Ainslie Simmonds Of BNY Mellon | Pershing On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

Improve Engagement. When you move to an agile way of working, employee happiness goes WAY up. People love working in small teams. They love solving problems. They love being given autonomy. I see it happen every single time I am involved in a digital transformation.

As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ainslie Simmonds.

Ainslie Simmonds is a Managing Director and member of the Executive Committee for BNY Mellon | Pershing. She is the President of Pershing X, a new business unit that designs and builds innovative digital solutions for BNY Mellon Pershing’s Wealth Solutions clients, including broker dealers, registered investment advisors (RIAs) and trust companies.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started as a marketer in consumer products. That taught me the importance of having great products, a powerful story and the value of a trusted brand. As the Internet continued to transform our economy, in 2001 I jumped into financial services because at my core, I believe that people need help with their money, and I saw so many incredible things happening. I spent the rest of my career building products and services to help people be more financially savvy and secure.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I learned a funny but important lesson about knowing your audience very early in my career when I worked for the Campbell’s Soup company. I was responsible for throwing an event for grocery store managers. I organized a bus to a Buffalo Bills game and thought it would be “efficient” if I served them a boxed lunch on the bus. When I handed them the lunch, they all looked at me like I was out of my mind. They were expecting a tailgate of course. Someone must have been smiling down on me that day, because traffic was so bad, we didn’t get to the game until kick off, so the boxed lunch saved the day. But I will never forget the lesson about knowing your audience.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many people that I am grateful for in my career it’s very hard to pick out one person but I do often think back to a college professor that gave me some advice just as I was about to graduate. I couldn’t decide between jobs. And she said, take a newspaper (we still read hard copies back then!) and pay attention to the stories you read and the stories you skip. If you find work that is in and around the stories you read, you will have a great career. If you try and work in the stories you skip, you will never be happy. I still smile today when I happily read stories about the work we are involved in. It was great advice.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am a big fan of life satisfaction research. I think we only have one trip on this planet and I have always been curious about making the best decisions related to meaning and happiness. So I listen to Dr. Laurie Santos’ “The Happiness Lab” podcast and she always says that our “minds lie to us” when it comes to making good decisions. We THINK optimizing for income will make us happy, but it never does. We THINK choosing work over family will make us happy, but it never does. We THINK the couch and a movie is better than a walk outside, but it isn’t. I have her in my head all the time when I am tempted to listen to “my lying mind” instead of driving toward a happy and meaningful life.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I was employee #1 at Pershing X (a technology provider and new business unit of BNY Mellon) and having previously worked at start-ups I fully understood the importance of a strong vision and mission. It took me five minutes to write both for us and of course it started with our mission, which is to help financial advisors to help more people. That has been my passion for almost two decades and my role at Pershing X is the biggest stage I had ever been provided to actually make that happen. Our vision is to become the industry leading advisory platform. That is a tall ambition given the fact that our competitors all have had large, established businesses. But we wake up every day believing we can get there.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Everything we are working on is both new and exciting. We are building a platform that will help advisors give better and faster service to their clients and we know that means that they will then be able to help more people. Advisors WANT to help everyone, but their business is so expensive to run they tend to only be able to be profitable at the higher end of the market. By helping them be more efficient, we know that they will take on a broader swath of individuals and families and provide them great service.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

Every business in the world is going through a digital transformation. Technology is the force that is shaping our time and we just keep seeing breakthrough after breakthrough from the Internet, to smartphones and now to artificial intelligence. The pace of change is breathtaking. So in most companies, leaders are working to retool their workforce to be able to take advantage of all of these things to drive their business forward. They need different kinds of talent (UX designers, data scientists, digital product managers, researchers) and new processes centered around agility and incremental delivery. It is a top to bottom change and it is a huge challenge.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

There are few, if any, companies that won’t benefit from a digital transformation. Agility is what is required in our fast-changing world. You can’t be in a business today unless you can respond to market conditions quickly or pivot if something doesn’t work.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

Digital transformation helps every division in a company. It ensures that the company is client-centric and focuses on delivering value — quickly. I’m observing the way digital transformation at BNY Mellon alone is changing the way people think, the way they work, and the way they measure success. But the most important story about digital transformations is it makes everyone happier. When I started at BNY Mellon | Pershing the employee engagement score for my group was low. After changing to a more team-centric, agile method of work that more quickly solved problems, our engagement score surged more than ten-fold in a brief period of time.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

For companies to really be successful, it is critical to let some processes go. The biggest, most challenging thing for companies is to move from project-based thinking to product-based thinking. Projects have a start and an end. Products continuously grow, evolve and change. That impacts how you budget, how you measure success and how you govern. It’s a profound shift.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”?

  1. Improve Velocity. Today it is not just large companies that win, it is the ones that can move and change the fastest that flourish. The majority of S&P 500 companies didn’t exist 20 years ago. So the most important thing a digital transformation should measure is velocity. Are you getting things done faster? We obsessively measure velocity and have increased it four-fold over the past year. I still believe there is so much more to be done.
  2. Improve Engagement. When you move to an agile way of working, employee happiness goes WAY up. People love working in small teams. They love solving problems. They love being given autonomy. I see it happen every single time I am involved in a digital transformation.
  3. Improve Client Satisfaction. When you start a digital transformation, if you are doing it right — you will become far more client-centric. You will put things in front of clients faster. You will value their feedback and you will be less afraid to fail. We put a beta version of our product in front of clients after only six months of working on it and we got so much valuable feedback, our second version is so much better.
  4. Lower Costs. Digital transformations should unlock some substantial cost savings. The agile approach means you put far more of the decision-making into small teams that are close to the client, prioritizing client needs.
  5. Improve Transparency. Because the agile way of working demands delivery of small chunks of work, you very quickly see which teams are producing and which ones are not. And at the team level — because teams quickly check in everyday, they quickly self-correct if someone is not pulling their weight. The transparency you get from a digital transformation is terrific.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

A culture of innovation comes from having people who are learners. They are always asking “why” or “why not”? Why do we have to do this cumbersome process? Why can’t we enter this new market? What would have to be true to succeed? People who ask these kinds of questions are the ones who will drive companies forward.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson is that you either win or learn. Everyone is so afraid of failure and it drives all kinds of strange behaviors. If you can simply consider failure as a fast way to learn, you really can have a wonderful career and life. I guess I have one other favorite thought that goes with the win or learn approach, which is that on the other side of fear is freedom. I try to remind myself to be free to try new things all the time.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Ainslie Simmonds Of BNY Mellon | Pershing On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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