Joanne Hannaford, chief technology and operations officer and member of the executive board at Credit Suisse, talks to Liz Lumley about taking on ‘the largest transformation project in Europe’.

Joanne Hannaford’s father once suggested that she would make a good librarian, as she was such a prolific reader. Recommendations for several books — ranging from non-fiction to novels — often pepper Ms Hannaford’s conversations around innovation, software engineering and being able “to recognise great opportunities when they arrive”.

Career history: Joanne Hannaford  

  • 2022 Credit Suisse, chief technology and operations officer
  • 2017 Goldman Sachs, head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa technology and global head of quality assurance engineering
  • 1994 NatWest Markets executive director, global volume trading systems 
  • 1992 UBS Investment Bank, vice-president, equities analytics

In addition to reading, Ms Hannaford also applied her voracious appetite for knowledge to building a career in technology at global banks, including a 24-year stint at Goldman Sachs. However, a phone call last year, after which she had to “pinch herself”, led Ms Hannaford to “graduate” from the 153-year-old US-based bank and take on what she describes as “the biggest transformation job anywhere in financial services — certainly in Europe. There’s no job that compares to it, really.” 

Currently serving as chief technology and operations officer and member of the executive board at Credit Suisse, Ms Hannaford is now setting the Swiss banking giant’s technology agenda. “It’s an obvious career progression for me,” she says. “I like the idea of almost a custodial element to it. You’ve got a moment in time when you have the appetite to really take this huge leap.”

Ms Hannaford says she drove around the lake in Zürich on her first day and immediately felt a sense of history and custodianship, and that she “fit in” at the bank from day one.  

The first month on the job has been filled with “getting to know the leadership team” and working through “which transformation from a digital perspective was important for us”, she says. 

Innovation is part of the bank’s DNA, Ms Hannaford adds. Credit Suisse was founded in 1856 to fund the emerging Swiss railway system and the creation of the Gotthard Tunnel through the Swiss Alps. She says that she could not have arrived at an organisation that did not appreciate the significance of engineering, innovation and technology. “The question for me was, how do you deliver value? How do you think about quality?” she says. 

The bank is now embarking on a multi-year digital transformation programme, which is about cutting cost and delivering value, as well as introducing agile workflow techniques, says Ms Hannaford. To do this, she has a formula. “Delivering innovation in the context of the broader strategy,” she explains. “Our broader strategy has three pillars: simplify, strengthen and invest for growth.” Engineering, she adds, should be about simplification, not complexity.

As part of the strategy, one of the first things Credit Suisse did was look at the developer experience and how the organisation could get the best out of their engineers and attract the best talent. The next course of action was to instil the agile practices that Ms Hannaford feels are the cornerstone of innovation. To scale and upskill the organisation the innovation culture needs to have clear accountability, discipline and flexibility around delivery, she adds. 

“Being agile, to me, is very natural — like the idea that you solve big problems in smaller chunks, so that you deliver frequently and have that kind of discipline,” she says. 

Having spent more than two decades at Goldman Sachs, Ms Hannaford says she felt as if she was ‘graduating’ from the bank when she left. “The thing that Goldman Sachs teaches you is the significance of technology,” she says. “You’re constantly challenged, which is actually like how you constantly adapt in technology. And you are constantly challenged from an engineering perspective — this is a really important concept as you learn from your mistakes, you rectify them quickly, you just move on.”

Ms Hannaford joined the New York-based bank in 1997. She remembers when she resigned from her previous role at another bank, her boss questioned her decision, commenting that Goldman Sachs had a “schoolteacher” running technology, referring to Leslie Tortora, head of the newly created IT division. 

“I remember thinking how amazing that they’ve given somebody that opportunity,” she says. “They didn’t have those biases and it’s purely a meritocracy, which was a huge attraction to me.” Ms Tortora was eventually named a managing director and a partner at the investment bank.

Years later, Ms Hannaford is a firm believer that voices need to be heard for innovation to be successful. “You have to create an environment where those voices are heard and that you listen to them where you think it’s valid,” she says. This inclusive environment rejects a “blame culture” and instead offers a space where people learn from mistakes, she adds.

“Sometimes the best ideas come from the least likely of places; the trick is to create an environment where that is recognised,” she adds. “I’m a big believer in the value of knowledge and how to tap into knowledge that comes back into the system.”


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