Digital transformation. It’s what so many of us are driving toward, regardless of industry and company life stage.  While everyone is focused on technology investments to drive their digital transformation, many people are missing the real point.

Yes, digital transformation is about creating better digital experiences, enabled by new applications of technology. That certainly means transforming how a company engages with clients. But the heart of digital transformation is about the mindset within a company: how much the company obsesses about its clients, how clearly company objectives are linked to client goals, and how talent is aligned and empowered. I’ve identified three key themes for successful people-driven digital transformation.     

1. Put people first — clients and employees

Seeing through clients’ eyes isn’t just a value. At Charles Schwab, where I work, we think of it as the heart of our business strategy. It must steer how we operate. Digital transformation means using tech to automate routine processes. It also means looking at clients’ experiences with empathy: what could we make better, where could we surprise and delight, and where can we remove friction so it’s easier to get better outcomes?


When it comes to financial decisions, people have a lot of emotion based on how they’ve experienced money. By tapping into technologies that help automate routine tasks, we free our people to be available for critical situations, ultimately allowing us to serve more and more clients and meet their needs in a smart way. For example, our “Project Bear” program uses artificial intelligence to scan our client base for investors who may potentially react to market volatility in a way that leads to decisions that won’t ultimately help meet their goals. In volatile times, our financial consultants reach out to these customers to discuss options and ensure they are making smart choices. In this case, technology has not only helped us maintain strong personal relationships with our clients by helping them through tough times, but also drives long-term client loyalty and bottom line financial results.

The heart of digital transformation is about the mindset within a company: how much the company obsesses about its clients…and how talent is aligned and empowered.”

–Neesha Hathi

2. Innovate in big and small ways to solve client problems

Streamlining day-to-day business activities through tech is one of the primary goals of digital transformation. We take client security very seriously, and provide clients several ways to authenticate themselves when working with us.  One popular technique is through a client’s voice.  While the impact of seamless and secure authentication may seem small, the effect of eliminating little annoyances via technology adds up and we know it helps move us closer to an ideal experience for our clients.

Sometimes, the scope of digital transformation is larger. This was the case with Audi. The company was looking to provide an impressive customer experience in the smaller spaces in its urban locations. So it transformed its showrooms to be more digital, with multi-touch tables, tablets and digital walls. The new showroom concept, called Audi City, allowed visitors to explore the company’s entire automobile catalog in-store, and then configure the car of their dreams virtually. For the customer, that’s pretty neat. But more importantly for the business, this approach had the added advantage of allowing Audi dealers to reduce the number of cars sitting uselessly in stock. Audi City led to a significant increase in sales wherever the new showrooms were implemented, and helped position Audi as the modern, tech-minded car company of choice.


3. Be digital — and data-driven

Everyone within an organization should have the ability to influence a company’s transformation. When the leadership team is empowered to address client needs and opportunities – and works toward achieving shared success metrics – we’re able to break down silos and change the way we work to deliver client-centric digital experiences.  For example, when our digital team at Schwab created a streamlined process for customers to open an investment account, they worked closely with the back-office operations team. The aim was to make sure enhancements made for clients in the digital experience wouldn’t create unintended consequences for our back-office employees who needed to perform critical operations to establish the new account. True digital transformation isn’t limited to just websites, mobile apps and voice channels.  To maximize results, we need to create a great end-to-end experience for the client and a streamlined front-to-back experience for our employees.

There’s a lot that mature companies like ours can learn from newer firms. One of my favorite examples of an organization that infuses digital and data throughout its organization is Stitch Fix, a San Francisco-based online personal styling platform. Stitch Fix has infused every area of its business with data to augment human talent, and to streamline operations—from stylists who make recommendations, to merchandising that effectively forecasts trends and inventory needs, to improved logistics in getting your package to you. This data-driven strategy provides the company a high level of agility to adapt to the quickly changing needs of a growing client base. It allows the company to deliver a personalized experience that saves times, looks great and evolves with clients’ changing preferences over time. 

The keys to successful digital transformation include putting people first, questioning the status quo in big and small ways, and empowering employees — from the front-line to the engineers. This isn’t to say technology isn’t important. It’s crucial — but it needs to play a supporting role, not take the lead.