CIMA C-SUITE ALUMNI SERIES – Chiranthi Cooray, Chief Transformation Officer of Hatton National Bank PLC

L.Chiranthi Cooray is the Chief Transformation Officer of Hatton National Bank PLC. She is an accomplished leader with a strong track record in organizational transformation, business process reengineering, product and service excellence, people leadership and change management.

She began her career at entry-level in non-banking financial services and rose through the ranks of human resource management. Thereafter, she moved on to general management positions in the shipping, logistics, hotel, manufacturing, media, and entertainment industries, with a focus on human resources and planning. Chiranthi has gathered operational, technical, and strategic experience over the past two decades, with the last 11 years spent in the banking sector.

What makes a great Chief Transformation Officer?

Emotional intelligence and empathy. Relentless pursuit of execution, Challenging the status quo. Collaboration to achieve common goals. These are what I believe should be in the essential toolkit of a CTO. 

Transformation brings about change. Adapting to change is not easy for organizations or people. John Cotter’s Leading Change, was a book I read about 20 years ago. It had some remarkable insights on how to give leadership to organizational transformation. Cotter says, “transformation is a process, not an event”. 

Having the emotional intelligence to understand and accept that driving transformation in a large organization is an arduous process that requires patience, tolerance and acceptance, is key. Having empathy towards the people who are going through the change, proactively setting up support systems and mechanisms for them, facilitating two-way communication is vital to sustain the change programme. Even embracing resistance and criticism, without taking it personally, becomes important when leading transformation initiatives. 

A CTOs role requires collaboration both vertically and horizontally across the organization. Sometimes stakeholders may be willing to collaborate, sometimes such may not be forthcoming. It is important to gain the buy in and engagement of all those who matter. Setting shared goals, bringing in ownership with strong KPIs for key persons involved in transformation efforts ensures structure and focus. This helps people to work together as a team to achieve results. 

What are your main responsibilities as the CTO of HNB?

My role involves working with strategic business units and service units across the Bank to bring about business growth, business sustainability, enhanced customer experience, productivity, people development and tech enablement; the transformation programme management office does not own any of the milestones. We programme manage the outcomes, instituting governance, monitoring, evaluation and reporting. There are sponsors and working groups of cross functional teams who are contributing relentlessly to launch products, drive digital adoption, improve service excellence and increase employee engagement. We started a transformation programme three years ago, based on scenarios and assumptions, prior to Easter attacks and Covid19. So readjusting the sails of the ship, to face the pandemic new normal and navigating the reoriented programme despite the external challenges has been the biggest responsibility in the last 12 months. The plus factor is that by this time our rigor and tenacity journeying through change had got embedded into the organizations DNA. This is serving us well to forge ahead. 

Briefly describe a challenging moment you had to face as the CTO?

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” ― Louis V. Gerstner Jr., Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

This is a quote from another favorite book. When we changed the operating model of our massive network of 252 branches, this was serious business. There was a whole culture of doing branch banking that was about to be transformed. 

HNB is a leading heritage brand, which is proudly held and cherished by current and even past employees, shareholders, customers, investors and well-wishers from the general public. Making significant changes around any established model that’s seemingly working well – is indeed a challenge. 

This cannot be described briefly. Suffice to say, as the leadership of the Bank, the entire corporate management rallied around this mammoth change effort and supported it right to the end. We had our regional and branch leaders and our staff, our unions on board. We had discussions, debates, and reviews. Through it all, in the end, we did the Transformation, the HNB way. Who says, Elephants can’t dance? We are now doing the Viennese Waltz. 

What value does a CTOs role bring to an organization?

A CTO’s role, if it is correctly created in the structure, does not belong to any vertical. It sits independently, and lives and breathes organization, panning across silos. The role focuses on change, not running the organization nor the business as usual. This relieves the other core leadership team to focus on the business. This also gives them a running mate who will deliver the transformations they seek, for their business to thrive and be future ready. 

How do you view growth during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Pandemic has wreaked havoc in the economy, in the health of the nation and created much uncertainty of the future. However, there have been some opportunities presented as well. Accelerated digital adoption in financial services is one such area. Viewing the whole workforce as contingent is another. Building remote working capability is yet another. Self-directed learning and achieving self-organization and mastery are personal growth opportunities presented to individuals young and old. There are many silver linings amidst this gloom. We have to be sharp and smart to identify them and create conducive, dynamic environments for growth. That said, a larger part of businesses is founded on the traditional model. This means sourcing, sales, collections all of which ran on pre-pandemic tracks, are now disrupted. Rather than seeking opportunities only, we owe it to these entrepreneurs to ensure their business revival. It is the need of the hour. 

Why would you recommend the CIMA C-Suite Business and Finance Programme?

I participated in the CIMA C-Suite Business and Finance programme and completed the CGMA qualification. I found the programme to be stimulating and well designed to meet the demands of a C-Suite professional.  I agree it is a good programme for senior leaders who are ready for the next step.

As the CTO, what opportunities do you perceive for the organization?

Accelerated progress in digital banking, creating digital financial inclusion for Sri Lankans is the single biggest opportunity. The need for enhanced information security has come to stay for the industry. So, gaining competitive advantage in being able to offer safe and secure banking puts you on the top. Last but not least, “Build great customer journeys, and banking becomes a solution to the problems every day for your customers.” – Brett King, Bank 3.0

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