This is an Interview series of Visionary CRM leaders who are leading companies in turbulent times. As part of this series, you can hear first hand on what motivates them, habits leading to their success, how they are handling COVID 19 situations and traits they look for when hiring resources. If you are a salesforce admin, developer, or person looking for a career change, these interviews will provide you insight on positioning yourself for success with IT teams, understand key skills and habits to elevate your career.
Meet Frank Ferriola – SVP, First Trust Bank.
Could you tell me how you got started in an IT career and ended up in your current role?
Frank: I’ve been in banking for 31 years, spending 21 on the Operations side, 6 in Treasury Management, and then the last 4 in my current role as Head of Enterprise Solutions which is a strategic technology role. I’ve been with Firstrust Bank for 26 years overall but I left from 2010 – 2015 to pursue other banking opportunities and to expand my knowledge in the industry. While I was away, I was introduced to Salesforce and it became a large part of how I managed my operations. Upon return to Firstrust, they were in the midst of partnering with Salesforce and as the only person with previous experience, I was asked to lead the implementation project and accepted. Enterprise Solutions was born out of our Salesforce implementation to manage strategic technology direction for the bank and I jumped at the chance to be part of what I see as the future of the banking industry. My educational background is in Journalism and writing from Penn State University.
What was your childhood dream career and why?
Frank: Growing up my dream was to be a sports reporter/announcer and I got to live that out partially as a reporter and editor for the Daily Collegian in college. I was able to cover some of the greatest football, hockey, and basketball teams in the mid-’90s and it was an incredible experience. An important note here – I mentioned previously that I have had the privilege of working at Firstrust Bank for 26 years. I started when I was just 15-years old, which put me in a unique position to learn the industry from an early age so while I always wanted to be a sports reporter, banking is in my blood – I’ve never worked in any other profession.
What is the one habit which you tend to do on a regular basis which has made you successful in your career?
Frank: I am an early riser and tend to get into the office several hours before the majority of the bank shows up for work. I spend the first 30 minutes of each day organizing my thoughts and the 1 or 2 primary goals I expect to meet for that day and how I will get those accomplished. We all have more tasks on our lists than we can count, more deliverables than we can hope to churn out in the timeframes expected, and more meetings eating up precious time that could be used on those tasks and deliverables. I find that if I have a good game plan and really focus on those primary tasks, I somehow find a way to navigate all the other distractions in a day and get those done. It’s never easy, and sometimes it just doesn’t pan out but when you close the laptop at the end of the day, there’s no better feeling than hitting those goals. And if I miss, I already know what’s going to be the first goal on the next day’s list.
Can you talk about your most recent project which you completed with Salesforce, what business results did it achieve, obstacles or challenges you faced and how you overcame it?
The top of mind would be building out the process for the SBA Payroll Protection Program. Using a combination of Salesforce Communities, Lightning Flow, and nCino we delivered a workflow that allowed us to manage the intake, review, and approval of these loans all while providing incredible insights with dashboards and reports for our senior leadership. I think the biggest challenge was time. The SBA was continuously refining their guidance which I think put a lot of banks at a disadvantage in terms of knowing how to process these loans. This created a developers nightmare – having to build on the fly, with little to no requirements, directly in a production org! Luckily, I have a tremendous team that took this head-on, worked tirelessly, and delivered a process that allowed us to have a very successful outcome. As a result, in just over a month we were able to process nearly 40x’s the number of SBA loans we normally process in an entire year.
We had to implement the PPP program within a day of changing requirements daily, every day releases, sleepless nights with the team, and implement point and click solutions which would help in quick maintenance. We had a small team and still have to manage support, production deployment, weekly releases.
What is your leadership philosophy and how do you keep team engaged and motivate them?
Frank: I am blessed to have a great group of teammates that are constantly engaged and really love what they do in the strategic technology space. To see how they all rallied around the design and build necessary for the PPP and Deferral processes couldn’t have made me prouder to be able to work with each of them on a daily basis. I would say one of the best practices for a technology team is to ensure there is a healthy challenge amongst the team. I have tried to ensure I have a mix of different personality types so that each member brings out the best of the others when it comes to critical thinking, design, build, etc. By ensuring there is a challenge, I can be sure we are delivering the best solution to our end-users and/or our customers.
With the current COVID 19 situation, what are 2 or 3 key challenges you faced and how are you managing them effectively?
Frank: This one is probably the same for a lot of companies (especially banks) and teams out there, moving from a primarily in-office to a remote work environment. While working in the technology space and with a great partner like Salesforce lends itself to make it easier to transition to a remote workforce, for a business that doesn’t have that muscle built, it was a rough few weeks back in March. For my team, I started with two daily team check-ins – one early morning and one end-of-day. As part of the larger incident management team at Firstrust, I aligned my team calls to take place right before my IM calls so I could have any necessary information to report to the larger team. So a lot more meetings than a typical day, which as we know presents the challenge of taking time away from actually doing the work. As we’ve gotten into the groove now many weeks later, the meetings are down to only a few times a week so I think we’ve all adapted well. The other big challenge, but in a very welcoming way, there were a number of folks who were not heavy Salesforce users prior to the lockdown. The benefit of COVID 19 was the immediate and full-on adoption of the platform. This resulted in a hairy few weeks of password/authentication issues, re-training on where to go in the platform for certain things, and of course a slew of new user requests for enhancements!
If you want to advise students who are looking for an IT career or people who want to shift their career to IT like sales, marketing folks on Salesforce products as an example, What would be the 2 or 3 things you would advise them to follow now to get a job quickly?
Frank: I have had the luck two years running now where I’ve been able to hire full time a recent college graduate that spent the year prior to graduation interning with my team. In both cases, these individuals studied in the technology field. My other team members did not go to school specifically for technology but have transitioned over the years and are now certified in a number of Salesforce credentials. All this to say that we live in a time and have access to technology that anyone can learn and be successful at turning into a career if you are dedicated to the cause.
For us at Firstrust, it’s all about the customer experience and efficiently providing that experience to both internal and external customers. This is the way the technology world is shifting with rapid speed so if you get behind the reason we do what we do and have the dedication to learn the new technology, there will always be a place for you to help drive those experiences in any line of business.
How was your journalism degree and your passion for doing journalism in your earlier days helped you in your current job?
Frank: The reason I am asking is that there are folks from different backgrounds who feel that IT does not fit them. There are two things that stand out when I think about how my background in Journalism feeds into my role today. The first is being able to use the question “Why?” until it’s almost absurd. When you are a reporter, you need to ask questions, and follow-up questions, and then questions about the follow-up questions. Being able to keep asking “Why?” when it comes to your end-users proves extremely valuable when trying to trim the fat and get down to the true requirements of a project.
The second thing my degree helps me with is I have very sound writing skills. This is especially helpful when crafting communications to the organization about process changes, functionality releases, etc. Writing skills have also benefited me greatly over the course of my career when needing to communicate upward to not only my manager but also to the rest of the Executive team. Clear, concise communication makes delivering project recommendations, approval requests, and status updates run very smoothly.
What are some habits or rituals you do with the team like recognizing a team member, motivating them, etc which you have been doing on a consistent basis to help you in your leadership role?
Frank: I am lucky to have a team that is very motivated and really seems to enjoy being able to design and implement new functionality for our business partners. I do however try to call out “thank you” and acknowledge the dedication through Teams, Chatter, or email on a regular basis. I also make it a point to get the team together outside the office at least once a month for a non-work happy hour or meal. I think the team gels very well and being able to spend time on a personal level while also thanking them for all the work they do is a critical part of our success. We celebrate birthdays and have regular zoom happy hours to raise the morale of the team.
Could you list me 1 or 2 skills you look for in hiring folks both IT or soft skills which will help other folks to prepare for their jobs?
Frank: I am a trusting person by nature so I have always tended to rely on a resume from a technical perspective. What I mean by that, is if I’m hiring you for a Salesforce Administrator position, I am putting my trust in that your education, skillset, and accomplishments are a true representative of yourself.
What I am more focused on is how you will fit culturally within my team and also within the larger organization. I look for skills like confidence, can you be an influencer with your peers and with our business partners. Do you have the personality of a change agent and can you help to move our organization forward? There many individuals that have the technical skills but not everyone fits into the cultural aspects of the organization which I think is the most essential part of any new hire.
Interviewing Frank was a great experience for me. His dedication and promptness in answering questions and always willingness to help were certain key traits I experienced with him. To sum up Frank’s Success in his Career has been the result of the following
- Dedicated to one industry domain and become a specialist in that Industry throughout his career
- Always learning with technology, challenging the team, and provide opportunities for the team to grow based on their preference.
- Looks for soft skills like confidence, passion to influence others, and be a change agent as key skills to select candidates.
Frank M. Ferriola, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at Firstrust Bank, BA in Journalism from Penn State University and a Graduate of The ABA Stonier School of Executive Bank Management. I have over 30-years’ experience in banking primarily focused on Operations, Technology, Treasury Management Sales, and Customer Service. Currently, I direct strategic technology at Firstrust Bank which focuses on identifying, analyzing, and implementing new technologies to help move the organization forward in the financial services space while creating a world-class customer experience.