06/10/15 - Interview with Peter Aceto, The Innovators Event 2015 (via MTS Business Hub)

Peter Aceto, President and CEO of Tangerine (left), takes part in a conversation with host Seamus O’Regan, a Canadian broadcast journalist from Newfoundland and Labrador, at The Innovators 2015, an event hosted by the Information and Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba (ICTAM) at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg on April 23, 2015.

Peter Aceto is no stranger to change. In fact, he embraces it.

The Tangerine Bank President and CEO was at the helm of the direct banking company (then known as ING Direct) when it was acquired by Scotiabank in 2014 and rebranded last year as Tangerine.

Aceto, a sought-after speaker on issues of innovation, customer focus and simplified office culture, was the special guest at The Innovators 2015, an event hosted by the Information and Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba (ICTAM) at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg on April 23. MTS was a gold sponsor of The Innovators 2015.

The Tangerine CEO took part in an on-stage conversation hosted by Seamus O’Regan, a broadcast journalist from Newfoundland and Labrador, and he did not shy away from offering the crowd his philosophy of leadership, one that embraces social media, emerging technologies and a culture of transparency.

Originally from Toronto, Aceto started out as a lawyer before becoming the eighth employee of ING Direct over 16 years ago, where he worked as general counsel and in compliance. In 2001, Aceto was asked to go to the U.S. to set up ING south of the border. After working for ING in the U.S. for seven and a half years, where he worked to build the platforms of secured lending and mortgages and served as risk manager, Aceto was asked to take the job of ING Canada’s CEO, a position he has held for seven years. Headquartered in Toronto, Tangerine currently has about 1,000 employees.

“I love change, so I always like to be in an environment where things are changing,” Aceto says.

“I think innovation is absolutely fundamental.”

Citing the examples of Uber, the app-based transportation service, and Blockbuster video, Aceto points to the necessity for businesses to adapt and embrace change.

“If we don’t innovate in our business, then we’ll either be killed by one of our big competitors, who have a lot more money, people and resources than we do, or by someone that’s not even in our industry yet,” Aceto says.

The prime focus for Aceto is working to make things easier for Tangerine’s clientele and staff.

“It all distills down to simplifying things for our clients and for ourselves,” Aceto says. “We’re not particularly interested in the cloud, in biometrics or mobile, we’re interested in simplifying things for our customers, and in turn for ourselves. I think this applies across many, many industries.”

Aceto has heartily embraced social media as a valuable tool for business.

“What’s the return on investment of my involvement on Twitter?” Aceto asks. “I can’t give you a number, but I know in my heart that when I interact with five, six, seven customers a day, particularly ones that have a problem we’re able to fix, on Twitter you have the beauty of thousands of people watching you do this. I do it on email too, but then it’s just between (the client) and me.”

Aceto has long pushed a non-hierarchical office culture, one that can be nimble enough to quickly learn from mistakes and evolve. There are no offices at Tangerine, not even for the CEO, and company business cards do not bear job titles.

“I don’t have my own parking spot, if I get in a little late… I drive around the parking lot like everyone else,” Aceto says.

“These things are very important to me as a leader because I think the stereotype of a CEO in general, let alone the stereotype of a CEO of bank, needs to change. My true belief is, in time, consumers won’t tolerate that behaviour any more.”

Aceto stresses the importance to any business of employees not being overly compartmentalized.

“I sit right next to our credit card product team because we’re working on a credit card right now,” Aceto says. “Over to my left are the product team, our social media and marketing team as well.”

Aceto says a lot can be lost in the translation if a CEO doesn’t understand information technology and IT staff doesn’t understand business.

“People need to get shoulder to shoulder and work together and understand both sides of it,” Aceto says. “That’s the way business can be simple and it can be innovative, how you can test and learn and fail a little bit faster; fail a little bit cheaper.”

Aceto says maintaining a culture of transparency is vital.

“My philosophy is, I try to share as much as I possibly can with the organization,” Aceto says. “Our employees should know exactly how we’re doing, what we’re doing better than we expected, what we’re not doing as well as we’d like. It builds a tremendous amount of trust in the organization.”

Aceto’s book on business leadership, Weology, is being published this year by HarperCollins Canada.

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