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Bank Of America's Cathy Bessant is InformationWeek’s IT Chief Of The Year

Bessant leads BofA's 100,000-person technology and operations group as the bank scraps back from financial and regulatory disaster. Her formula: Steady, reliable performance over glitz.

At the bottom of the job market circa 2002, IT pros who had left Wall Street to chase dot-com riches adopted a new rallying cry: "B2B," short in this case for "back to banking." The implication? Even if financial services wasn't the hottest industry for ambitious technologists, it sure was stable.

Dial ahead a dozen years, and "back to banking" is taking on a slightly different meaning. What's back following the industry's own inglorious excesses, illegal practices, and subsequent collapse is a return to IT basics: standardized architectures and streamlined applications; a commitment to regulatory compliance and information security; and more calculated, customer-focused innovation. That approach may be short on the wow factor, but it sure makes business sense in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

The editors at InformationWeek got to thinking about the financial sectors when we started evaluating candidates for our 2014 Chief of the Year, the CIO or other IT executive who we think embodies what's good and right at the highest levels of the profession. In past years, we tended to pick chiefs at the forefront of technology innovation and business transformation -- Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels, for instance, or then-Starbucks CIO and digital business leader Stephen Gillett. But what about someone who oversees the unglamorous heavy lifting at a top bank or investment company?

We're confident we found the right chief this year in Cathy Bessant, head of Bank of America's 100,000-person Global Technology & Operations organization. Like much of the financial industry, BofA (including acquisitions Countrywide and Merrill Lynch) did a lot wrong leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in fines and legal settlements, many of them related to the sale of toxic mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. (BofA got -- and later repaid -- $45 billion in federal bailout funds.)

But we're impressed with what BofA has done ever since under the leadership of Bessant, a 32-year company veteran who was named chief of Global Tech & Operations in 2010, having previously served in various nontechnical leadership positions at the company.

In an interview at Bank of America Tower in New York City, Bessant ticks off her IT organization's four main priorities: stabilize the platform, simplify and modernize, reduce the risk (outages, performance problems, regulatory/legal violations), and improve the competitive cost position. Under a four-year plan she put into motion in 2010, BofA has retired more than 18,000 applications, many of them left over from acquisitions. For example, it's spending $100 million to consolidate five Merrill Lynch financial adviser platforms into one, a project due to be completed next year. In its wholesale banking business, 521,000 users at corporate clients in 140 countries now access its CashPro Online treasury and credit management portal in 11 languages; the portal replaced hundreds of applications and systems for everything from liquidity management to currency conversion to wire transfers. Elsewhere, BofA has consolidated 22 collateral management systems down to one. Its eight different teller systems -- now one.

Read the entire original profile on InformationWeek.

Rob Preston currently serves as VP and editor in chief of InformationWeek, where he oversees the editorial content and direction of its various website, digital magazine, Webcast, live and virtual event, and other products. Rob has 25 years of experience in high-tech ... View Full Bio

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IvySchmerken
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IvySchmerken,
User Rank: Author
12/2/2014 | 10:33:37 AM
Reliability Over Glitz
After selecting CIOs from Amazon and Starbucks for digital innovations it's quite a shift for Information Week to choose Bank of America's CIO for bringing stability and resiiency to Bank of America's IT systems. In this case, BofA's CIO has undertaken a massive consolidation of thousands of legacy appliations and also overseen a huge project to standardize on Merrill One, a financial advisor workstation.  While BoFA has paid out many settlements to resolve its mistakes in the financial/mortgage crisis, strong leadership from its CIO and simplifying complex systems, has also been part of the bank's recovery.
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