On today’s episode of the Rev-Tech Revolution, we have Tim Brown, Chief Information Officer of Johnson Financial Group. Join him and host Ken Lorenz (our Vice President of Global Sales) for an impactful discussion on balancing insights and innovation with trust, leveraging technology to enhance customer experience, and embracing the latest trends in Financial Services, like AI, responsibly.

Guest: As Chief Information Officer, Tim leads the development and implementation of Johnson Financial Group’s technology strategy to drive the customer experience. With over three decades of experience on the front lines of technology evolution, Tim understands the importance of delivering innovative service solutions to both associates and customers. As a trusted partner and strategic leader, Tim focuses on providing secure, reliable and integrated technology solutions in alignment with corporate strategies. He fosters well-rounded partnerships through accountability and transparency while empowering his team to make decisions for the betterment of the organization.

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Ken: Hello, Tim. Welcome to the rev tech podcast. Really, really delighted to have you on this morning, and why don’t we jump right in?  

Tim: Sounds great. Nice to be able to have some time with you, Ken. Yeah, you bet.  

Ken: So, you know, one thing I’d love to do is I’d love to have you share a little bit with our listeners about your role as chief information officer at Johnson Financial Group. How youve seen the landscape of technology evolve. Youve been at this for, like me, over three decades, going back to your former employer, USAA. So maybe share a little bit with us what youve seen over three decades.  

Tim: Yeah. Well, right out of college, I got hired in as a programmer. And through that journey, there was a time where I said, you know what, managements the way I need to go. And that was after a, another developer who was younger than me, even though I was in my late twenties, took my code, ripped it apart, and re put it back together, and it was like Mozart. It was like, perfect. And I was going through the process of learning, let’s say, object oriented from a structured language like CobOl and P zero one at the time. And that’s when I knew, okay, well, I think I’m going to have to head to management, because clearly the younger guys were really good at this object oriented stuff.  

Tim: And through that journey, I have been fortunate enough to be on the front edge of a lot of technology at USAA, whether it was groundbreaking innovation for the members there, or actually ending up my career there, leading up the innovation IT team for the chief innovation officer. And it wasn’t until I got this little tap on the shoulder from an executive recruiter that said, hey, we have this family owned bank up in the northern part of the country. We’d love you to come and join us and take a look. And I said I was in a position where I was looking to make a transition. And I said, yeah, that’s great. Where exactly is it? And they said, oh, it’s northern Chicago. And I said, okay, I love Chicago. That’s great.  

Tim: So when they flew me in for the first interview, they flew me into O’Hare, and I saw on Google that it was only 45 minutes away. Well, I kept driving, and all sudden I see, welcome to Wisconsin state sign. And I kept going. And I thought, oh, my gosh, where am I going? And here’s where I ended up. I ended up at the most wonderful community bank, a very large community bank that is owned by a family that is well respected in the community. And I became their first ever chief information officer and I thought, wow, what a great opportunity to really make a difference for, you know, with all the experience that I’ve had to for a wonderful company with great values. And I just fell in love with Wisconsin. There might be a lot of Texas.  

Tim: All you had to do is say howdy or hello and you had a friendly face. So my journey took me here and it’s been great ever since. And I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit more about that. But that’s how I landed here and I’m still here today and just really enjoying it here in Wisconsin.  

Ken: Well, that is wonderful. You and I talked ahead of time a little bit. We both spent time in Texas. Great place to be. Being up north is also a great place to be. So I’m going to intersperse a couple lightning round questions in here for you.  
Tim: Just to make it a little bit fun. Yeah, that’d be fun.  

Ken: So the beach or the ski slopes?  

Tim: I got to do the beach. I grew up in southern California before I hit Texas and just loved the beach. Every winter I’m out on the ski slopes as well. But if you had to put me somewhere, it would be the beach.  

Ken: Do you have a favorite beach?  

Tim: You know, went down to Turks and Caicos one time and that is the most beautiful turquoise water I’ve ever seen in my life and it was just outstanding. So that’s a going to be repeat place for us to go.  

Ken: Never been there, but that’s on my list as well.  

Tim: Oh, it’s gorgeous.  

Ken: Awesome. So lets talk about a couple of terms that have changed over the past few years. So digital transformation, it was a big term for a long time. Its almost becoming passe now. I think in the banking world that modern customer experience seems to be taking its place. Talk a little bit about your strategic vision on transformation or modernization. What kind of things are you working on at Johnson right now that would really help your customers?  

Tim: Yeah, I’ll tell a little bit about our story because when I first got here, we had to create an identity for the IT team and they were a typical is shop and really seen as infrastructure not being the forefront of helping the business differentiate and be relevant for their clients and customers. And when we started with just the basics, Ken, of blocking and tackling. But the conversation that I had with the CEO at the time was we have a lot of deferred maintenance on our technology. It was a 48 year company at the time and this was back in 2019. And what we saw was we had a lot of cleanup to do, but we had a lot of modernization. We also had to move forward with just being relevant again to our clients.  

Tim: And so we set forth on a five year journey of transformation and we called it digital transformation. But having done this a little bit in the past, I knew it wasn’t just technological, and I think that was the main thing that we had to share with the board and with the rest of the company is this is going to be a cultural transformation, it’s going to be a business operations transformation, it’s going to be an associate experience transformation. So, and it was, and it’s been a very tough journey. There’s some times where you have some highs and just like any kind of new venture, you have the lows and you have the highs and lows.  

Tim: But now we’re coming out of it, and we’re coming out of it better, we’re coming out of it, positioned for growth and now it’s a matter of taking advantage of that investment. But the company has been through a lot over the last five years and but it’s been a good lot. It’s just, been a lot. It moved very quickly. So the transformation in our world isn’t just about digital. It really also meant cultural and corporate transformation and really bringing our clients along in that journey as well. So it’s been fun, but very much a challenge for us.  

Ken: Well, and you know, I know you’ve done a couple of other podcasts talking about the human side of technology and how that plays a role both for employees and for customers. Share a little bit with our listeners what the human side of technology means for you and how that applies in.  

Tim: Fins technology to me and what I have come to appreciate over the years is it’s an amplifier of the human. And I use the word amplifier, and sometimes it’s in context of the human spirit you would see on social media, but then also about the potential of the human in that case. So what it allows us to do is better at who we are in terms of how we serve our clients and our customers. But it’s not a full replacement, obviously. We want to try to get, let’s say, the repeatable, consistent tasks out of the everyday job and really put the human spirit and the human mind into the relationship. So the more that we can get our folks talking and being there for customers and clients to give advice, then we’ll know technology is doing its job to be able to assist it.  

Tim: And that’s how we look at technology here is, it’s an enabler for our core values, and that’s really around compassion for our client to start with and really being consistent in our delivery of our service to them, because that’s what they expect of us, is that consistency and then really being there. Ultimately, why were formed by Sam Johnson, you know, a little over 50 years ago now, is really to be here for a community. And that’s who we are, where we, who were then, and that’s who we are now. And technology is a great part of that. But again, it’s really the human is the front and center actor here.  

Ken: Sure. So where that starts to get really interesting is when you start introducing things like AI technology. And I’m going to suspect you’re going to tell me your strategy leverages the technology, but continues to focus on that human side. But I’d love to hear that from you.  

Tim: Yeah, no, it’s a great observation. That’s the way we look at this. There’s a lot of hype right now, as you can imagine. Ever since we’ve got, let’s say, the evidence through OpenAI with chat GBT, and now that has become mainstream, there’s this fear of missing out. We’ve got to jump into it. We’ve got to figure out what AI is all about. And we look at it a bit differently here at Johnson Financial Group. The way we look at AI is it’s going to be definitely a game changer in the future. Right now it’s really about how does it augment our current strategy, our current culture and our current relationship with our clients. So we go in this with a responsible use mentality, not with, let’s say, a fear of missing out.  

Tim: Right now, we do take advantage of it through content creation, but we’re not going to outside of our lane and get too risky on this, where we’re jumping into, let’s say, automatic credit decisioning and those types of things, we’re not there in our industry. It’s been matured through the fraud and AML side of what so certainly would take advantage of it there. But we’re going to approach this from a seek to understand first, because my experience, and even using copilot through Microsoft, it’s still young, it’s got the knowledge of the world, but the judgment of a seven year old, it’s still not quite there. So are we going to put this ahead of our folks in the front lines? No, it’s still got some maturing to do. But will it be a partner to help them eventually, yeah, absolutely.  

Tim: So we’re looking to take advantage of that. As our partners start moving in that direction, we’ll be right with them and looking for opportunities. But it’s responsible. It’s about being responsible, making sure that we have proper governance around the technology.  

Ken: Excellent. Yeah. I mean, from our side of it, we hear all that hype, too, around AI.  

Tim: And all the amazing things it’s going to bring to us.  

Ken: I mean, when you think about technology like this, you know, 15 year old technology, right? That is, it makes us smarter, makes us be able to do things or gives us the ability to do things. But at the end of the day, it’s nothing sitting on the table by itself, right?  

Tim: That’s right. You need to be able to apply it properly. And that’s one of the main, let’s say, focus areas that we have around AI or any emerging technology or any technology in general is it’s got to be aligned to our strategic goals and our strategic vision for the company first. So it has to be aligned now, can it disrupt or differentiate? Sure. But that differentiation has got to be in a positive approach from our clients eyes and what we’re trying to do as a community bank in general. So we’re comfortable being relevant in terms of our technology and really differentiating through our people. AI will be a great player, but it’s going to be a supporting actor right now for us.  

Ken: So let’s tie those things together for a second. So Johnson Financial is all about trust and creating that type of relationship with your customers, and then the innovation that you’re leveraging around the technology is in support of that trust. Drill down on that for me a little bit. Youve been innovation and R and D for a long time. How do you take that trust as the pillar to start your innovation? I think a lot of times companies look at new technology and go, what can we do with this? Instead? I think your approach is more, weve got trust built in. How do we accentuate that? How do innovation workshops look like at Johnson?  

Tim: Yeah, Ken, it’s really great. One of my colleagues, Al Arake, who leads up our consumer division here in the bank, he talks about really understanding our clients dreams and their stories. And really what he’s talking about is how do we get to know you, our customer, and our client? And that’s where trust is built, is being able to do what we say we’re going to do for our clients, but then really understanding who they are. And what their story is. And that’s not going to change. That’s where trust is built. Convenience is where technology comes in. Technology needs to make it convenient to be able to have a relationship with Johnson Financial Group. It’s got to be able to make things smooth and frictionless for us and get it right and consistent each time.  

Tim: And, oh, by the way, make sure that we’re protecting your data, your privacy, and making sure that we have you front and center. So it’s really a mindset, Ken, at the end of the day, and that’s how we need to look at technology, as long as technology is supporting those values, you know? And again, we’ll go back. What we use the term here is compassion for our customer. If we have that compassion for them, then the technology decisions we’ll make will always be the right ones as long as we have them front and center. And that’s how we approach it.  

Tim: And even with technology coming along, as it continues to advance, and it will advance and it’s moving faster and it will continue to accelerate as long as we have that trust and that focus as being our primary, that’s how we’re going to differentiate ourselves from some of.  

Ken: The bigs, you know? Exactly. Well, so I want to talk a little bit about future trends, but before we go there, I have a couple more lightning round questions for you.  

Tim: Sure.  

Ken: Just to kind of spice it up a little bit. So a couple of easy ones. Coffee or tea?  

Tim: Oh, I’m a coffee guy. I mean, I probably drink way too much. I have a whole carafe at home because my wife, she’s a tea person, and I get pretty amped up by about 03:00 so maybe I need to bring it down, but it’s the only way I survived, so.  

Ken: Awesome. All right. One of my favorite ones that gets my CEO rattled a little bit. Mac or PC?  

Tim: That’s a great one. So, person, this is going to be kind of two sides of a coin here. Personally, I’m a Mac guy always. I actually had the second version of the Mac when it first came out back in college, and I was actually running a business off of my Mac se at the time. It had all of 25 megabyte hard drive, which I thought was the bomb. I’ve been a Mac guy ever since. But when it comes to corporate, you got to go with pc. There’s just so much capability in terms of enterprise in the protection that we have. So that’s basically how I look at it as a business context. I’ve got to go with a pc. But I love my Apple products. Certainly at home, we’ve got more in.  

Ken: Common than I thought we did. About the same time you were talking about, I was doing development in fourth dimension on the Mac back in the day, and actually built a billing system for a physical therapist while I was in college. About the same timeframe.  

Tim: So. So are you still a Mac guy today, Ken? Are you?  

Ken: You know, I was. I had that experience in the early nineties. Ouch. Was a Windows guy until I joined a CRM software company that put a Mac in my hands and back in 2010 ish timeframe, then I’ve never looked back. Been a Mac guy ever since.  

Tim: Oh, yeah.  

Ken: Yeah.  

Tim: I. Well, I don’t blame you one bit. It’s reliable. It’s always been there. I’m still probably on my 2014 Mac that I’ve had, so. And it’s still working for me. I sound like an old guy now.  

Ken: All right, so now let’s do ourselves even a little bit further. Star wars or Star Trek?  

Tim: I’m a Star wars guy. I mean, when I went to theater for the very first time when I was a kid in the seventies and saw the first, let’s say, showing of Star wars, were there on the day that it opened. It was a transforming experience for me to see it on the big screen. So Star Trek, I always related to be like the older generations, space, and it was kind of cheesy. It wasn’t anything like Star wars. So I am a Star wars guy through and through.  

Ken: Awesome, awesome. Those are some fun topics.  

Tim: Yeah.  

Ken: All right, so a couple more questions for you. Future trends, look down the road five to ten years for me. What do you see as being technology or future trends in financial services?  

Tim: Yeah, it’s a great question. One thing that financial services, it wasn’t until about the mid two thousands did it really start to wake up to technology. And thankfully, I was at a company then with USAA that saw, let’s say, the digital experience because there wasn’t any branches, but we had, at the time, I think we had close to 2 million members that were banking with us. We had about 8 million of our members were on the property and casualty side and that we didn’t have agents. So it was a big call center. So in the advent of mobile computing, that gave us another way to be in the pocket of our clients. And so that became a huge differentiator. So we could actually be there anywhere our member was at the time.  

Tim: So I think technology will continue to be that even when we go five and ten years out. But, you know, computing is going to get closer to you. It’s going to start getting here. We’re, you know, always already starting to look at VR and where that’s going to go. Is that going to change things? Absolutely it’s going to change things. How can’t predict that right now. Like, I couldn’t even predict in the late nineties that I’d put my credit card on the Internet. There’s no way I would do that. But here today, I’ve done it probably three times already today. And so things will continue to evolve and change. So I always see that computing will differentiate the financial services industry. As you can tell now, we’re very much mobile focus, very much digital focus, which is great.  

Tim: I only see that continuing as we go forward. AI is definitely going to play a role. We’ll see how fast quantum goes. But once quantum starts to become more mainstream and more ubiquitous, it may be a past ten years, but who knows? Ten years might be the early for that. That’s going to change our security posture greatly because encryption then becomes a risk. It’s like a child’s toy for quantum. So we’re going to have to address that before it becomes popular. And the other thing that I don’t think we appreciate enough is five G. Five G. And the next generation of our communications is going to open up the pipe so greatly that platforms like cars and all the rest of that will become other places on which financial institutions need to be aware.  

Tim: Because computing, just like all sudden it’s in our pockets with our phones, is going to start hitting in other venues, and we’ve got to be able to be aware of that. Just where is that going to play out in our industry is really tough to see, but it will change. It always has.  

Ken: No, I think that’s, youve got to head on. I think the approach that youre taking with Johnson, focusing on trust and integrity with the relationships and leveraging those future technologies gives you a real advantage. You might be a first mover in a particular technology. You get a short advantage over your competitors, but eventually that evens itself out. And whats left is what differentiates you anyway, which is the trust.  

Tim: Thats right. Our strategy technically is we want to be relevant. We don’t have to be cutting edge. So we need to make sure that we’re relevant to our customers and clients again, that it’s convenient and consistent for them, but we don’t have to create our own innovation center to be able to be at the forefront. Our people do that extremely well. They know our clients, they know this community, they’re from this community, so they know better than any technology at this point. So we’re happy to be a supporting actor to their front relationship with our customers because they can actually engender that trust way better than any technological advancement can.  

Ken: Excellent. I’ve got two questions for you. We’ll go a little off script here, but imagine firing a 21 year old or a 22 year old into your IT organization, new into the industry. What advice would you give that individual today, knowing that they might follow a trajectory like you did in your career?  

Tim: Yeah, that’s a great question, Ken. I’ll tell you what is a couple of things. One would be more tactical, more technical, and that is get comfortable with data, understand data, because how data flows, how it is consumed, will continue to change. But one thing that will never change is data. And you got to understand that, especially as AI starts to move forward and it requires huge amounts of data and computation power to be able to work effectively. You need to understand that space going forward. That’s going to be forever ubiquitous. So understand that space technically other is be open. Be open to all sorts of options. Don’t think that you’re just a programmer in c. You’re not just a developer in this technology. You’re not just a parm engineer.  

Tim: You really need to be able to be open and adaptable as technology continues to evolve. I mean, I started out COBOL Pl one, got introduced really literally about five years later into digitalk small talk. I don’t know if you remember that. Back in the day, object oriented. That’s when I realized that I needed to go into management. But it was something that I think was an eye opener for me. That flexibility you’ve got to have and that adaptability to learn and you’re never finished learning. That’s what’s great about our technology. I mean, our industry is technology continues to evolve and change, and if you’re not adaptable to that, you’re really not going to have a good time in our industry or a very short career. That’s what makes it exciting. So embrace it.  

Tim: We’ve got to embrace that changing and embrace the excitement that comes with technology and the advancements, even the failures. Especially the failures, because that’s the only way that we’re going to learn. So talking to you like a 22 year old Ken, but that’s basically what I would do, is I would want them to catch the fire. Be excited about what we do and never stop learning. And don’t worry about failing, because we all have done it. We’re going to continue to do it. And if you don’t, I would argue you’re not really, let’s say, pushing the edge on what’s potential.  

Ken: Excellent. Excellent. So the last question I’ve got for you is actually yours. So I like to give my guests the last question. Is there anything you would like to ask me that I can answer for you?  

Tim: Great question, Ken. So what is it about technology that excites you, Ken? Why are you here? What is it that makes you just excited about getting up in the morning, in the day? Not the fact that you’ve lost luggage where technology has failed and didn’t do, but talk to me about what drives Ken. What makes you excited about our industry?  

Ken: That’s a great question. The thing that’s probably got me the most excited right now, Tim, when I came into the industry, late eighties, early nineties, I had a desire, a strong desire, to go out to Berkeley and do AI research. That was my background was in comp Sci and psych, and met a young lady who happened to be in the accounting software industry. Hard dog. Left into accounting, which was great and never learned. The college that I went to, the business courses were in the same area as the technology courses. No formal business education. It was all comp Sci classes. So I learned accounting software from the database up instead of the business act went down. But now, fast forward 30 years, and the AI technologies that are coming out are not theoretical like they were in the eighties. We’ve got the compute power.  

Ken: We’ve got the ability to actually leverage these things in large language models and machine learning that we could only really dream about or put it on whiteboards at the time. Well, chalkboards, not even whiteboards. So I’m excited to see that start to come into play, and the kinds of problems that we can solve become much more interesting. And that’s what drives me. What drives me is problem solving. The bigger the problem, the more I get excited. And to be able to leverage these technologies to solve some big problems really gets me excited.  

Tim: Yeah, that’s great. Great answer. I have to agree with you. For me, is being able to make a difference through technology and helping people understand how technology can further impact their lives in a very positive way. It’s a great feeling, and it’s something that I think both you and I gravitate to. So I appreciate you sharing that story. That’s exciting. Yeah.  

Ken: Excellent. Excellent. Well, Tim, it’s been great spending some time together. I look forward to an opportunity to get together with you, either in Wisconsin or down in Texas or somewhere in between, and get a chance to talk a little bit more about technology.  

Tim: Yeah, it’d be great. Well, if you come up, here’s two offers. One is going to be come during the summertime. We have a wonderful music festival here called Summer Fest. It’s one of the largest music festivals in the world that happens over three weekends. Beautiful weather here. You’re not sweating your tail off in Texas. Or actually come for a packer game in December. That’s a real packer game. Not in September. You gotta come in December when it’s cold, you’re rigid. But it’s just so much fun and the beer is flowing.  

Ken: I would love to come up and join you for that. So, Tim, thank you very much. It’s been enjoyable and you have a great day.  

Tim: Thank you, Ken, it’s been fun talking to you, and I hope the audience had a good time as well.  

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