Exploring the digital transformation of UBS with Group CIO, Mike Dargan

Mike Dargan, Group CIO of UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager discusses how UBS is shifting its digital strategy and transforming itself into a truly digital bank through...

Mike Dargan, Group CIO of UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager discusses how UBS is shifting its digital strategy and transforming itself into a truly digital bank through agile transformation, engineering culture and how this is changing the way UBS is delivering technology for its clients.

Can you tell me a little bit about what’s been going on within UBS’s technology division when it comes to that shifting of team culture?

At UBS, the focus on the culture of our technology team has been something that’s really been huge. We see culture as the platform on which we ultimately do everything else. If we have the right culture, we can deliver on strategy, we can innovate, we can execute. We can therefore deliver great products and services for our stakeholders, and therefore for our clients. Like any platform culture needs to be tweaked, maintained.

What kind of challenges come from cultural shifts? No two people will respond the same way to any form of change, so how do you factor that into this transformation?


In some ways I wouldn’t call it a transformation. I think culture is something that is precious. The culture at UBS is good and special, but I think we’d always look to evolve a culture. So what we’ve done over the last couple of years is we’ve stepped up the focus on our engineers. So we’ve designed programs to raise that profile within firm. We’ve developed a technical career track. We’ve given them much more responsibility.

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How does that approach tie into a wider vision of UBS becoming something of an engineering powerhouse?

We’ve launched a Distinguished Engineer Program. It has three levels, distinguished engineers, distinguished fellows, and then certified engineers, which really lets engineers progress along a technical career path, if you like, rather than a managerial one.

It also recognizes technical achievements with things like badges. In the first 24 hours of launch we were really overwhelmed by the demands. We had 600 people register on the first day, and things like that show us that there is massive demand by our engineering talent and that they want to focus on building things and solving problems.

Technology at UBS is critically important. It’s a very large part of UBS overall. Now the core of UBS is and will continue to be banking, but I think banking will transform more and more to be digital interaction, technology enabled, et cetera. So the importance and power of what the engineers do directly and in the background will become more and more important.

What does agile mean to you, and what kind of things are you doing to take this agile approach?

In some ways, I dislike the word, but in some ways, I love the word. So we need to, as an organization move more and more to being agile. But what does that mean? We want to have expedited delivery done in combination with our partners and really having teams of engineers sit with business product owners and really drive things together. So they need to sit together under a shared vision for that product, understand the same challenges and opportunities and then build the best possible solution for our clients.

Now, we’re doing that in different ways. In the investment bank we’ve got hybrid pods, which is a model that puts co-development with business and technology together. And really, I mean I think the way this has been launched is pretty cool. So it does away with the concept of us in tech and them in the business, but it’s really about shared ownership to deliver products. It’s working. Teams are happier, outcomes are better, new products are emerging faster and driven improvements are happening effectively all the time.

In the digital factories, which we have across the globe, these are really well established across a lot of industries, but we’re seeing a lot of success with the adoption of this model in wealth management. And the proof point is,  we’ve done almost a hundred thousand releases to prod through this year, which is over 10% more than last year. So we are getting more done, better, faster, cheaper.

Group CIO, UBS, Mike Dargan

I understand that UBS took part in a hackathon event, can tell me what exactly a hackathon is?


The hackathon here at UBS had a little over 600 global participants as people coming together over a very short time period, focusing on the solution, bringing the solution together, spinning up a solution overall. Now these are done in different industries, different environments. They can be done for hiring, they can be done for just cracking up a solution. But these are something that I think is a really cool way to get people focused, involved, and bring that culture, if you like, almost back to the day to day.

How are you working to empower your workforce and prepare for the future workforce of UBS?

the most important piece around a culture is how it evolves and how people learn and adapt. Now that I think it’s important almost at any age. Empowerment I think is increasingly important.

We are due to see a lot of change powered by technology within banking overall. I mean, we’re seeing it in all areas. The banking landscape is evolving fast and we need to make sure that our digital strategy enables us to stay competitive.

I think the onus for every individual, for every leader, for every participant is evolving and learning. So I think there are many aspects where the industry will change. There are many aspects we know about, there are many aspects we don’t know about. There will be new technologies and/or ways to use those technologies. So I think it’s also, you know, not to get too buzzwordy, but being very nimble and flexible is the most important.

On a personal and professional level, how do you continuously challenge yourself and challenge your way of thinking so that you stay ahead of the changes in the market?

I’m lucky and privileged that I get to meet many people. I get to listen to many people and learn from many people, both within UBS and in the broader market. So I think recently we’ve been obviously hiring a number of people who have brought in new perspectives and expertise. There’s a whole bunch of people within UBS who I think day to day bring in that expertise from what they do, and what they do day to day, as well as market participants that we meet

What do you think is the key to achieving success in a transformation?

I think there’s really two parts. The first is be curious. Find out what you can learn, what you can experience, what you can do or you can question about how you operate and how others operate and how you can bring that into what you do. And the second, and I give this advice a lot, is to understand how do you continue to be a better version of yourself? Not someone else, but yourself. Challenge yourself to question how you can continually self-improve the person you are, and the one you want to be.

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