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Making a Capital Investment

Embracing all things digital is a key to this bank's growth ambitions. In fact, its future depends on it.


Thu Jun 08 2023


BMO Financial Group: 2023 BEST Award Winner, #1 Embracing all things digital is a key to this bank's growth ambitions. In fact, its future depends on it.

The worldwide labor shortage of workers with in-demand digital skills numbers in the hundreds of millions. In response, BMO Financial Group, the eighth-largest bank by assets in North America, is taking aggressive steps to build a future-ready workforce to fuel its growth and deliver on its purpose to "Boldly grow the good in business and life."


The company's senior learning officer, Larissa Chaikowsky, is US chief HR officer as well as head of talent reskilling and acceleration. Part of her mandate is to "unlock the power of the many digital development tools that we're incorporating into the bank," she explains. "That means thinking about how we change our approaches to recruiting, talent movement, and skills development."

Another is to democratize employees' career paths by putting the focus on skills rather than traditional credentials when employees apply for an internal position or promotion. "By using a skills-based approach, we will recruit more intelligently, since we will be able to understand the skills and proficiencies brought to the table by a candidate," Chaikowsky adds.Personalized development experiencesLast year, Chaikowsky's team advanced its quest to make BMO a more agile, digital-first learning organization. The engine of its strategy is a human capital management platform. During the past year, BMO has introduced new platform functionalities that identify the skills required for key roles of the future and that help staff evaluate their proficiencies and close their skills gaps. "This gives employees complete control over their own destinies and makes them less reliant on their managers for support," Chaikowsky says.

The employee talent profile is the foundation of the system, inviting staff to share their career histories, skills, and skill interests. Armed with that data, BMO's Career Hub uses machine learning to provide employees with personalized skill development and job recommendations.

"If you have room to improve, the system will tell you the courses you should take to improve them. Or if you possess those skills, it will show you the 10 jobs you should consider applying for," Chaikowsky notes. Lastly, hiring managers can use the human capital management platform to evaluate their teams' collective skill set and search for qualified prospects.

That skills-based development framework is designed to drive a "repeatable cycle" for continually prioritizing skills, using objective (tested) assessments as well as tackling gaps through development planning, reskilling, talent movement, and selective hiring. Employees are seeing the value of this approach: BMO reports a 50 percent boost in the number of staff who have added at least one skill to their talent profile.A leader-led drive for future-ready skillsSenior leaders are driving the digital transformation by equipping themselves with the skills and knowledge required to lead the organization into the future. The effort, building on an already strong learning culture, began in 2021 with the rollout of the Leading Digital First program to reskill the company's top 500 senior leaders. The initiative has driven strong alignment, new skills, and a common language around digital transformation strategies, operating models, technical architecture, data, and analytics.


The company expanded the initiative last year to include all top leaders serving as digital ambassadors to drive engagement and participation. For example, leaders held more than 250 office-hours sessions in 2022 on a digital peer-to-peer mentoring platform.

In pursuing BMO's digital-first development strategy, Chaikowsky says the team has formed valuable partnerships with organizations such as the World Economic Forum; its SkillsLink Alliance is working to create a common skills proficiency nomenclature.Providing level-up opportunitiesIn addition to helping bankers develop future-ready digital skills, BMO is creating opportunities for employees in tech roles to hone their skills and earn credentials in cloud, data, and analytics through a partnership with a third-party vendor. More than 5,000 tech professionals within the company have participated.

To support diversity and inclusion in tech roles, BMO is thinking creatively. In 2022, it partnered with Amazon Web Services and PLATO, a software testing and technology services company "committed to breaking down barriers for Indigenous people through meaningful training and employment in Canada's technology workforce." The result of the partnership is AWS re/Start, a cloud-computing internship program that provides a unique, virtual reskilling opportunity for a cohort of Indigenous talent in Canada. The experience includes a 12-week boot camp followed by a six-month internship in an entry-level tech role in the company, where participants can apply their new digital skills on the job.

It's small wonder the initiatives by Chaikowsky and her team have drawn accolades from CEO Darryl White. "Our talent, inclusion, and learning teams are leaders in the activation of our winning culture. By building a diverse workforce that reflects the communities we serve and delivering career development programs that improve access to advancement, they're helping us make progress on our bold commitments to a thriving economy, a sustainable future, and an inclusive society," White says.

He adds: "This team understands the impact their colleagues make when they help our customers make real financial progress. To stay ahead of dynamic economic conditions, they're dedicated to making integration of new technology and data skills easy and efficient. This is a cornerstone of our digitally enabled, future-ready organization—one that is globally recognized for its high-performing, inclusive culture."


View the entire list of 2023 BEST Award winners.

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Making a Capital Investment


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