Kari-Anne Clayton, Head of Strategy & Transformation, Retail Banking CDIO, NatWest

Kari-Anne Clayton is the Head of Strategy, Transformation, Risk, Service and Finance for the Retail Bank’s Chief Digital Information Officer, covering the breadth of Retail and Digital Technology for NatWest. She is a dynamic and results oriented transformational leader with diverse background in business, technology, risk management, climate, data, digital and cultural embedding. A strategist and digital influencer, she is a published academic and author, and a passionate advocate for next generational leadership and an inclusion ally. 

Kari-Anne has a background in Earth and Atmospheric Physics, focusing on climate, planetary atmospheric modelling and fluid dynamics, with a MSc. in Organisational Leadership and Innovation.  Her background uniquely positions her on topics beyond Digital, including Risk, Climate and Sustainability, and through blending her academic and corporate experience, she is able to provide unique insight into the ever-changing landscape individuals and organisations are leaning into in the digital age. 

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Kari-Anne shared her professional trajectory, insights on diversity and inclusion, the best piece of advice she has ever received, her secret to striking a work-life balance, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Kari-Anne. Please tell us a bit about yourself. What motivated you to pursue a career in banking?

For me, I have always been driven by a challenge. For example, when thinking about my schooling, I chose a degree in Earth and Atmospheric Physics with a side of Astrophysics because it was incredibly complex, and really demanded discipline, focus and attention to detail. It was this rigor, and desire to understand complex systems, that led me into technology and the finance industry. And while I still have a place in my heart for all things science, I was very keen to leverage my experiences and skills in data, innovation and problem-solving and grow a career in technology, specifically in banking, where we are helping people every day through those digital and technology innovations.

What do you love the most about your current role?

What I love most about my current role is the variety of challenges and initiatives that we have opportunity to be involved with. At NatWest, our more than 19 million customers are at heart of everything we do, and specifically working for our Chief Digital Information Officer who is responsible for all of the Retail Digital Technologies, my team and I have an important role to play. Whether we are looking at horizon technologies and strategies, ever-greening our legacy estate, or partnering across the risk and regulatory landscape to address emerging risks; every decision and transformation is designed to enable the very best technologies, products and services for our customers.

In your opinion, what technology is proving to be the biggest game changer in digital banking?

As technologies go, there are a plethora of platforms and disrupters in the innovation space which many technology enthusiasts are keeping a close eye on. In the last year, it would be remiss not to mention the step change and impacts of generative AI, however, underpinning this or any future game changing innovations, particularly in digital Banking is data. Many user interfaces in digital banking today are still considered to be quite transactional, and in a future world where enriched, individual and personalised insights are surfaced, or where super-apps and embedded finance converge to bring financial well-being, lifestyle, communications and entertainments into one seamless interaction point, the game changer will be the data and the ability to curate and surface this in a safe, sustainable and meaningful way.

Where do you think traditional Banking will be in 5 years?

Our strategy has been to build a relationship bank for a digital world, and we are taking that ambition to the next level, evolving to become an engagement bank powered by personalisation. With this in mind, there really isn’t a distinction between new and old ways of banking. Today our customers can interact with us through the channel of their choice, whether that is digitally, or face to face.

Today, or five years from now, our purpose and dedication to our customer is what anchors us. We champion potential, helping people, families, and businesses to thrive, and we do that today by anticipating and meeting our customers’ needs, using data and technology to ensure we are simple to deal with, and ensure that we are disciplined when it comes to cost, investment and capital allocation. We know that customer needs will evolve, and that the technologies of today and tomorrow will bring about exciting opportunities to help our customers build the financial capability they need for the life moments that matter most.

What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion in your field? How important is it to have authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers to create more acceptance across the globe?

Working as we are at the edges of innovation and technology, and where creativity intersects with art of the possible, I think it’s imperative that as leaders, we canvass the widest possible range of experiences, approaches and backgrounds to enable more meaningful and robust designs for the technology and solutions we deliver. This means purposeful and thoughtful decision making when it comes to building teams, and championing diversity from across the spectrums fostering that richness and depth that comes from a diversified workforce.

The meaning of leadership can change from one era to the other, how would you define the meaning of leadership today?

To me leadership is something that is embodied through one’s behaviours, and it has most definitely evolved beyond the traditional ‘manager’ role that has dominated organisational structures for the better part of ~200 years.  Leaders today embrace, inspire, disrupt, innovate and execute in an agile way to continuously renew an organisation.  And this is done through building trust; trust with their colleagues, their stakeholders and their customers.

In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

There are many individuals who have inspired me, but two incredible women really stand out for me personally.

The first individual is my current boss, Wendy Redshaw who is the Retail Chief Digital Information Officer for NatWest and is one of FinTech Magazine’s 2024 Top 100 Women in FinTech.  The other individual is Dr. Jill Singer who is a professor of sedimentology/stratigraphy, and oceanography at Buffalo State SUNY, and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor.

Both of these remarkable women are pioneers in their own right and have impressive and illustrious careers in what have been traditionally male-dominated fields.  Their combined wisdom, patience and perspectives have been invaluable at what I would call key inflexion points in my career, particularly if I was feeling blocked or stalled on a particular element.

Through their careers, they have shared and shown me, and demonstrated what I feel is the best piece of advice I have ever received.  Boiled down to a pithy phrase; “…a career is a journey, not a destination.”  Through this, I am continually reminded that we all have the opportunity to continuously grow, learn and experience every day.

What is it that motivates and inspires you in your everyday life?

When I think about what motivates me every day, it is the possibility that each day brings.  Whether it is at work, through helping customers, or being mum to my daughter, I am motivated by the fact, that every minute of every day is a new opportunity to contribute and change the world in small ways for the better.  If every individual made just one small thing better in the world, every day, imagine the positive change and difference we could make collectively.

Fun fact about you?

I love music and languages. I suspect there is something about the commonalities of music, language and maths (from my physics days) that provides the ability to cross over, and intuitively understand strings of symbols to create infinite possibilities.  I speak French and some Spanish and am currently learning Mandarin, and I enjoy playing the piano, guitar and have even been known to sing!

What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?

One of the techniques which I have learned, is purposeful focused context switching.  There are many situations that require multi-tasking, however when it comes to work-life balance, I have never found multi-tasking to be a successful model!  I have found that time boxing specific tasks and activities, whether they are home or work, and being 100% invested at that time helps to achieve the balance, because then, no matter what you are doing, the people you’re with and tasks you are performing are getting 100% of your focus and attention.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I would like to write a book.  Already being a published author in academic journals, I would like to take the next step and create a book to share my insights and perspectives with others, much like my mentors shared theirs with me, in the hopes it will help people with their own career development.  Recently I shared six ‘chicken nuggets’ of wisdom at conference event I was speaking at, and these ‘chicken nuggets of wisdom’ then proliferated across LinkedIn and that was really amazing and humbling to see.  Professionally, I would like to continue to grow my career, and explore the intersectionality of innovation & technology, risk and climate and what that means for not just customers but for society as a whole.

What advice would you give to women who want to enter your industry?

I would say there is no better time than now to be in technology.  We are creating the future of tomorrow, today, and the pace of change of technology is exponential.  But back to my point about diversity, is that we need individuals who represent all different backgrounds to enable more meaningful and robust designs for the technology.

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