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Startup spirit in a traditional industry: Unleashing innovation at Banco Itaú with Priscila Bezerra

May 5, 2024 / 34:45 / E53

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Creating change is hard. Creating change inside a traditional bank? That's a whole other level of hard. Today's guest is Priscila Bezerra, Head of Martech and Digital Acquisition at Banco Itaú. In this episode, she unveils the secrets behind instituting change inside a century-old banking institution with over 100,000 employees.

Priscila shares invaluable lessons on embracing a startup mindset, taking calculated risks, and identifying strategic starting points in a composable transformation journey. Hear her advice from a four-year transformative journey that is helping to redefine traditional banking. This episode is a masterclass in innovation and change management.


01:16 The challenges of innovation in a century-old bank
04:25 Building the martech foundation at Banco Itaú
06:03 Deciding where to start with composable: Overcoming cultural and operational hurdles
11:37 The Importance of "the people part" in technology transformation
18:00 Creating a startup mentality in a traditional bank
21:24 How the perception of martech has shifted inside the business, four years later
24:49 The importance of preserving the "startup" mindset after initial successes
28:52 Advice on maintaining personal motivation and choosing your battles

Jasmin: Hi, welcome to People Changing Enterprises. Today's story of transformation is extraordinary. In a way, it touches on every theme we've ever covered in this podcast-- tech strategy, resistance to change, and stakeholder management. But it does all that from a completely new perspective. Our guest, Priscila Bezerra, is helping a hundred-year-old bank, Banco Itaú, the biggest bank in Latin America, to transform its smart tech operations so they can be around for the next 100 years. Hear her advice on where to start when you've got nothing but uphill battles, how to create a startup mentality inside a traditional company, how to hire and motivate people for transformation, and get inspired by Priscila's pure passion for change.
I'm your host, Jasmin Guthmann. Please enjoy this episode with Priscila Bezerra.

Priscila: My name is Priscila Bezerra and I'm the Head of Martech and Digital Acquisition at Banco Itaú. We are a hundred years old bank, the largest bank in Latin America. And we have almost over a hundred thousand employees—and more than 60 million clients in Brazil. So you can imagine how big we are. I have worked my entire life in advertising for digital agencies. I've never thought about working in a bank. And when they invited me to join Banco Itaú four years ago, it was this challenge to bring in change, create a Martech department, add marketing and technology, and try to make the bank go forward and start beating at the same level as the fintechs and so on.
As I told you, it's a hundred-year-old company, so making any change is difficult. We are more significant there than some big cities worldwide, so it's very complex.

Jasmin: Right, I mean, think about that. A hundred thousand people is a lot bigger than a lot of places all around the world.
Yes. Ad agencies and banks are on opposite ends of the spectrum, right? Regarding everything, work ethic, conservative versus open-mindedness, and being accessible to do whatever you think are on the brink of innovation.

Priscila: Yes. Initially, I thought, Oh my God, what have I done with my career? It was not easy. To make everything worse, I started Banco Itaú two or three months before the pandemic. So before, people stayed home, and everything was remote. But the main point is that I'm not the only one with this profile. Like creative agencies and other marketing segments, I had to modernize the bank like a modern company, even though we are a hundred years old.
I couldn't do anything in a bank alone if the bank didn't decide to move forward with technology like this. Sometimes, it's a battle of cultures when you get someone working there for over 20 years. And it's widespread. They said, like, come on, you're here, just two or three years now, and you're saying that I need to change how I work? I said, yeah, we need to change something like that. So sometimes it's hard. The board is really committed to that. So I guess I had help to move the stones I needed to.

Jasmin: What goals did you have for the transformation of building Martech out at Itaú?

Priscila: For me, it was like building a house. Initially, I thought this is Latin America's most significant, prominent bank. And, of course, everything is rocket science, technology, etc. And then when you pull the blanket and start to see things inside, you say, okay, so things are not the way I imagined them.
And so there's a lot of work we can do here, but just like building a house, you have to build the foundations before you think about what color you paint that wall. So, in the beginning, it was a foundation work in terms of replacing old technologies with new technologies and choosing the best team and the best people. What kind of mindset do we need to build in the team to meet that challenge and to get to that transformation? So initially, it was all about foundations, for example, the website, which was one of the main channels for us to go on our acquisition journey.
I had to wait four weeks to put a campaign on because for all my structure, and infrastructure, I needed to do it faster. Come on, four weeks?! So what do you think about that? So that was the kind of problem that we had four years ago.

Jasmin: Composable is such a big project. How did you decide where to start? Where did you start, and where did you go, sort of as a second stop?

Priscila: Initially, we had clear pain points inside the marketing team, like a lack of time to market and organize a campaign. We wasted a lot of time for our analysts since we wanted to put our communication live on our channels. The process was very complex, and it took a toll. Working at the central bank in Latin America, six hours from your eight hours a day, has its challenges, like the ticketing process. It was confusing for me to understand why we were doing that. Then I started thinking, what is the first thing I need to build here so I can walk? Okay. It's a floor. So let's build a floor. We owned the non-logged Martech channel at Itaú; the others had other owners. We took that as the starting point and started taking care of our own channel. We have our home here, so let's build this.
We started by changing the channel and creating a marketing operation– an area inside Martech- to make that process smoother. I wouldn't say more accessible, but I would say more intelligent to work with. These were our first two goals.
This would help us evolve our thinking, and we could start thinking about, okay, now we have a channel and a running communication process. And now I don't need to wait a month to put a campaign on air. I can do that in three days. Okay, that's fine. What's next? I'm going to personalize it. How can I use the data? Hey, get data, guys. Come on, let's combine things here. And how can I go? So it was like a natural pain point discovery. We grew up fast while mining for data.
Selling to the clients was a significant challenge, but we knew we had some considerable activities to do before we could talk about that.
It was our first challenge.
Martech, for me, is more of a concept than everything else. But when you talk about Martech for marketing, you think about stacks, tools, channels, and so on. And, of course, you know, a new way to operate, combining what you are; otherwise, you're going to have the best tool in marketing but no one to operate them.
So, the beginning was to take out the garbage. Let's start building the foundations. Let's get more clients, improve their experience, and help the bank become competitive with its leading players, such as fintech.
So this took us, I would say probably a year and a half just to set those foundations and have a competitive time to market. Now, I can have a channel with intelligence and then I can talk about data, where I can talk about personalization and best experiences for my clients.
It took me about a year and a half to build these foundations and to bring the team together, understand our challenges, and start. Changing the way we were doing things and becoming more competitive and our time to market is improving our performance index for our channel are good.
I would say that this is a three-pillar commitment, which includes stacks, the best tools, and operations. It's only possible to have the best tools in the market if someone can operate them. And, of course, people. I've often wondered why the technical part is not the hardest one. The hardest one is to change people's culture and to change people's minds.

Jasmin: Absolutely. And I couldn't agree more. And that's the red thread that we see throughout all of the conversations we're having. Most people say the tech part is the easier part. The people part is the more challenging part. And I wish somebody had told me before how hard it would be because I would have spent more time preparing for the people component rather than focusing so much on the tech component. How do you get buy-in for a change? One part is the board, of course, but more importantly, all the people that actually have to work with the stack and the tools to your point. You can have the best tool in the world, but if people aren't willing or able to use it, then it's a costly waste of time.

Priscila: Yes, for a major part of my career, I have been like a project manager person. That means I do a lot of work with people. In the past years, when I was managing projects, I used to make a joke and I said that my main goal was not to deliver a project. It's to deliver a project without killing people. Of course, it's just a joke. When I started at the bank, there wasn't a Martech team. I went there to build up the department to draw into, of course, to help to be, to create that. But so I took some part of other teams that were there. I said, okay, now we are a martech team.
What is Martech? I mean, what are you doing? It's like we are a technology; we are a marketing. What are we? So I can say that I spent quality time in the beginning, my first months, with people understanding who I had by my side, who the team was, their primary abilities, soft skills, hard skills, and so on.
I'm telling you all of this because this is something really important. When you said to me, Oh, I've heard that sometimes people say to me here at this podcast, this is so important; I wish someone had told me about this earlier, so I'm telling you, invest time talking and understand the people you have. This was the first step to creating the Martech team and how we are starting to build things up. And the other thing I think is very important is having a clear and straight-to-the-point purpose.
Why are we doing this? What do we want with that? If it's unclear to you and your main team, how can you engage someone else? How can you explain and teach someone else what you are trying to do, convince them, and make them together? So, many other departments in the bank don't know what MarTech is; what do you guys do, really?
And so from my side, there's a lot of financial department that I said, what really, Oh my God, you do that. Well, that's so nice. These things happen in a hundred-year-old company with a hundred thousand employees. However, one of the main things is to translate the technical part of the business and understand how to get things done. We did something small in the bank to prove some value, and it worked. So how can we scale that to cover all the banks with this minor part when you go to all of your stakeholders? So this is another point. You have to identify the main stakeholders or partners in the organization who will help you, who will understand what you want to do, and who will help you change that because it's a lot of work. There are a lot of changes in the way people work. Taking that first example, I told you we had four to five weeks to put a campaign on air to build up a simple lead acquisition page.
You click on the banner, and you go to the page, and you have to put your name and your email for four to six weeks. And I said, Oh my God, I went back 15 years in my career, but that's okay. That's fine. Let's go. Okay. So, taking this example, when you create a proof of concept of that, and you said, if we change the way and the operation, we can do that in one day, not in four weeks.
By simply translating the technical part to the business part, you create a clear challenge and start sharing these with the other areas because you need help. You sometimes need alignments, works, channels, structures, architecture security, etc.
You have to deal with all of these areas. Having people in your team who also can talk to and explain to people and have that kind of soft skills is way more important than having someone with 200 degrees.
So what's more important is your ability to learn about a new thing than the minor technical skills you already have. So, it was essential for us to start building this journey. It's like having the right people to clarify the challenges and identify the main stakeholders so we can make our alliance.

Jasmin: That's amazing because you've created a startup mentality inside a very large, very old organization. How did that work for you?

Priscila: That's absolutely the thing. We say here that we really work differently from the main part of the bank.
And you know, I'm not saying I am right, and the rest of the bank is wrong. No, I'm saying that I need to work differently for what I need to do. And that's fine. And we should be able to live in the same place. It's worth it. So yes, Martech and all the acquisition areas must have that startup mentality; otherwise, we can't do anything. It's easy to stop a project by saying, "Oh, that's the process. It's not going to work. Okay. So let's not do it." Now we can say. "Oh, okay, so I face a challenge. There's a stone here. I can do that."
It's essential to take risks. And I say that to my team every single day. I'm here for you. I'm here to help you the same way I have my boss to help me; otherwise, nothing can be done.
So let's make this new culture that the bank has, that the bank is really into putting in, let's make it happen on a daily basis. So we have to take risks. Another joke I said to my team, you know, "If in four years in the bank, I haven't been arrested because of the things I did here, then we're fine, then we can continue doing what we do".
There's nothing called we can't change that. Why not? I talk to a director and ask, "Hey, can you tell me why we cannot discuss this change with the people who are like two or three levels up there? Yeah. What's the problem?" So that fear, that's something a hundred year old financial bank has to fight every single day to keep that mentality alive. Otherwise, it's very, very easy for you to fade away.

Jasmin: No. I admire you because you're the change maker. Sometimes annoying person, right? To the director, that goes, "Oh, Priscilla again. What does she want this time?"

Priscila: Yes, my job is done here. See, that's great because what works for you doesn't necessarily work for me and vice versa. And I think that part of the brilliant mindset that we have installed is we don't have to be the same.
But you know, the good news is I'm thrilled when I see traditional companies like Itaú are making an effort and trying to change things because what brought us here in the last hundred years is not what's taking us forward to the next a hundred years.

Jasmin: Now that you're four years in, would you say that there's more acceptance for the MarTech team you've built, in general, how would you rate how far you've come?

Priscila: Over the past four years, Martech has been growing inside Banco Itaú, and the bank has realized that we are making more than just projects combining technology and marketing. So, we are still Martech today, we are out of the marketing department. We are in another area we call shared experience, which is more across areas for solutions and for stack and everything, for every channel, and so on.
We also have a very clear focus on digital acquisition. We are here to help the bank in its digital journey acquisition with all of our knowledge about stacks, operations, and people, then test and learn. We are growing up. I would say that the house's foundation is now built; we have the walls and the roof, and we are starting to make things internally. Like, how can we make it look nice and bring more intelligence to this home? It's huge. Now, when I look back over the past four years, I say, "Oh my God, how many things we did and how many things we transformed and, Oh my God, how many things do we still have to do over and over again?"

Jasmin: It's a never-ending project. If any of you have ever built a house, it never stops, right? And I mean, just sticking with the house example, you had to put the foundation and the floor in, and then you can start thinking about how you would attract prospects if you wanted to set up shop in the house. How do I convert prospects into customers? But initially, you didn’t know which street you would live on.

Priscila: In the beginning, it was easy to see those pain points. And it's funny because now, and we are at the start of the year, we are now thinking about our, you know, OKRs and our projects and what we're going to do and so on.
This was a conversation that I had with my team at the end of the year. Then I said, you know, it's starting to get hard for us to understand what we need to do or what we will need to focus on. It's a good problem. I say it's good because we have many things to improve. That's why the startup mindset is still necessary: every project I start here or every product we start creating can be massive.
How can I prove the value? First, I start with a proof of concept and work from there. Begin testing it. If everything is comfortable, we can scale it.
So that was the kind of mindset that we have tried to be for over the past four years. And it's still important and still valid. And I believe that it's going to be important.

Jasmin: What's next?

Priscila: Well, so what's next? That's a lot of things that are coming out. I don't know where to start.
First and the most important thing is not to lose this mindset, people, and commitment. It's very easy to lose something like that. If I leave the bank this year, I want the place to keep having the same mindset, and the people are there.
So, it's a very important pillar that I am working on. And now we are working on how to do things even faster than we do with more intelligence. We are using more hours of cross-data and personalization, making our channel even more relevant to our clients and making a one-to-one experience. I would like to have one different channel for one of the 60 million clients. Because you, Jasmin, have one profile that's totally different from mine. But if we talk about it, we are two white women, but we are completely different. So, my big dream is to help them improve that. And, of course, to be even more relevant for the bank and the client. When the client needs something from us, the experience should be great, and it doesn't matter if it's in the application, the website, the SEO, the social media, whatever. So there's a lot going on. And that's where your composable tech stack really comes in handy because it enables you, as a team, to go where you need to go to change what you want; you are much more flexible than if you hadn't chosen that as your foundation.

Priscila: Yeah. Because we would be somehow stuck in any part of the process of channels. So that's why it's very tricky when we think about what we will do next.
Everything that we do, we can impact 60 million clients. Thus, we must be careful about marketing, regular regulations, and security. Since we are a bank, the regulations are pretty strict, and I wasn't aware of them when I first came here.
I think that's something I have been learning throughout this journey at Itaú. I never spot and be comfortable in my life and career.
If you think, okay, that's fine. Now we're good. You have to change yourself, how you work, and how you think. Challenge yourself every single day. Otherwise, we will continue with our hundred years old thoughts.

Jasmin: Any advice for the people listening on finding what you're passionate about? How did you find your thing?

Priscila: Everyone has a way to keep themselves motivated, and so on.
I like what I do. I really like my job, even though when I graduated from advertising school, I knew I wanted to work with digital agencies. That was the only affirmation that I had in my head. And okay, that was my career. But now, I keep moving forward. In the bank I am doing things that I like, along with things that I don't like.
You have to change with that culture, and you have to prove it to people, and you have to do the same meeting a hundred times to tell the same thing to different people to prove that's the way the game is. And that's okay. And I'm okay with that. What really keeps me motivated is that I can help a hundred-year-old company change a little bit in their thinking and working.
Maybe it does not work for everyone, but at the beginning of my journey at Itaú, I was motivated to connect with the people, understand the team, start building Martech, hire the right people for the right places, and so on.
Once I overcome the challenges, what's the next challenge? It keeps me alive. I need to work with a company that lets me do things I need to do. In that way, we move together further and grow.

Jasmin: Agreed. Wholeheartedly agreed. That's been in the back of my mind the whole time we're talking. Your playground is so much more limited than other people's just because of the industry that you're in. There are all kinds of bells and whistles that are mandatory for you that others don't even need to think about. Is that something that attracted you to the field?

Priscila: No, it definitely wasn't the kind of thing that attracted me to this field. But it's part of the business. And when you think about it, I want to give my client the best experience; you have to think about that because we're talking about people's lives and money.
And there's starting to understand, of course, how the main behavior of our clients in our channel in the beginning really helped me to think about that, to think about all of these issues and all of these kinds of things. Like more, you know, carefully. And I said, Oh my God, really? Anything we do here, we can impact like 60 million people in Brazil that need to go to the bank and check if they are everything.
Okay. Every Monday morning, because that's what they do. And so. So it was really something that I was even, you know, aware of all of these kinds of things here. And some of them are really challenging, for example, like the cookies management and third-party data and everything and what people can, you know, consent to give us the information or not.
But this is challenging for me, and saying that, okay, I just need to be more relevant with my own content. This is for Priscilla, the advertising girl, it's, it's, oh, I love that. Okay. Let's do it.

Jasmin: I love that you're choosing your battles.

Priscila: Absolutely. Yes. This is important because there are some huge challenges. As I say, there are some stones here at the bank that I cannot break. I could start now; ten years from now, someone could do it seamlessly. So, I will focus on what I can do and the ones I can with help. And I think this is very important for any company, industry, or environment to choose our battles.
Otherwise, we're going to battle for everything and conquer nothing.

Jasmin: Thanks for listening to People Changing Enterprises. Contentstack, the leading composable digital experience platform for enterprises, brings this show to you. Got a question or suggestion? Email us at If you like the show, please leave us a rating or review on Apple podcasts.
We'll be back next week with a new episode, helping you make your mark.

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