There are many paths to reaching the distinction of being among ‘the best’ in a given industry: some favour customer-centricity, others opt for a more technological approach or one that emphasises outstanding company culture. However, an elite species of organisations have the vision and temerity to wed all three together and Afore XXI-Banorte is unmistakably part of this distinguished class.
It was with pleasure that we welcomed back Rodrigo Becerra Mizuno, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Information Officer, who last spoke with us whilst still at PEMEX. Having joined XXI-Banorte in 2019, Mizuno says that he was looking for an opportunity to put his considerable technical experience in the public and private sectors to new use. “At the start of my career technology was still seen as a ’back-office function’,” he explains. However, as digital transformation continues to redraw the landscape of so many industries, the world of finance has naturally undergone some changes of its own and amongst these Mizuno saw the chance to make a positive impact. “It's a highly regulated environment, so there are parameters that we need to follow whilst also factoring in engagement. In my opinion, we have to present a customer experience similar to retail and it's been a lot of fun doing that.”
Mizuno’s credentials as a tech expert are attested by his previous tenure as an executive at Microsoft, a valuable experience which he says continues to influence his vision and leadership at XXI-Banorte. “I heard a very famous quote from Bill Gates: ‘We need banking. We don't need banks anymore’. What that means to me is that the idea of financial services or banking has changed after a long time of remaining static.” As regulatory restrictions become more flexible as old operating paradigms are reevaluated because of technological innovation, Mizuno is confident that the future of finance will belong to those who are willing to shape it themselves. “You make the role, the role doesn't make you,” he emphasises. In line with this thinking, Mizuno has refocused XXI-Banorte’s IT department from its previously “reactive” state to a far more strategic and ROI (return on investment) focused entity. This, in turn, has made the entire company much more agile, which became invaluable when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Mexico and introduced the now all-too-familiar operational challenges of social distancing. “We were able to digitalise and enable practically everybody to work from home in less than 48 hours,” states Mizuno.
In addition to XXI-Banorte’s cultural agility, the core tech enabler for this swift transition was incontestably the cloud. It is this aspect, Mizuno argues, that is and will continue to change the shape of finance to come. “Cloud is transforming XXI-Banorte; it is the cornerstone of what allows our information to be stored, processed and delivered, while also allowing new applications to flourish. In terms of cost efficiency, it was not practically viable to do the things we can do now with the cloud, because before that we used huge national data centres that were highly expensive.” Its utility has given cloud an important place in XXI-Banorte’s ongoing digital strategy, but that isn’t the end of the story; since October 2019, Mizuno has been developing what he calls a ‘3.5-year digital roadmap for transformation’, something which he hopes will achieve a more unified future for the company, “You could look at it as working towards one vision and a singular platform,” he explains. In practice, this meant consolidating teams based on their strengths, reconfiguring project work from “marathons” to “sprints” (reflecting the more fast-paced structure of the company) and exploring the use of technology to benefit both employee and customer processes. Moreover, Mizuno hopes to explore tech innovations which have yet to be fully realised in banking, such as unlocking the full potential of data analytics and developing even greater cybersecurity capabilities. Regarding the latter point, he notes that Mexico has only recently made the presence of a Chief Security Officer mandatory, but that XXI-Banorte is already ahead of the curve in bolstering its cyber defences. “We've been spending a lot on training people and we're going to continue to do so: we want to have the right people with the right certifications. By also investing in the right technology, we hope to create comprehensive protection programmes for our employees.”
However, when it comes to digital transformation, an often overlooked aspect can be the accompanying cultural shift which it entails. Despite this, Mizuno makes it clear that a well-developed workplace culture remains one of XXI-Banorte’s primary concerns and singles out CEO Juan Pablo Newman for special praise in this regard. “He's also an extremely approachable person and very driven by results. I think it’s especially important to have that vision in the company.” Deftly handling the COVID-19-related disruption with an always people-centric attitude, Mizuno states that Miguel has successfully conveyed the message that XXI-Banorte is truly a company that cares. “He has been very protective of people and we are still delivering some of the best results in the industry; it’s that fantastic combination which gives people a lot of trust.” Indeed, with the company maintaining its status as one of the country’s most beloved financial institutions, some might question how XXI-Banorte can maintain its competitive edge. For Mizuno, it comes down to a simple formula of quality, care and staying true to the organisation’s proudly Mexican roots: “Providing a great service and making sure that you differentiate as a Mexican company that it cares not only for the business but also the citizens of Mexico is important,” he says.
Reflecting on the challenges that 2020 has presented, Mizuno states that the difficult conditions have actually enabled XXI-Banorte’s IT department to thrive as creative, tech-based solutions became a necessity to maintain business continuity. “We've had to move faster in our digital transformation to deliver services on the web or in the mobile applications,” he explains. “XXI-Banorte has strived to deliver better apps for our employees to do their job easier and better, which consequently means there is less traffic and customer needs are met faster.” When he looks ahead to 2021, Mizuno can proudly say that it won’t be a year of ‘unfinished business’; COVID-19 has not dented the bank’s resolve to transform into a truly 21st century operation. In fact, the pandemic may have been the catalyst for change that IT has been waiting for. “COVID-19 has actually removed a lot of mental blockers for some leaders. People can work effectively from home now and that’s deeply changed the conversation on how offices and work days should be structured.” And this reaches the crux of what technology in banking is for Mizuno, a ‘conversation’: “Technology is a never ending journey and, in times of crisis, that’s when we need to develop it the most.”