A Chief Product Officer (“CPO”) — sometimes referred as a Head of Product, Head of Retail or Vice President of Product — is the individual responsible for all product-related activities across an organisation. I want to define what I see as the key role of the CPO for a modern financial institution. What are the expectations? What are the mission-critical skills? Who is this ‘talented CPO’?
1. Visionary and Influencer and Juggler
Banking in today’s environment is challenging, and at times chaotic, requiring you to juggle many demands at once — needs of customers, needs of staffs, needs of regulators, needs of shareholders, need to respond to market competition and need to adapt to a fast evolving external environment. The ability to quickly gather the right intelligence, efficiently make the right decisions and to then execute per plan is difficult.
That’s why your vision is your critical weapon. You need to use that to create clarity for your teams and for your organisation. The more chaotic the environment, the clearer your vision must be. You want every team — whether its risk, compliance, technology, customer service — to share that vision and that common compass. Your vision should be 20/20 and you have to be a strong influencer both internally and externally with all stakeholders.
CPOs used to be responsible for the “why” of the product and deciding what to build next. However, I believe CPOs must be part of the “how”. If you are not part of delivery, then you are only a product strategist; not a CPO.
Your market view, insight and intel must be comprehensive — not only looking at your industry, as threats and potential partner opportunities can also come from other industries. Be ready to react fast and be ready to communicate faster.
2. Deliver Hard and Fast
Build and communicate a strong vision and proposition for teams delivering the work and for your stakeholders. Then you have to dynamically and aggressively manage resources and backlogs like the best program manager! Constantly reprioritise based on the market competition, customer feedback, partner ecosystem and data analytics to find new angles and tactical wins! Maximise resource utilisation! Track everything, really manage the details. Ensure delivery is on time and under cost!
Data is also not a department and data scientist is not your reporting staff. Bring your data team into your business; make them part of the business.
3. Path to Profitability not only P&L
When designing new products and services, owning P&L is a unique experience. You need to set the scene properly internally, and finance should be your right hand from day one. It’s not about financial knowledge. It’s about how you can use your creativity to create new or alternate revenue streams or better ways to optimise resources, including the bank’s funding or deployment of it excess funding.
Profitability is important and building a clear ‘path to profitability’ can be a challenging journey — one that that you need to constantly challenge and push every day, every minute. Each organisation has different strengths and skills, and as such, profitability path can be varied across organisation.
4. Aesthetic and Gusto
Do you understand UX/UI? Do you have design experience? I actually think these are the wrong questions for a CPO. I think a CPO needs to bring two important elements.
- First is Aesthetic. And aesthetics goes way beyond how the product looks and feels. It defines end to end service design with an ultimate beauty target. A CPO must always be concerned by the seamless beauty in every step of a service or product journey.
- Second is Gusto. People should feel that you bring joy and different disciplines to the game. You need to understand sociology, engineering, anthropology, design, life style, and most important, people behaviour. Understanding people behaviour is more than customer insight, not only data or research. This is why understanding people behaviour is an art that good CPOs create game changing products.
The skills required by a CPO in a bank will depend on the teams around them, they need to build the talent density accordingly. CPOs should be a talent magnet for the organisation. In turn, your teams have to be more than product managers — they need to become product ambassadors for your organisation.
You — as the CPO — are the key culture leader of your organisation, and you need to build teams that are talented in multiple disciplines to disrupt the banking. Enjoy and change the world.