So you want to become a Chief Product Officer? Here are 5 things you need to know

So you want to become a Chief Product Officer

We discuss the 5 key criteria of becoming a successful chief product officer in the digital banking and fintech space

The c-suite is becoming a crowded space it seems. With more seats being added to the table, the lines of responsibility between executive officers are increasingly being rewritten. More often than not, this is one of the first challenges faced by a chief product officer (CPO) – a rising star of the executive suite and highly sought after by start-ups and large enterprises alike.

For those new to the concept of a CPO, this is a ‘jack of all trades and master of them all’ type of executive leader that – financial services and payments firms in particular – will pay handsomely for. And perhaps rightly so. This individual will need to distinguish a company’s product in crowded markets, continuously reinvent the next stage of a product’s lifecycle and with artificial intelligence and machine learning entering the market faster than most companies know how to use them, they will be key to ‘operationalising’ increasingly complex technologies.

In today’s ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ business environment, the role is rapidly becoming a vital component in the arsenals of digital banks and fintechs. Whether you’re hiring your next CPO, or considering taking on the position yourself, here are five things you should know:  

1. They need to be a relationship builder

A product leader’s role will take them across a number of business areas, from technology and IT to customer experience and the sales function. They need to demonstrate credible expertise in these areas and manage key stakeholders to gain allies that will aid them on the development journey.

It is critical that they build the kind of relationships with the CTO, CMO and CSO that challenge and push their areas of the business forward without stepping on their toes. Invariably, things will go wrong and these areas of the business will be impacted. The CPO needs their fellow executives on side, especially in larger more traditional organisations.   

In an ideal world, these relationships will have been fostered in the hiring process; with the incoming CPO having the same vision and purpose as the CTO and CMO. This group can then win over other executives and areas of the business.  

Once in the business, the CPO’s mandate needs to be recognised, so that the development journey is viewed as legitimate and credible. Without this, product development will come up against resistance.

2. It is more than just an IT role

In times gone by, the product lead has often sat in the IT function. If this is the case, the product is ultimately sitting in a cost centre; it will be restricted to a diminishing budget line and its true capability as a commercial enabler will be limited.

Often the most effective position for the CPO to hold is with a direct line to the CEO. This changes the perception of the product within the business. It becomes an enabler of growth that drives the organisation into new markets. It also transitions the product from a cost to a strategic investment.

In start-ups, the CPO is often an extension of the founder’s role. However, when the business is ready to scale up, it will need to hire a CPO who can take the product to that next level.

3. The right product team is vital

A product team is, by and large, made up of product managers, UX and UI designers and software engineers. However, beyond these core competencies, a CPO should build a team that is curious, intuitive and always looking to improve the product in some way.

A CPO needs a team that challenges the status-quo and really adheres to the ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ mantra. It’s not just about building a good looking interface or having quirky features. The most successful CPOs will have product teams that can look over the aspects of the product that no one has considered for a while and look at how they can improve it for the benefit of the customer.

The product manager is a key figure in the CPOs retinue. This individual will create the balance across the cross-functional team and will, to some extent, act like a junior CPO. They will be the ‘boots on the ground’ ensuring that functions and stakeholders are on board with the development journey.  

4. The start-up challenge

In a fintech start-up, the role of a CPO is undoubtedly different to that of a large organisation. The main barrier to success can often be the founder – the very individual who gave life to the product. The role of the CPO will be to scale the product so that the business can grow, at the same time as managing the founder’s expectation of what they may have originally envisioned.

A large part of the role will be influencing stakeholders to look past the shiny new technology and solve the problem of why this would be useful for the consumer. The role is very much about being able to switch instantly from strategic thinker to being in the thick of the detail.

5. The open banking opportunity 

As open-banking progresses from regulatory programme to commercial opportunity this presents the opportunity for new applications in the fintech and digital banking space – something that should be front of mind for the CPO.

This includes the potential for real-time international payments. As the number of platforms offering this service increase, businesses will be able to make credit decisions in real-time and liquidity-as-a-service will become more achievable. For SMEs, whose primary bugbear is managing cash flow, this will be invaluable.

The customer will also take centre stage with firms competing to provide the best customer experience, taking their products beyond just a shop-window dashboard and offering a product that will transform consumer payment habits. 

As the industry moves forward with these opportunities, CPOs will be able to solve a whole new spectrum of payments problems, but they will also be faced with an arms-race that is only going to get faster.


john cooke at 30/08/2019 11:10 said:

Good piece, Tim. There's an insider's perspective from an excellent CPO on our website here.

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