Too often the glamour hounds of a business outshine those really getting the job done. Such is the case with Richard Kovacevich, CEO of Norwest Corp., a highly diversified financial services organization that he was instrumental in building from the day he set foot on Minneapolis soil.

An accomplished financial services professional who began his banking career with Citicorp in 1975, Kovacevich is as known for his business acumen and bottom line results as his bold philosophy that marries an emerging electronic world of financial services with a sales-producing physical one where face-to-face contact with customers is encouraged. His market-not gung-ho technology advocates-dictates the timing of Norwest's foray into electronic financial services strategies.

What's fascinating about Kovacevich is his old head for a new industry, in part evidenced by his now infamous "banking is dead" statement and his innate ability to balance Norwest's commitment to technology with its old-fashioned, proven approach to servicing and up-selling customers.

Kovacevich's unflappable approach to his market flies in the face of big technology spending by some rival institutions, a practice that, at times, has a way of making heroes out of spend-thrifts. Kovacevich stands out for his slow, but sure pilgrimage along the electronic highway, one where innovation must benefit not only Norwest, but also customers.

Contributing writer Judith Trotsky, who profiled Kovacevich-1997's FutureBanker of the Year-says that "old-time bankers were friends; they provided advice and all financial needs on a face-to-face basis. They knew you, you trusted them. Conglomeratizing and the '80s changed all this; downsizing produced profits at least partially at the expense of humanizing elements that made good and lasting sales." Kovacevich is confident that by capturing what was good about the old days, he can outsell his competitors, using technology to build complex consumer profiles to feed his well-oiled sales machine.

But Kovacevich isn't alone in his new thinking on an industry rattled by vast change. To keep pace with the rigorous opportunities and demands brought by technology, there is a need for institutions that innovate on a grand scale. As part of our special Year in Review issue, FutureBanker also recognizes Citibank's Edward Horowitz, evp of advanced development. If Norwest's Kovacevich is the banking industry's King Arthur, then Horowitz is surely its Sir Lancelot (For you literal types, I'm not referring to the end of Camelot.). Daring, unafraid of new frontiers and difficult battles, Horowitz, who spent a bulk of his career in the entertainment industry, brings offbeat energy and insight to Citibank. In his short time at Citi, Horowitz is already proving his mettle, cutting several unconventional technology deals that will certainly catapult the institution to electronic banking's forefront.

No doubt, Citi alum Kovacevich is hoping to take advantage of what Horowitz learns. Holly Sraeel Editor-in-Chief sraeel@tfn.com

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.