When looking for inspiration for information technology systems, this CTO finds it on a paddleboard — off the coast of Peru
When stuck on a problem at work in Lima, Peru, Mauricio Alban-Salas has a trusted solution: He heads to the ocean for a stand-up paddle session. “It’s all about listening to the water,” he says with a grin. “Just like creating IT systems is about listening to people. In both, you have to wait, see the opportunity, and then act fast.” As the chief technology officer of BCP Bank — the largest bank in Peru — Alban-Salas is part of a company with more than USD 38 billion in total assets and 17,000 employees. He joined in 2016 to overhaul BCP’s entire IT architecture after doing the same at Itaú Unibanco in São Paulo, the largest bank in South America.
Throughout his career, Alban-Salas, 56, has used technology to transform institutions, pushing the world forward with his groundbreaking innovations. But when asked what the secret to success is, he simply shrugs and starts talking about surfing, architecture, or cooking with his partner (chef at a top restaurant in Brazil). Every aspect of Alban-Salas’s life, he says, ties into how he designs technology systems. “If you really want to do something with technology, you first have to understand people,” he says. “There is creativity and artistry, but overall you must listen — and then you will be successful.”
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Where were you born?
Madrid is my hometown. My father worked for the United Nations, developing agricultural techniques in different countries, so I truly consider myself a citizen of the world. Even now I usually only spend three to five years living in a country.
What’s one of the most memorable moments of your early career?
I was working in IT at a bank in New York during the early ’80s. And one day, Steve Jobs came in to sell NeXT, his new computer system. This was when he was between jobs at Apple. It was an amazing computer, completely visionary. Meeting Jobs and seeing how his mind worked inspired me to follow his ideas, to try to follow his creativity, his innovation. His mind was incredibly quick. But more than that, I realized he didn’t just have a vision — he also was able to sell it.
Fast-forward a few decades, and you’re at BCP. What are some challenges you faced when you first joined the company two years ago?
When I first [started working with] BCP, I told them I’m not an efficiency architect — I’m not there to simply help them cut costs. I’m a transformation architect, working to help businesses interact with customers in a different way. Today enhancing customer experience is paramount. This has been a wake-up call. So, at BCP, I wanted to create an omnichannel experience in which customers can move seamlessly from one channel to the next, receiving personalized treatment every step of the way, which requires technology such as artificial intelligence.
How are you transforming the future of banking?
I’ve only just started [working] at BCP, and so I have not yet begun the major transformation. At Itaú, I worked with IBM extensively — and that partnership was a truly powerful tool. They were an innovative partner every step of the way in IT transformation and data management transformation. IBM brought some great concepts, including data governance, data structure, [and] leveraging the information of the bank’s 100,000 employees. They introduced the role of the CDO, or the chief data officer, [to me and my colleagues]. In terms of surfing, IBM has been like a great coach, helping me to catch the waves.
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