Intro Speaker: You are listening to Lift Off a podcast that provides
a glimpse into the stories and people behind the digital
accelerator. Talent and organizational development is sitting down
with leaders, technologists, artists, and educators with a common
goal of sparking creativity and innovation for Charles Schwab. We
will talk about the projects, processes, and lessons they have
learned as they have launched with the Digital Accelerator.
Alexander Husarek: Hey everybody and welcome to Lift Off. I'm your
host, Alexander Husarek. Today I'm sitting down with Tobin McDaniel,
the SVP over Digital Advice and Innovation for Charles Schwab. We
will learn how he left chemical engineering to pivot towards the
financial industry. I'm going to pick his brain about the Digital
Accelerator, how he keeps a technological edge over our competition
and what it's like solving for digital challenges and disruption in
his world, a very regulated space. I think you guys are really going
to enjoy listening to this podcast.
Alexander Husarek: So, the first question that I have Tobin is about
your background. Your background consists of some unique
perspectives. You started in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon
and then went to Wharton Business School. Then upon arriving at
Schwab, you've held roles like Managing Director, Chief of Staff, a
role that directly interface with Chuck (Charles Schwab) and now SVP
over Digital Advice and Innovation. So how does that all connect?
Tobin McDaniel: So, I do have a varied background. What I'd say is,
you know, I studied chemical engineering and actually worked for a
large chemical company, but very quickly realized I didn't want to
be an engineer and even in that chemical company I ended up working
on technology and ended up playing what back then was probably the
equivalent of a product owner role. We didn't call it that then, but
that's probably the closest analogy. I love the way technology
enabled that business and made it easier to serve those customers
and was just always passionate about tech. I went to business school
and broadened my business education, eventually found my way to
Schwab. And from day one was very passionate about what we were
doing, particularly through some of our digitally enabled
businesses, trading services. What we do on Schwab.com. You know,
many of us back then were very keen on Schwab entering the Robo
advice space. As you mentioned, I got to work for Chuck Schwab and
see his vision for how we should be serving investors, how we should
be making our industry better for, for individuals. And I've just
been so lucky to work on that the past few years as I've led Digital
Advice and now lead our innovation team. So it's really, for me,
it’s, I think technology can make most things better for people,
more accessible, easier to use and investing’s certainly the same. I
want to be part of that. I want to help us as a company, extend our
mission, our reach and our market share by using technology to
better serve investors.
Alexander Husarek: Now that you're with Schwab and hold the title as
the SVP of Digital Advice and Innovation, how do you view the role
of Digital Services at Schwab?
Tobin McDaniel: So, the role of digital services is to help enable,
how we serve investors and advisors. You know, our businesses aren't
just digital, but digital is such an important component of what we
do, whether you're an IS and the millions of customers we serve in
IS or in Advisor Services with the thousands of advisors who in turn
serve scores and scores of customers. Digital is core to what we do,
it’s core to the scale that makes our company so competitive, and
it's the expectation that both investors and advisors have. So I
think, the formation of digital services allows us to hopefully
accelerate the experiences and the efficiencies that digital can
Alexander Husarek: Every business holds its own unique challenges.
What challenge exists for digital services?
Tobin McDaniel: We have so much appetite to improve our business and
improve how we serve clients. We've got to find the most important
things and really build those things end to end. So that we're not
just building a great client experience, but a great process all the
way through that's efficient, scalable and helps our business grow.
And you know, there's always a risk of trying to bite off too much.
And I think for us, we're just so passionate about making things
better for clients that can often be the case and so I think
focusing on the most important things, doing them really well, and
then moving to the next most important thing I think is one of the
big opportunities for us and big things we really need to keep an
eye out on.
Alexander Husarek: So, that's interesting to me. As we think about
digital disruption and the threats that come with that. What threats
or opportunities of digital disruption do you think we will be
addressing in the near future?
Tobin McDaniel: When you look at our industry, there are lots of
small companies doing really interesting things with digital doing
sort of part of the value chain, part of the investing experience,
part of the advisor experience. But, my belief is investors want
that integrated experience. They want to be able to work with a firm
that can meet all of their needs, and that can complement digital
with people. That said those investors aren't going to tolerate sort
of subpar digital experiences. So for us, I think we've got a huge
advantage in the scale, breadth, and quality of services we provide,
but we've got to be cognizant that, the disruption for us is that
investors continually have higher expectations. Consumers do. And
it's not just the startups in Fintech that set those expectations,
it’s Google, Amazon, Uber, and all the other companies we use every
day. And that's the bar that will be increasingly held to or our
competitors will be held to. I think we've got an incredible value
proposition. If we get digital right, it'll help us serve those
clients better and grow and grow and grow in this market.
Alexander Husarek: How do you feel we innovate in a risk averse
industry, especially when the financial industry sometimes seems
slower to evolve or adapt to change and innovation?
Tobin McDaniel: Hmm. You know, I think, well, one, our industry is
built on investing, which is all about taking risk. And so, you
know, we have to be cognizant with the risks that we have when we
manage our business and how we help our clients take risks, but risk
is an inherent part of what we do. I think there's still plenty of
opportunity to innovate even if we want to be a little more
thoughtful and a little slower about some of the changes we make.
And it all starts from focusing on what the client wants, what they
need, and building solutions for them. If you get the right solution
built and you can find the way for it to, to fit the regulatory
framework or make sure it's appropriately reviewed and reliable. It
is the nature of our business that, you know, we've, got to be
cautious. We're managing and custodying people's money over three
and a half trillion dollars. I mean, that's something you should be
cautious about. But, it doesn't mean innovation stops innovation
still centers around our investors and our advisors. And I'm not too
concerned about pace. I think pace can still move pretty quickly and
accompany like this.
Alexander Husarek: So what have you seen our competitors doing in the
digital space that we either need to match against or we need to
take a different, higher position to be able to service our clients
and provide the best experience as you have mentioned?
Tobin McDaniel: When I'm looking at competitors and it's not any
particular competitor, but I'm always looking to see how they are
simplifying a user experience, making it easier for someone to find
the solution they need, to have the transaction, to conduct the
transaction they want. You know, we all want it to be seamless. We
all want some of those basics be taken care of, you know,
brilliantly. And so I really look for those experiences where
someone makes it easy to get, have chat, help where someone makes it
really easy to withdrawal money, or someone makes it very easy to
add money. Those are the types of experiences I think that really
matter. I think Marie Chandoha (EVP, Pres & CEO of CSIM) said this
first around here that I heard, “simplicity is the new innovation.”
So I like watching how people are making it simple.
Alexander Husarek: What do you see from a regulatory perspective that
might impact our ability to innovate and grow in the future? For
example, last year when massive changes happened to the financial
market with the new regulations that came down, do those regulations
stifle our creativity or do you feel as if they actually give us a
challenge to work toward?
Tobin McDaniel: You know, I think for us, given that our company
strategy is through client eyes and were so often trying to do
what's best for investors, frankly, regardless of other things, it
usually means we're more in line with regulations than maybe some of
our competitors are. I think we're well positioned for the future.
Certainly we pay close attention to the regulations, how they impact
our business, how we need to react. But, I think broadly we are well
positioned to do well because we try to do the right things by
Alexander Husarek: So Tobin, what do you do on a daily basis to gain
creative energy and do you listen or read anything in particular?
How do you find connection points into the competition?
Tobin McDaniel: How do I gain energy? Well, I'm glad this is a
podcast and not a video cast because there's plenty of empty coffee
cups around my office and there's one closer to the mic that I am
actually. So that's one thing, but what do I do? You know, I love
trying new apps so when I hear about a new company in our space or
another space and you know, I was just in my last meeting, someone
was telling me about a startup fintech and I just download their app
and checked it out. I love to see what people are doing. So I love
that. I love that experience. I listened to my own broad share a
podcast, summer, just entertainment. Some are business related. I do
that to sort of kind of spur thinking and, you know, try to see
what's going on. I mean, I, I'm based in San Francisco. There's so
much startup energy around here as there are in many of our
locations, Austin and the Denver area you can see a lot from just
what other companies are trying to do. It may or may not be in our
industry, but there's so much you can try to learn from.
Alexander Husarek: So, you may or may not be aware. There are
different teams in the organization that are trying to find
connection points with the accelerator. I feel like everyone's
watching how the organization is maybe pivoting to this new kind of
outlook. What would you say to that associate on ways to feel more
Tobin McDaniel: Hmm. Well, we try to have plenty of communications
about what we're doing both in the accelerator part of digital and
digital more broadly. And digital kind of touches all of us. We're
all Schwab clients, right? So we're all experiencing the digital
experience. So, but I'd say, look for some of the communications we
have. If you're in Austin or San Francisco, you can kind of check
out the accelerator spaces and teams, pay attention to the things
that will hopefully be releasing pretty soon in terms of
experiences. And then, you know, we are going to be working with so
many parts of the company as we tackle particular challenges. We’ll
be working with marketing, and the field teams, and many other parts
of the company depending on what we're working on.
Alexander Husarek: What would be the number one podcast you recommend
to someone other than this one, of course?
Tobin McDaniel: Well, what's a distant second? You know, I really
liked the HBR Idea Cast. So from Harvard Business Review, I don't
listen every one of them, but there's some really interesting ideas
that come out of their Andreessen Horowitz has a pretty interesting,
a big venture capital fund has a pretty interesting podcast. I
forget what they call it, a that I also quite enjoy. Not every
single one of them. Right? But, I look through. It’s the A16Z
[Interview wraps and music plays]
Alexander Husarek: That is the podcast for this week. Thank you so
much for listening. It was incredible to be able to sit down with
Tobin McDaniel to hear his unique perspective. Check back next week
to hear another incredible interview from the Digital Accelerator.
If you'd like to be notified of future episodes or series, please
hit that subscribe. I'll see you next week on Lift Off.
Thank you for watching!
Stay tuned for more from the Digital Accelerator!