Christopher P. (Chris) Higgins

Christopher P. (Chris) Higgins
CIO
US Bancorp

Last Updated: 05/17/2018

Executive Summary

Higgins is Chief Information Officer with U.S. Bancorp, the Minneapolis-based parent of U.S. Bank, the fifth-largest commercial bank in the country. A former 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Higgins joined U.S. Bancorp in 2012 in his present position. Upon leaving the Army in 1989, Higgins embarked on a banking career that, after a four-year stint with Shawmut National Bank. would lead him to spend nearly two decades at Bank of America Corporation. He held various roles of increasing responsibility during his long tenure with the organization, including having direct responsibility for the bank's technology organizations, infrastructure, supply chain and corporate security and operations. Higgins earned an MBA from Pacific Lutheran University.

Personal Attributes and Interests

  • Higgins lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife.
  • He enjoys scuba diving.
  • He is Six Sigma Black Belt certified and earned Series 7 (Registered Security Representative) and Series 24 (Principal) licenses. 
  • Higgins is the inventor of an awarded patent for risk management methodology that combines process and control engineering and Six Sigma to manage Information Security.
  • Way back in 1998 when he worked for Bank of America, Higgins was the subject of a Fast Company article that dubbed him "Mr. Project" and marveled at his talents as a project manager. According to the article, "What are Higgins's action items for keeping projects on track? First, he says, spend less time 'doing' and more time 'planning.' Higgins warns that teams are often too quick to act and too slow to think. "If you spend enough time planning," he says, 'execution time can be very short. If you work on the fly, you do things fast. But you may do the wrong things - which slows down the project.' Recently, for example, Higgins led a 500-person team that had one year to develop a system for BankAmerica to accept deposits across state lines. Everyone was eager to 'get to work.' But Higgins insisted that the team devote six months to planning the system, evaluating business implications, and anticipating technical challenges - all before it wrote a single line of code. After writing the code, the team spent three months testing and refining it. 'My approach is 50% planning, 25% doing, and 25% testing and training. It's a magic formula...'...Higgins has a second piece of advice: Remember that different projects have lots in common. Project teams often face one-of-a-kind challenges: developing new products, entering unfamiliar markets. But not every challenge, says Higgins, requires a unique plan of operation. Higgins first learned this principle in the army, when he was in charge of supplying a Ranger battalion stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. He led a unit of 120 people that supported 650 Rangers. Higgins and his team had to supply diverse missions in four different climates: mountain, tropical, desert, and arctic. The goal was to have the support group airborne, headed to meet the Rangers with the right equipment, 18 hours after receiving its orders. Under the previous leader, the unit never made that goal: Its best time was 72 hours. Higgins's team eventually did the job in 12 hours. How? 'The previous team always waited until it knew where the mission was headed before assembling the gear,' Higgins says. 'But a lot of what the Rangers need - food, medical supplies, ammunition - is the same no matter where they go.' So Higgins and his unit figured out how to prepackage such supplies and how to pack them onto airplanes with maximum efficiency. 'Focusing on what's common between projects is counterintuitive for most people,' he says. 'But it's worked for us time and again.' Finally, Higgins says, project leaders need to remember that their work isn't just about solving problems and meeting timetables. It's also about maintaining momentum and morale. That's why Higgins pays such careful attention to project rituals. From his earliest days at BankAmerica, Higgins began projects with half-day or full-day kickoff meetings that were part work and part play. After a while, he began throwing celebrations for the completion of projects as well. Today fun and games are a ubiquitous part of project life at the bank. 'We create checkpoints along the way, and whenever we hit one, we have a celebration,' Higgins says. 'If project work isn't fun, people won't want to do it.'"

Current Focus

  • Company Snapshot: Minneapolis-based US Bancorp, with $450 billion in assets as of March 31, 2017, is the parent company of U.S. Bank National Association, the fifth-largest commercial bank in the United States. The company operates 3,091 banking offices in 25 states and 4,838 ATMs, and provides a comprehensive line of banking, investment, mortgage, trust and payment services products to consumers, businesses and institutions.
  • What He Brings to the Table: Higgins on his LinkedIn profile describes himself as "a senior executive with a with unique combination of experience across many disciplines. Consistently deliver business results through strong leadership and execution skills. Strong learning agility combined with a collaborative and innovative nature accelerates operational transformation. Builds strong and diverse teams through commitment to associate and management development. Six Sigma Black Belt certified. His specialties, he writes, include:
    • Technology and Operations Management
    • Data Warehouse and Platform Management
    • Operational Risk Management
    • Audit
    • Information Security
    • Business Continuity
    • Process Reengineering
    • Merger/Transition Management
    • Program and Change Management
  • Accelerating Tech Investments: In April 2018, President & CEO Andy Cecere discussed some of the firm's initiatives in the coming quarter with analysts.  "We are accelerating technology and innovation investments spent on initiatives aimed at enhancing the customer experience and leveraging our competitive positioning with a particular focus on payments, digital and mobile banking, and B2B capabilities," he said.  "These investments will position us at the forefront in banking and drive improved operating leverage over the next several years."  Later in the call, Cecere broke the bank's investments into three categories.
    • "I’ll start with the payments categories, and in there it’s going to be a focus on increasing our capabilities around e-commerce and integrated software providers," Cecere explained.  "We are good there and want to be even better in those categories, because that’s where the growth is."
    • "On the retail side of the equation is increasing our digital capabilities," he said.  "We want to continue to enhance our capabilities around the sales side of the equation, offering convenience and speed for customers as we think about a digital-first world."
    • "Then on the business side of the equation, it’s all focused on B2B and the new rails that are being built and our capabilities around those rails, so those are the three areas of focus. The outcome of those would be increased sales activity and customer acquisition on all three fronts, and particularly on the consumer front a more central relationship with those consumers and their ability to expand beyond our footprint with consumer customers."
  • Two Mandates: New CEO Andre Cecere told analysts on an October 2017 earnings call, “We are embracing the new reality of constant change and evolving customer behavior. Our ability to leverage technology and innovation to drive growth and improve efficiency will be fundamental component of our success. While the banking environment continues to evolve, our balance sheet is strong and growing. Credit quality is stable, we are winning market share in our businesses and we are delivering positive operating leverage… At its core banking is a relatively simple business. As with anything execution will be the differentiator. The winners in this industry would be those banks that anticipate customer preferences and deliver the product and services they demand in a most convenient and efficient manner. Towards that end, every single leader in this company is focused on two mandates. First, deliver on the promise of one US Bank by putting the customer at the center of every discussion and every decision regardless which door their customer walk through. Second, figure out how to optimize everything we do whether it's optimizing the customer experience, the distribution model or the customer relationship. Figure out the most efficient and most valued way to deliver the highest quality product and services and then do it. If we execute effectively, which I'm confident we'll, results not only the industry leading but improving returns. And we will deliver those results within the parameters of a risk management framework that considers both the current and future environment.” Higgins was appointed CEO in April 2017, replacing Richard Davis, who stepped down after a decade in the role. A company lifer who has led business units, finance and operations, he most recently served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the company. Between 2015 and 2016, Cecere was Vice Chairman and COO of the bank. Prior to that, he served as Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer. Cecere has worked at US Bancorp’s various predecessor companies since 1985, holding a number of different financial positions of steadily increasing responsibility and authority. He had served as an Executive Officer of the former US Bancorp, including CFO. After the present-day US Bancorp was formed in February 2001 through the merger of Firstar Corporation and the former US Bancorp, Cecere was appointed Vice Chairman, Wealth Management & Securities Services. Cecere holds an MBA in finance from the University of Minnesota.
  • Internal Communications Revamp: Banks with their “legacy systems” - the ultimate pejorative in Silicon Valley - have a better story to tell than many nonbankers realize, Banking Exchange maintained in an August 2017 news story. According to the article, the stereotypical impression of large banks - constrained by cumbersome infrastructure, risk averse, slow to respond to technology changes - has some basis in fact. But not completely. And change is rippling through banks of all sizes. Ongoing modernization is one reason why bank technologist Doug Biever has stayed at U.S. Bank for 23 years - and still finds the work challenging. Equally important, he said in an interview, is that investments in technology are a “big reason why I’ve been successful in hiring new people.” The company doesn’t just invest in core system maintenance. U.S. Bank makes progressive investments in server virtualization, wireless access, network reconfiguration, and other improvements necessary to support changing customer expectations. Biever is SVP and Managing Director of the Distributed Technology Services team at U.S. Bank.His group runs pretty much everything in IT, other than the mainframe, phones, and desktops. Biever put himself through college working at the bank, first as a teller, then, after switching his major to computer science, working in one of the bank’s data centers. Now, Biever reports to Higgins. Although Biever didn’t use this analogy, banks, in a way, are not unlike the military. The mission for both is critical. While changes in military technology often can be seen on the news, bank technology isn’t much on display, other than mobile apps and chip cards. Yet behind the scenes, bank tech has been changing significantly. Banks’ critical mission is to safeguard and maintain customer deposit accounts—what Biever calls the “Golden Records.” The mainframe is the system that does this. Biever notes that mainframe growth is very predictable as the bank regularly makes major investments to keep it ironclad. His area, on the other hand, is where the most interesting change and innovation is occurring. But even there, banks face a different dynamic than nonbank tech firms. “The stakes are high with us,” he says. “As a bank, one of our biggest assets is customers’ trust. We all know that all it takes is one breach.” Pointing to the Target breach of several years ago, Biever says, “I still shop at Target even though I lost my credit card in that breach. If U.S. Bank loses your credit card or your personal information, however, that’s a different story.” That omnipresent concern over security plays into everything Biever’s group does. For example, U.S. Bank is part way through setting up Wi-Fi for customer and employee use in an initial group of 700 branches. The project began about a year ago, and Biever says the team’s initial take was that it would cost maybe $500 a branch with a fairly simple process: Order some routers and plug them into the bank’s network. “It certainly could be that simple,” Biever says. But when you start investigating what’s required to secure the routers properly, he says, cost and complexity rise. “As soon as you start layering in all the security technology, you’re well over $1,000 per branch.” That’s big money when applied across 3,200 branches. The project, however, will bring much more than a customer benefit. It will enable a “refreshing” of branch technology, as Biever puts it; “rewriting branch applications to be compatible with tablets, wireless printers, etc.” One other plus: The Wi-Fi access points have radios that pick up active mobile phones within a certain range. The radios only acquire the phone identification, not personal data, Biever says. Even that bit of information can be useful for staffing or marketing purposes. The branch tech changes Biever describes will impact the bank’s network infrastructure. U.S. Bank primarily uses private circuits to carry branch communications. “Private circuits,” he says, “are very secure, point-to-point connections that do not traverse the internet. They have limited capacity, however, and are very expensive to expand.” His group is exploring use cases for, and in some cases already installing, alternative networks. There are two primary options: broadband and cellular. The bank has already invested heavily in cellular as a backup network, according to Biever. “It’s been terrific as a backup,” he says. “It’s very inexpensive and easy to deploy; capacity is excellent.” In fact, in some cases where a primary circuit “fails over” to a cellular connection, the performance is better. “The problem with cellular is that you get charged by the megabyte,” says Biever, “so it does become cost prohibitive at a certain point.” But data plans continue to evolve, he adds, just as with consumer usage, so it could eventually make sense to run cellular as the primary circuit. Business broadband offers more bandwidth, says Biever. But it is not inherently secure, as it connects right to the internet. A change to broadband makes economic sense for a variety of reasons, however. One is that the bank currently has to cache software patches or distributions out to its branch servers. It does the same with videos. “If we streamed video during the day over the WAN circuit, it would completely consume the bandwidth and quality would be terrible,” says Biever. Biever says the bank wants to eliminate branch servers to reduce costs, and wants to better leverage cloud applications to enhance the customer experience. Doing those things requires a bigger network connection. Security issues have held up the change so far. However, Biever says, U.S. Bank is working on setting up a secure configuration. It could involve encryption, a virtual private network (a “secure tunnel” back to the data center) along with other operational investments. He adds that they have found other banks have adopted broadband only for high-capacity traffic, such as video, while keeping their private circuits for more “quality-based use cases,” and relying on cellular for “last mile” connections - i.e. protecting against the possibility of a backhoe cutting all network lines while digging up the street outside the bank. Biever says he wouldn’t be surprised if more than 50% of U.S. Bank’s branches eliminate private circuits in time. Some of the more remote locations would likely keep them to ensure quality. “If you replace private with broadband and implement all the security controls,” he says, “you can see an average four-times performance increase at the same cost as the original private circuit.” There are other considerations, however. “Broadband doesn’t support QOS [quality of service] features,” says Biever, “and latency is not as predictive due to all the different ways your network traffic can route over the internet.” Despite the need for banks to maintain ironclad security, Biever agrees that the rise of fintech innovation has upped the ante for all banks. He does think the day is coming when fintechs will be regulated. (See Threads, p. 8, for one fintech that wants to be regulated.) For now, Biever says, the fintech companies are able to do things quicker and cheaper—and better, in some cases. Their widespread use of APIs - application programming interfaces - for example, is something U.S. Bank is taking seriously, he says. “Banks will have to either adapt or just hang it up,” Biever adds.
  • Banking with Alexa: The marketplace for Amazon Skills - apps that work with Amazon's Alexa, the voice recognition engine behind Amazon Echo - includes only two financial institutions so far: American Express and Capital One, American Banker observed in June 2017. But Gareth Gaston, EVP of Omnichannel at U.S. Bank, said the bank is launching voice banking with Alexa. Gaston didn’t give a timetable, but said it would be launched with employees first. U.S. Bank wanted to move ahead on this, he said, because it believes voice banking is part of letting people live their lives and bank in the most convenient way. "I personally find it a pain point now to have to pick up the phone and open the weather app," Gaston said. "Who would have thought that the weather app would be a pain point? Now I just say Alexa, what's the weather today? Why can't I just say Alexa, what's my balance?" Working with Alexa is not as simple as it might seem, however. "You think it's just voice banking, it's just asking for your account balance," Gaston said. "Which account balance? And how do you tell them that? Are your transactions labeled correctly so that as you read out transactions to the customer, they make sense? I'm sure we're going to learn a lot as we go live."
  • Mobile Payments:  The U.S. banking industry is launching its answer to the popular mobile payments app Venmo, in what is likely to be the biggest change in years in how individuals exchange funds digitally, Reuters reported in June 2017. US Bancorp and four of the other largest U.S. banks in June 2017 lit up their segments of a new payments network called Zelle, executives said in interviews. They expect another two dozen banks and credit unions to join over the next year. The long-awaited network will allow tens of millions of bank customers to send money to each other instantly - known as person-to-person payments - with a few taps on their smartphones. That is an improvement over Venmo, which immediately alerts users that a money transfer is in progress, but takes time to shift funds between bank accounts. Customers who use existing bank payment apps may not notice much of a change beyond marketing. Transfers will simply happen faster because the banks are finally linking to each other, executives said. US Bancorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Capital One are the first to plug into Zelle. The network is the product of an industry consortium called Early Warning Services LLC, whose seven owners have more than 86 million U.S. mobile banking customers. Zelle took years to establish because fierce rivals had to come together to make it work. In the interim, Silicon Valley has made inroads into digital payments, particularly with the young customers coveted by banks. In addition to Venmo, which is owned by PayPal, Facebook, Google and Apple all offer payment platforms that allow individuals to send money to each other. The banks want to leap over those sleek but scattered offerings by connecting their critical mass of account holders through a single network. "Fragmentation has been frustrating for consumers," said Paul Finch, CEO of Early Warning. "Inconsistent experiences have made it difficult to send and receive money between banks." In a press release US Bancorp said, "U.S. Bank is integrating Zelle – the fast, easy and secure new way to move money - into the U.S. Bank Mobile App and U.S. Bank Online Banking, making it easier for customers to send money to others without the need for cash or checks. Zelle will appear in the U.S. Bank Mobile App and on usbank.com starting June 17. The service will be free for U.S. Bank customers." “We’ve all had that moment when you need to pay someone but you don’t have cash on hand or you left your checkbook at home,” said Gareth Gaston, EVP and Head of Omnichannel Banking at U.S. Bank. “Maybe you’ve come across a fantastic collector’s item at a yard sale. Maybe your niece or nephew asked you to contribute to their fundraiser, but they need the money sooner than the next time they’ll see you, or faster than a check could arrive. Maybe you forgot to swing by the ATM on your way home from a night out and you realize you don’t have cash to pay the babysitter. Today, with Zelle, U.S. Bank customers can quickly send money to almost anyone in the country using only their mobile number or email address. Zelle truly creates possibilities that might otherwise be missed.” Gaston announced the launch of Zelle on June 14 at the Digital Banking Conference in Austin, Texas, where he spoke about the work U.S. Bank is doing to transform banking through innovations such as Zelle. “We’re moving digital payments to the mainstream,” Gaston said. “Moving money faster, more safely and conveniently is important to a broad range of customers. It’s not just for millennials. For a growing number of people who are using their mobile devices for just about everything these days, Zelle is a natural fit.”
  • Hires 'Innovation Leader' to Boost AI: U.S. Bank wants to revamp its Innovation group with a new artificial intelligence leader, Bank Innovation reported in May 2017. The new hire will be responsible for establishing an “Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning practice within the U.S. Bank Innovation group,” including overseeing strategic product development, product innovation, and strategy efforts within the AI space, according to the posting. The Innovation Leader, according to a job posting will be "accountable for creating and implementing a full business case for new and existing developed products and initiatives.  Recommend and lead product development and pilot activities against horizon 2 and 3 initiatives, 3 years timeline to commercially viable offerings with significant revenue and profit potential. … Probable errors would have a material effect on major functions of the corporation." According to the Bank Innovation article, "The posting seems to indicate an increased focus on AI and machine learning within the bank’s Innovation group, which, led by Dominic Venturo, has been at the epicenter of innovation in the past few years. AI is (or should be) on the roadmap of every major player in the industry, and U.S. Bank is no exception. The bank is building a 'future-proof' defense strategy against cybercrime, Jason Witty, the USB’s Chief Information Security Officer, said previously. That strategy, according to Witty, includes 'offering machine-speed data, using external intelligence, and taking advantage of machine-learning, analytics, and artificial intelligence,' he said during the Credit Suisse Financial Services Forum in February. Moreover, Witty said the bank will launch 'the first actual AI engine' for data analytics in March (two months ago). The bank, however, won’t be sharing any details on the tool until the fourth quarter of this year, a spokeswoman told Bank Innovation at the time. U.S. Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment this time around. In any case, we will keep an eye out for the new AI-driven products to come from U.S. Bank (in '3 years timeline,' as the job posting suggests)."
  • Wins High-Tech Award: The U.S. Bank AP Optimizer is the 2017 recipient of the Monarch Innovation Award for Most Innovative New Product, according to a May 2017 press release. Honored by Barlow Research for value, “stickiness,” ease of use and “wow” factor, the product is the first truly digital accounting and payment solution enabling small and medium businesses to manage cash flow in near real-time. Barlow created the Monarch Awards in 2007 to honor innovation in the financial services industry. The awards recognize financial institutions that provide the most innovative products to business customers and risk takers who promote innovation in their organizations. The AP (Accounts Payable) Optimizer, developed in partnership with cloud accounting software leader Sage and MasterCard, allows any customer of the Sage Live accounting solution to have access to the Optimizer’s comparative data. The data shows how their organization stacks up against its peers and calculates the financial benefit that can be realized by making specific changes. Joint customers of Sage Live and U.S. Bank get additional access to a Consolidated Payables tool that lets customers tell the bank which payment method to use for each vendor and when to pay. For the customer, multiple payment methods (check, virtual card, ACH and wire) are streamlined into one simple and efficient process. “The Monarch Awards are highly respected, due to Barlow’s rigorous judging standards,” said Bradley Matthews, head of Middle Market Product & Marketing for U.S. Bank. “Clearly the reviewers recognized the AP Optimizer’s ground-breaking capability to combine practical, cost saving information with easy-to-execute action to help businesses maximize cash flow. That’s a credit to the entire development team from U.S. Bank and Sage.” This is the second time in six months the AP Optimizer has been recognized by third-party evaluators. It was named 2016 New Product of the Year in the Business Intelligence Group’s BIG Awards for Business in November.

Biographical Highlights

  • Born circa 1963.
  • Higgins earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Accounting from the University of Vermont in 1985.
  • He went on to earn an MBA from Pacific Lutheran University's School of Business in 1989.
  • He served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1989, rising to First Lieutenant.
  • Higgins worked at Shawmut National Bank from 1989 to 1993, rising to Vice President.
  • He joined Bank of America Corporation in 1993 and over the next 18 years held the following positions:
    • Enterprise Information Management Executive
    • Chief Information Security Officer
    • General Auditor, Global Technology and Operations
  • Higgins in 2012 was appointed Chief Information Officer at U.S. Bancorp.

Other Boards and Organizations

  • Member, Board of Directors, Elan Financial Services
  • Member, Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation (Minneapolis)
  • Member, Advisory Council, BITS
  • Member, Governing Body, Minneapolis CIO Executive Summit
  • Member, Board of Advisors, University of Vermont Grossman School of Business



Contact Information

800 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN, 55402-4302
United States

651-466-3000

christopher.higgins@usbank.com


Boardroom Insiders Executive Profiles and CEO Biographies

Personal Interests

  • Scuba Diving

Other News and Interviews

Read his April 2017 article in CIO Review, "Reshaping Customer Management"

Read Higgins' December 2016 article, titled, "Technology or business process? Which comes first?"