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Shortly after Matthew Soto signed up with Ally Bank in 2008, he got cold feet. A completely online operation, the company had no branches or branded ATMs, a feature that initially appealed to Soto. The weight of the era’s financial crisis, however, was enough to send him back to the traditional world of brick-and-mortar banking. Back then, at least, it felt safer.
Eight years later, Soto, an IT and operations expert, began working with SunTrust Banks, an American bank holding company. There, he heard more and more conversations about the reduction of physical banking locations, causing his mind to wander back to Ally’s model. “I started putting the pieces together,” he says. “Traditional banking, especially with millennials and their growth in the marketplace, is going the way of the telephone and CD player. Also, I couldn’t have told you the last time I stepped foot into a branch.”
As fate would have it, Ally came knocking the following year. An executive recruiter with the company reached out, and Soto not only found an organization that, with its digital services and suite of products, was disrupting the banking industry, but also one in the midst of a major evolution itself. Now, as Ally’s executive director of infrastructure operations, Soto is working to help the company achieve a new equilibrium after years of outsourcing while also developing a more robust operations organization.
“My passion comes from challenging people to stretch themselves and watching them succeed.”
For Soto, the challenge is also part of the appeal. “We’re not a Bank of America or Wells Fargo, you know? We don’t have a huge war chest and/or mass amounts of individuals to throw at problems,” he says. “We have to be very selective about the opportunities that we go after, and we have to do it fairly quickly to keep our competitive advantage.”
Soto says his first goal in his new role was to address the company culture. “That highly outsourced mentality still existed,” he says. The result, he says, was a lack of accountability and clarity throughout the organization. First and foremost, Soto worked to ensure that every employee knew exactly what they were doing and why they were there.
“We’re not here to turn a wrench,” he says. “We’re not here to install an operating system. We’re here to drive an underlying core set of technologies that enables Ally to disrupt the industry and to bring the best service offerings to our customers.”
Getting everyone on the same page requires transparency, a key component of Soto’s leadership style. It also requires an appetite for change, which can be tough to foster in a workforce whose members are still wrapping their minds around the future. Trust must be cultivated, so Soto’s communications with employees made his role clearer and also provided a straightforward dive into Ally’s financial outlook. “It’s about getting them to see me as a human and to help them understand that their voice matters,” he says. “To challenge the status quo here, they have to have as much transparency with me and their peers as I’m having with them.”
It’s here that Soto excels. It’s also the space where he’s able to fully indulge in his passion for leadership and employee development. “I take immense joy in watching individuals transform themselves,” he says. “I want to help them understand that they have much greater capabilities than they realize. My passion comes from challenging people to stretch themselves and watching them succeed.”
Soto cites the chief information officer of United Technologies, where he worked in the late 2000s, as a key influence on the development of his leadership style. “He showed me the value of a positive ethos,” he says. “In situations, positive or negative, he could rally people around himself and the goal of the organization. That came from his ability to connect with people as much as it came from the ways in which he could articulate a problem, a goal, or a journey. That really was something I grasped onto, and I try to emulate that every day in my career.”
Soto’s colleagues also had high words of praise for him.“Matthew is definitely a change agent, who is focused on meeting the needs of the business and applications at Ally,” says Jeff Worswick, senior client director at Data Blue.“Through his experience and work history he has been able to garner the support of his team, peers, and the executives for the betterment of the Ally, not only to support the legacy environment, but to help Ally leverage new transformational technology.”
Now, Soto is drawing upon those lessons as he guides Ally into a future—a future that finds the organization adopting the unification of software development and operations in addition to a more public-private cloud posture. Already, he’s seen great gains in service delivery. In fact, the company reduced its mean time for repairs from roughly four hundred minutes per incident to less than sixty minutes on priority-one incidents. He’s also introduced network analytics to the organization, which help to better identify trends and patterns.
“For me, it’s great,” he says. “Here, I had an opportunity leave my thumbprint on an organization that started in a really difficult time for the industry but has, nonetheless, developed into a disrupter that’s growing across the board.”
Still, he notes that Ally is just beginning its automation journey. He hopes to have 30 percent of Ally’s incidents automated by year’s end, and he also says that several artificial intelligence proofs of concept are on the docket for 2019.
“We’re going to continue to be as disruptive as possible,” Soto says.