Wake-up Call | Roberto Mancone: Citizen of the world
A willingness to push boundaries — and a lifelong case of wanderlust — are must-have tools of the trade for this tech guru
Roberto Mancone was born in Naples in 1967, the son of an automotive worker and housewife, and always had one ambition — to escape his hometown and see the world. “I came from a very simple family,” he says. “My parents made a lot of effort to help my studies. I wanted to honor that by working hard to elevate myself, and to travel as much as possible.”
That desire to explore only got stronger once Mancone landed a banking job after college in a small town in northern Italy. “I was always banging on HR’s door, wanting to go experience some new culture,” he says. In 1997, the wish came true. Mancone was transferred to Chicago to help streamline banking operations throughout the United States’ heartland — from Iowa to North Dakota to Tennessee.
The Midwest might not seem exotic to Americans, but the change of scenery inspired Mancone. “In Europe, there are very distinct class considerations. But in America, people are proud of their jobs, no matter what the level of wealth. I saw how Americans took pride in their jobs, no matter what kind [they were], and it helped me to forge myself — to always try to make the best of everything.” When he returned to Italy in 2006, Mancone saw his homeland with new eyes. “I brought everything I learned in the US back here,” he says. “I am now open to the future.”
Between 2015 and April 2018, Mancone worked as Global Head of Disruptive Technologies and Solutions for Deutsche Bank, where he collaborated with European banks to implement technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT). Now, he works as the chief operating officer of We.Trade, a startup funded by a collection of banks that oversees financial systems across Europe. He also travels the world looking for ideas from other industries, from healthcare to medical to automotive. “To learn about your own industry you have to look at the outside world,” Mancone says.
Italy to Iowa — that’s quite a journey. What made the biggest impression on you when you were working in the middle of the U.S.?
I love Italy and my hometown of Naples, but I wanted to be a citizen of the world. To me, the American Midwest was exciting and new. I was in charge of the Rust Belt, driving everywhere from Iowa to North Dakota to Tennessee. I remember sitting at lunch in a simple diner with a bank executive in Milwaukee and he pointed to a waitress, saying, “That’s my daughter. She’s studying but she also wants to earn a living, so she’s here and I’m proud of her. In Europe, because of class considerations, a wealthy manager might never allow his daughter to work like that. But in America, people are proud of their jobs, no matter the level of wealth.”
What prompted you to implement new technologies like AI and blockchain for banks in Europe?
After spending 25 years in corporate banking, I realized the economy, customer expectations and technology were changing, but our business model was not. We were still operating on models we created 40 years ago and this was no longer tenable. I saw something was happening with technology and [knew that] if we didn’t ride the wave then we would we be hit by it. So, in 2015, I told Deutsche Bank I wanted to create a new office of digital strategy, focusing on the three technologies — AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things. At that point, AI wasn’t even conceivable in finance. But I said we had to act now, not wait for another decade. It took me a year and a half to get approval and then only eight months to implement everything, [in partnership] with IBM.
Why, exactly, do you think blockchain is so crucial?
It’s a forward-thinking business model. For thousands of years, importers and exporters didn’t know each other. The first element of the relationship was mistrust. Things were not shipped until money was received, and money was not sent until goods were seen. With blockchain, importers and exporters can do business more easily and securely, because everyone on the transaction chain is independently verified by the third-party bank. For the banks, we can then offer solutions like insurance in real-time situations, depending on what the client needs.
You recently successfully wrangled a group of European banks to collaborate on initiating blockchain. Sounds like quite a challenge. How did you do it?
In January 2017, we decided to create a consortium of major banks from the UK, Germany, Ireland, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. This was not easy. We were managing 150 people in different countries, with IBM as a vendor. We acted rigorously in terms of governance… [and] everyone kept pace, because nobody wanted to be left out. IBM was crucial to the success, providing the underlying technology, expertise and security to see our vision through. Now, we are finally ready to launch in June.
Are you still exploring new cultures?
Yes, my passion is to always be learning from people, from technology, from everything. And I’m still working hard. My brother used to tease me when I stayed home to study on Friday nights while attending university: “Don’t you want to enjoy life?” He still asks me that and I still give the same answer: “I will enjoy it when I get the job done.” I’ve still got a lot to do — but I’m also taking the time to travel more.