(Graham Hughes/National Post)
#45: Victor Dodig
CEO, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
Why he matters: Gives competitors a reason to fear CIBC
Victor Dodig is the CEO of the smallest Big Five bank, but under his tenure, CIBC has become leaner, more focused and more competitive than it’s been in years. Since taking over in 2014, he’s been setting up CIBC to capitalize on the seismic technological changes sweeping the finance industry. But that focus on innovation is just one aspect of a cultural shift he’s initiating at the bank. “I try to run it as a very flat institution and be accessible,” he says. “People feel a direct line into what’s going on, as opposed to feeling like there’s a shroud of secrecy,” he says.
The financial services industry today is, in some ways, under threat. A host of upstarts want to siphon off bank revenues with new and convenient payment and lending services. The changes threaten to erode banks’ profit margins and their relationships with customers. “We can’t turn the other cheek and ignore what’s going on out there,” Dodig says. “It’s very real.”
So Dodig is taking steps to ensure CIBC isn’t side-swiped. The bank partnered with MaRS Discovery District in Toronto to launch an innovation lab. Earlier this year, a team of co-op students at the lab developed a CIBC app for the Apple Watch in just 12 weeks. Previously, a project of that magnitude could have taken up to a year; CIBC became the first Canadian bank to release an app for the smartwatch. The bank has shifted more staff to its MaRS facility to hatch new ideas. “They’re living in a hub of innovation there that goes beyond banking,” Dodig says. More recently, CIBC partnered with a financial technology (fintech) startup to provide zero-cost money transfers from Canada to 34 countries.
Just as important as the bank’s focus on technology is Dodig’s management style. Former CEO Gerry McCaughey was a brainy but aloof leader, whereas Dodig is far more visible. He snaps selfies with employees, sends personal thank-you notes to clients and works out of an open office—when he’s even in the building, that is: In his first year in the top spot, Dodig met with nearly 400 CEOs, and he still sees clients every month.
That’s a change from the previous era, too, when CIBC had to deal with a series of missteps (the industry’s asset-backed commercial paper mess, for example) and shore itself up after the financial crisis. The bank focused internally, perhaps at the expense of client relationships. Today, Dodig believes relationships are becoming more important than ever, as technology threatens to come between banks and their clients. By staying connected to customers and rolling out technologies and services to meet their needs, Dodig believes CIBC will be on sound footing for the next era. “If we can remain the core transaction account for our clients,” he says, “I don’t think new entrants can drive a wedge between us.”