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From CIO to COO to CEO

Martha Heller | June 16, 2017
Greg Carmichael, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank, reflects on how his experience as a CIO prepared him to be a CEO in the digital age.

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Just about a decade ago, I interviewed Greg Carmichael, who had just been promoted from CIO to COO of Fifth Third Bank, about his advice for CIOs interested in following a similar path. Recently, I had the chance to ask Greg about the next leg of that journey, his move to CEO, and how his IT background has positioned him for the top job.

What is the impact that information technology is having on the banking industry?
Information technology is having a major impact on the way our consumers and commercial customers want to bank. The millennials are 50 percent of our new customers, and they expect to bank anywhere, anytime through the most convenient channels. Ninety percent of interactions and sixty percent of financial transactions with our consumers are done through our digital channels. That would have been inverted five years ago.

What has been the most challenging part of this digital transformation?
We've done a lot of work to get consumers comfortable with banking through digital channels. We are dealing with people's finances, so we had to give our customers the confidence, through advanced technologies including thumbprint identification, that our digital channels are secure. After security, our greatest challenge was making sure our consumers understood our digital capabilities. As easy as the applications are to use, the mind shift to digital is significant, so we still needed to educate our customers.

How did you create a culture that innovates with technology?
The executive team made sure that we provided a clear message of our expectations to our technology team: Their job is to create the infrastructure that will provide quality, speed, security, and convenience to our customers. But clear expectations were not enough. We also needed to give our technology team the tools they needed to meet these expectations. But Fifth Third has always been about technology innovation. We invented the first shared ATM network back in 1977; since then, we've consistently been innovating, either by developing our own new technology and mainly by partnering with fintech firms to bring emerging technologies into our infrastructure.

You joined Fifth Third in 2003 as CIO. From there, you became COO in 2006, and then CEO in 2015. How did the CIO role prepare you for the journey you've traveled?
To be a successful CIO, you need to be a pragmatic and forward thinking leader, intent on solving business problems by leveraging technologies. You are a problem solver who is good at multitasking, because you cannot do things sequentially as a CIO. My CIO roles were the best training I could ever ask for to prepare me for my current job, particularly now that we live in a highly digital age. CEOs today have to solve multiple problems at once, and they need to understand disruptive technologies and how they apply to their current businesses. I am a stronger CEO as a result of my time as a CIO.


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