Kristiane Koontz, Zions Bancorp. | Most Powerful Women: Next

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Director of banking transformation

Kristiane Koontz calls herself a technologist at heart. But she recognizes that technology becomes more valuable when it’s used to solve problems and spur business growth.

She set out to achieve both of those goals with the three-phase core transformation going on at Zions. The project, which exceeds $100 million, aims to create a single integrated system for loans and deposits that operates in real time. The scope of the work is as big as it gets, affecting most employees at the bank and all of its customers.

“You’re talking about a system that supports more than 1 million depository accounts,” she said. “The core that we’re implementing has to talk to more than 90 other applications. And it’s not like anything is on pause while you’re doing this work. Core transformation is like repairing the plane while it’s in the air.”

Koontz started working on this multiyear project as an outside consultant in 2015. But she impressed the $70-billion institution with her ability to engage and motivate Zions employees to the point where she was hired to continue her role as a bank employee in 2018.

For her contribution to this complex project, she is one of 15 women selected for our Next list. (This extension of our Most Powerful Women in Banking program is meant to highlight high-achieving women in the leadership pipeline who are age 40 and under.)

Zions went live with the consumer loans component of its new system in 2017. The construction and commercial loan portfolio launched in 2019, and comfortably bore the load of Paycheck Protection Program loans facilitated by the company. (The third phase, folding in deposit accounts, is scheduled for 2022.)

Throughout the project, Koontz has kept the more than 400 people involved in the project on track by reinforcing their shared mission: to improve the future trajectory of Zions. She also surveyed her team every quarter, asking whether they felt they were able to make decisions quickly enough and had the information and tools they needed to be successful.

Because she has laid out a clear vision and shown care for team members’ well-being, she is considered one of the best leaders in our organization.
Jennifer Smith, Zions' chief information officer

“We realized that without this ‘radical transparency’ there was no way we were going to proactively address risks and issues before they became something that could impact our timeline or our overall budget,” she said.

Koontz does not shy away from constructive criticism, especially when it’s vital to others’ growth. After learning that women sometimes receive less and lower quality feedback than men – perhaps in a misguided attempt by leaders to be supportive – Koontz reexamined whether she fell into that trap with female employees.

“I firmly believe that people who make it to the senior level weren’t born that way, but were coached and given hard, critical feedback to get there,” she said. “It’s a good reminder that feedback is a gift.”

Nominating executive:
Jennifer Smith
Chief information officer

What she says:

Smith extols Koontz’s ability to keep the company’s core transformation project on budget and on schedule — “quite a feat for a project exceeding $100 million dollars!”— while also leading a team of more than 400 people. “Because she has laid out a clear vision and shown care for team members’ well-being, she is considered one of the best leaders in our organization,” Smith wrote in nominating Koontz for the Next list. “With her leadership we have created arguably one of the best large project transformation teams in the country.”

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Core conversions Zions Bancorp. The Most Powerful Women in Banking: NEXT 2020