As our superannuation system doubles this decade to over $6 trillion, so will its attraction to global hackers. Every chief technology officer (CTO) and super fund board’s nightmare is a Medicare-like data breach. Most CTOs see it as a “not if but when” scenario requiring hyper cyber vigilance.

Meanwhile fund members’ demands for a 24/7 experience, digital innovations and more pensioners mean increasing interactions. This  places more pressure on the CTO to balance a seamless customer experience with strong security.

In previous future leaders’ articles, we met the superhero CEO, the conductor CIO, the ninja CMO, our CRO navigating safe retirement arrivals, and our culture champion CPCO. Now we meet our future CTO also known as “chief trust and security officer” − part 007, X-person and homeland security officer who drives continuous technological evolution.

In conversations with CTOs, they have been dealing with the challenges of finding and retaining top talent, offering flexible, secure work environments, and strengthening security for some time. With distributed teams here to stay, data accessing devices have surged. Add in pandemic-driven burnout and increased regulations − being a future CTO becomes really tough.

The four Ts − talent, threats, tools and transformation 

Talent: In the last decade, attracting great talent away from the tech giants to corporates has been near impossible. While distributed workplaces may have enlarged the pool, there is still a huge skills shortfall. Not having the right talent puts pressure on how fast any company can move regardless of their budget. Digital transformation has dragged just as pandemic-induced shifts have increased demand.

The need to upskill talent has never been greater. Retention should always be key, particularly for our best talent, as the cost of replacement becomes scary. Cross training will become common place. Encouraging talent to join new teams and new projects will fast track skills, improve engagement, reduce turnover and attract new talent.

Burnout will only increase if IT budgets do not grow substantially. Quality IT needs to be maintained and improved while a mindset shift to investment versus cost is needed to lead a successful, safe data business. This approach will attract the best.

Threats: As long as members’ value their privacy and corporates’ their reputation then a CTO’s recurring nightmare will always be a cyber breach. While CTOs are ever vigilant, they know breaches will happen. CTOs already assume “someone is always inside” and will continue to adopt a “defence in depth” approach. They can only build a robust operating environment, be adaptable, partner with the best technology and share with peers their insights to make the system more secure.

Meanwhile regulators globally are ramping up their cyber risk surveillance where failure to adequately deal with cyber risks will end in huge sanctions leading to reputational damage and fund members departing. A challenge for CTOs is finding the balance across a security-pragmatic culture that still allows their fund to operate efficiently. They will need advanced communications skills to ensure all decision-makers understand the existential risks the organisation is adopting if security is not prioritised.

Tools: The CTO complexity challenge is to thread the needle of mitigating current security risks while updating often old IT stacks, supporting hybrid work, building digitisation, all in a future of relentless cost pressure.

Future customers will demand a seamless, omnichannel experience which requires funds to continue to adopt data provisioning within IT, with the best tools and governance, while smart data platforms enable business insights to various teams. Another reminder that data profits and data protection are two sides of the same coin.

Transformation: Digitisation is about people changing their habits. Real transformation is difficult and takes a lot of effort, planning and execution, hence empathy, results and pace all need to be balanced. As successful transformation leaders, our future CTOs will place a large focus on people. The technology is the easy part!

With the future of work being hybrid, the reliability and usability of collaboration tools must allow seamless switching across office and remote working. Well-designed systems will retain and attract talent and customers.

We all expect more disruption from technology. Could a future SMSF be available through a phone app for $100? Could a personal digital finance concierge review our finance needs and prompt us to switch via a QR code? Engagement scores will soar as personal relevance increases. Flexibility, simplicity and agility will win customers!

The financial services industry is one of the most regulated sectors. As regulators respond to community expectations, as trust in institutions falls, the CTO will become a more prominent role while doing less visible but critical work. They will truly earn their “chief trust and security officer” status.

Michael Swinsburg is managing partner at Alexander Hughes Executive Search.

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