Morgan Stanley is moving quickly to the cloud and prioritizing diversity initiatives in its technology group.
These efforts are the work of Sigal Zarmi, the financial services firm’s first head of transformation. She is focusing on implementing cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other technologies across its business units. More recently, she has taken part in a reverse-mentoring program in which diverse employees coach senior leaders on where they experience bias.
In an interview, Zarmi — who currently serves as the global head of transformation and international chief information officer, a dual role she took on in September — discussed her approach to transformation, the changes Morgan Stanley has made since the pandemic started and why reverse mentoring is a key part of combating bias.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you define your role as global head of transformation?
SIGAL ZARMI: We define transformation as making sure we are driving innovative, modern digital solutions to help our businesses grow and succeed. My role is to build agility, optimize performance and forge the right connections with our internal and external partners. When we think about transformation, we think about how we will build solutions that will withstand the pandemic environment that changes all the time. We want to be much more agile and leverage machine learning to increase efficiency. We also have a cloud-first strategy that focuses on how we take advantage of cloud elasticity, meaning the cloud provides you with the flexibility to scale.
I also manage Morgan Stanley’s technology footprint around the world. That means focusing on talent, partner organizations, our location strategy — we have tech centers around the world, from India to Hungary to Great Britain — and some big activities that are happening outside of the U.S., such as Brexit.
What is Morgan Stanley’s approach to innovation?
We have Centers of Excellence to identify where we want to focus first. Our Centers of Excellence drive adoption of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud, data analytics and automation across all business units. They are teams of experts that provide guidance and best practices around the adoption of those technologies. They also ensure that developers around the firm collaborate and benefit from each other’s experiences.
The members of our innovation group run our lab, organize hackathons and events around innovation, and bring up-and-coming technology in to be displayed for the rest of the organization, such as digital currency or blockchain, so we can understand what it is and how we can incorporate it into Morgan Stanley.
We also have external partnerships and vendors. Now everyone is talking about Zoom, but we implemented Zoom before the pandemic. They were an innovation award winner at our annual TechWeek and CTO Innovation Summit in 2019 for being a true pioneer. Qualtrics was another award winner. We’ve held events in Silicon Valley, like our TechWeek and CTO Innovation Summit, since 2000. We bring new ideas, startups and fintechs together with our technology and business leaders to talk about what is the next frontier and how technology is shaping our and other industries.
What has Morgan Stanley been working on during the pandemic?
The pandemic is a very good example of why we need to be nimble. In March we moved over 90% of our workforce to working from home. We have rolled out collaboration tools including Zoom, chat functionality and document-sharing abilities. We implemented solutions around electronic signatures for our wealth management clients. In our institutional securities group, our equity risk group benefited from our investment in our cloud-first strategy when we had our highest-volume trading days ever in March and April. Our sales and trading teams were able to run twice as many risk calculations in the cloud.
What is Morgan Stanley’s approach to diversity in technology?
We appointed an individual to drive diversity and inclusion within technology in the fall. We have a lot of affinity groups — women in technology, groups that lead LGBTQ activities, groups around race and ethnicity. We have a return to work program that is open to anyone who took a break from their professional career [whether it’s because of] family matters, illness or the need to take care of a loved one. We also run mentoring programs for all kinds of diverse talent, not just gender diversity. Recently we put in a reverse-mentoring program for our most senior leaders in technology.
How does that work?
I was assigned a diverse employee to be my reverse mentor, and we have regular conversations. The focus is not so much for me to mentor this individual about career and networking, it’s for that employee to point out and discuss situations where they felt they were not included or where they experienced bias either in the organization or in day-to-day life. You walk in someone else’s shoes and that brings to life a whole new set of experiences that you are not aware of, so the next time when you run across those situations you are less biased. This has been going on for three or four months. We are doing it remotely, but it’s still powerful.