Sep 27, 2017 - Business

Think Charlotte isn’t a financial tech hotspot? The most powerful woman in banking begs to differ

bank of america building trade and tryon header

bank of america building trade and tryon header

The truth is, the world at large may never view Charlotte as financial technology capital. Not with cities like New York, Boston, London and Hong Kong all vying for the title of fintech king.

But for Bank of America’s Cathy Bessant, that doesn’t matter so much.

“I think it’s more important that we do it than waiting for somebody to proclaim it,” Bessant said. “While people may not write headlines about it, the people in the know, know.”

Photo via Bank of America

Bessant is a big reason why Charlotte has that growing reputation. As the chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America, Bessant oversees roughly 100,000 employees and contractors — nearly half the bank’s workforce.

The Charlotte-based executive is also responsible for shepherding the bank’s $3 billion annual spend on technological innovation.

That alone is enough to put the city on the fintech map. And it led American Banker this week to place her atop their list of the “Most Powerful Women in Banking.”

The investment touches a lot of areas. Cybersecurity. More sophisticated risk models. Consumer mobile apps.

“It’s a lot of money, but it goes fast,” Bessant said.

Bessant spoke to the Agenda on a day when she had already watched the latest demo of “Erica,” the bank’s AI digital assistant (a la Siri) and a new piece of technology that could roll out later this year that she described as jaw-dropping.

“The technical creativity that we’re unleashing in a space that’s long been so conservative and so boring,” she says, is astounding.

There’s also the work Bessant is spearheading outside the bank’s walls in the broader fintech space. Earlier this year, Bank of America committed $1.5 million toward a citywide fintech initiative. The bank is also a sponsor of Queen City Fintech, Dan Roselli’s accelerator program operated out of Packard Place.

For Bessant, supporting the city’s fintech space makes sense. In fact, it’s similar to the way Bank of America helped build Charlotte’s Uptown a few decades ago.

Former CEO Hugh McColl wanted Charlotte to be a regional draw for talent as his bank expanded into a true national bank, supporting the arts and Uptown development.

As Charlotte moves into the future, a thriving tech and startup space will be just as vital in luring top people to the city.

“It’s only natural that we should be a fintech hub,” Bessant said. “Because essentially fintech is the next generation of banking.”


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