CIO Spotlight: Kate Megraw, Webster Five

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “Remain technical… I always ask questions of the most technical team members because I always learn something. You can be an IT leader without being a techie, but having a certain level of IT aptitude and understanding is critical to governing it.”

Webster Five

Name: Kate Megraw

Company: Webster Five

Job title: Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: March 2021

Location: Auburn, Massachusetts

Kate Megraw joined Webster Five in March 2021 and is responsible for the strategic leadership, direction and management oversight of the regional bank’s operations department including the IT, business systems, and deposit operations teams. Megraw has worked in bank business and technology operations for nearly a decade, building an impressive career that included launching New Valley Bank & Trust where she was COO and CIO before joining Webster Five. Megraw is focused on Webster Five’s digital transformation and creating a customer experience that will set Webster Five apart.

What was your first job?  I was a cashier and stock person at a butcher shop. I worked there all through high school on afternoons and weekends. It was a family run business and a community hot spot, especially during holidays. At Christmas time, the line for picking up holiday hams would wind down the street. Half of the customers were my relatives and the rest I knew by name. It was just that kind of place and that kind of town. They also made their own horseradish sauce and for Easter, we would dye it using beet juice. My hands would be purple for days! Being a cashier taught me how to handle money which helped me land my bank teller job and put me on a career path I never would have anticipated.

Did you always want to work in IT? I did not. It was kind of kismet. In my 20s I worked in internal audits at a local bank after getting promoted from teller. A year into that role the bank was sold. My job was on the chopping block, but they needed help converting the systems after the sale, so they kept me on to work on data transfers. I’m a self-starter by nature and before long I started managing IT-related side projects. The head of project management told me I had a mind for business analysis and IT and that’s how it began. They created a business analyst position for me, and my role blew up from there. The bank had $4B in assets when I started in the role. By the time it grew to $8B, I was head of IT and running the project management operations.

What was your education? Do you have any certifications? What are they? I have a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance from Assumption College and an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University with a specialisation in quantitative analysis.  That’s a fancy way of saying I’m a math nerd. I keep telling myself I’ll do a PMP certification, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours?  I did take a bit of a detour. In 2018, I left the bank I had been at my whole professional career to join a start-up de novo bank. I focused on the business side -- raising capital and taking the organisation through the bank charter application and regulatory process. I ran the bank as COO for two years and took it from zero to $200M in assets. I enjoyed the challenge and learned so much, but I missed being able to really focus on the tech.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? When I joined the bank 10 months ago, I asked senior management, “How innovative do you want to be? How much blood are you willing to spill on the altar of tech?” As a result of those discussions, we are rethinking how we use traditional core technologies at Webster Five. All community banks have a core fintech provider, which is a lot of eggs in one basket. We are looking to take a unique approach by partnering with more progressive vendors, creating a best-of-breed or hybrid model with core isolation. In the next three years, our tech ecosystem will look much different than it does today.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our CEO’s overall priority is to continue to grow the bank. Webster Five has experienced tremendous growth in last five years, and the strategy is to focus on expanding small business and commercial lending in addition to consumer. The fintech vendors we are looking at are the ones that provide the best features for each of those customer bases. All of the bank’s senior leadership are excited about a technology transformation that will differentiate us, particularly because community banks aren’t known for being tech forward.  

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I think it’s the new COO role. Often the CIO’s responsibilities touch all aspects of operations and IT inherently includes project management, so there’s natural synergy there. Ultimately, the role needs to morph and continue to evolve with the organisation. Five years from now, I expect that my role will include additional operational areas as well as expanded oversight of technologies that are currently overseen by our line-of-business teams.  

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We are definitely on the path to a significant digital transformation. We are starting with back-office automation and efficiencies that streamline core processes so we can then really concentrate on the customer experience side. You can’t use tech to solve a business process. That must be mapped out first. We address the operational stuff now and then we can focus on the fun stuff that will drive revenue.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As part of our digital transformation, we will put in ticketing that will allow me to capture KPIs and really get the full picture of what we are accomplishing every day. Only being here 10 months so far, it has been a challenge to get full visibility with our current configurations, so we are upgrading our systems and processes to provide easier data access, aggregation, and reporting. We are putting pressure on our vendors to provide monthly metrics, monitoring uptime and downtime, and producing reports that give all senior management the ability to participate in technology governance.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I think that tech folks tend to have their own culture within an organisation, but for us as a community bank, there is a very clear culture fostered by leadership that embraces new people, is truly inclusive, and also celebrates our ties to our local communities. Our intranet channel, called The Hive, is used to engage with all the employees in both fun and meaningful ways. Personally, I have a laid-back style and I’m encouraging my peers to embrace that as well. We roll up our sleeves to collaborate and do whatever needs to be done.  I’ll jump in to join help desk meetings and assist end users. It’s important to stay in touch with all levels of the organisation.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? At this moment, it’s finding people with high level business analyst skills combined with some light development skills, a general understanding of API integration and data flows, and best-of-breed models. Banking IT is interesting because banking experience tends to be important. It can be difficult to find the right fit in fintech. But really, all jobs are hard to fill right now. Good tech folks are never unemployed!

What's the best career advice you ever received? The last CIO I worked for was a great mentor and he told me to be a good listener. Because I climbed the ranks without a traditional tech background, I felt I constantly had to prove myself. He’d say to me, “You have arrived. Now you get to sit back and listen to other people.” I remind myself of that often. You don’t have to prove you’re the smartest woman in the room by being the loudest.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I am being thoughtful about the type of potential leaders I’m bringing in. I know I’m only as good as people I’m working with, so I’m always trying to hire people smarter than I am and then encourage them to hone their management and people skills. It’s important to give them opportunities to do some of what I do; let them make decisions and run meetings. It is not always easy for me to give up control, but I have to.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Remain technical. The people I see faltering are the people who forget what it was like to run a help desk, don’t know how the organisation’s firewalls are enabled, or understand business continuity. I always ask questions of the most technical team members because I always learn something.  You can be an IT leader without being a techie, but having a certain level of IT aptitude and understanding is critical to governing it.

What has been your greatest career achievement? This role I have today at Webster Five. If you asked me eight years ago what my goal was, this is it - running operations in a community bank. It checked off a big box for me and it is even better than I thought. We are going to really change the shape of the bank and make a dent in what traditional community banking looks like. It’s exciting.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Talking to college Kate, I would tell her to take more computer science courses. Back in high school when I was preparing for college, I was a standout in math, but no one talked to me about pursuing computer science. The other thing I would have done differently is leave my first big job earlier than I did. It was time for me to take a risk and grow, but I hesitated and stayed longer than I should have.

What are you reading now? Led Zeppelin: The Biography by Bob Spitz. It’s so good! I also just finished Katie Couric’s book, Going There.

Most people don't know that I… Love the Foo Fighters.

In my spare time, I like to…Go to the gym.

Ask me to do anything but… Put away laundry.