that innovation creates for consumers; his thoughts on how regulation impacts innovation; and his advice on how to keep up with technology change. As I mentioned in my year-end wrap up, I always advise bankers to attend some fintech conferences. Dominic shares his list of favorites, including Finovate, Bank Innovation, and SXSW (I'll see you there this year, and also check out my end-of-year interview with Chuck Harris of Netspend for my own list of suggestions, including Emerge).

We also got Dominic's recommendations for fintech trend-watching: Wall Street Journal Personal Tech, TechCrunch, and qz.com.

And last but not least, again, I recommend following him on Twitter for cutting edge insight on tech trends, mixed with humor, such as on much needed respites from the content overload.

Dominic's background:

A few highlights on Dominic's background. He is frequently featured as a keynote speaker at industry conferences and has been recognized by Bank Innovation as a Top Innovator in Financial Services (#3, 2013), Bank Systems & Technology as one of "Elite 8" CIOs (2012), Twin Cities Business Magazine as one of "200 Minnesotans You Should Know" (2011), "Bank Technology News as "Mobile Banker of the Year" (2011) and as "Top 10 Innovator" (2009) and by Paybefore Magazine as a "Top 5 Innovator" (2011). He also serves on the board of directors of the Minnesota Community and Technical College Foundation. He earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Oregon State University and is a graduate of the Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington Graduate School of Banking.

The Q Factor:

In our discussion, Dominic shares examples of innovation successes at U.S. Bank, including "advances in mobile payments, voice bio-metrics, tokenization and integrated mobile and web commerce solutions." As often happens, though, I found that our discussion got even more interesting after we turned off the microphone. He showed me an amazing product demo that's still embargoed but that really wowed me. And we talked about the Internet of Things. And then, he admired my iPhone 6s - we met just after they came out, and I'd gotten one before he did. He started talking about the Live Photo tool, which he described as "Harry Potter feature."  As often happens with me, I had a cool feature on my phone without even realizing it. So we recorded a little bonus feature as he showed me how to make a photo animation that looks a bit like the living portraits in Harry Potter's world. These are fun, as is my Google Photo tool dreaming up little animations for me using the photos I've taken. If you have Live Photo and don't know how to use it, here it is

Enjoy my conversation with Dominic Venturo.


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