Most Powerful Women in Banking: Ernie Johannson, BMO Financial Group

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Group Head, North American Personal and Business Banking

Some executives might look at a smattering of branches in a state and wonder how they could ever match the growth of bigger banks.

Not Erminia “Ernie” Johannson, who viewed BMO Harris Bank’s relatively light branch presence in states like Arizona and Florida as an opportunity to pursue aggressive growth in digital deposits.

The branches gave the bank some brand recognition, she said. It just needed to build a platform to open savings accounts digitally, which it accomplished in a six-month crash program staffed by a cross-functional team and dubbed Project Kermit.

“It was a landmark move for us because it changed even the culture of our organization,” said Johannson. Such an effort would once have taken 18 to 24 months. Now, she said, Project Kermit is a model for similar initiatives underway for small-business and mortgage products.

The U.S. unit of BMO Financial Group began collecting deposits online in summer 2019, and the total climbed to $1 billion in nine months, with customers coming from all 50 states, an equally important benchmark.

The digital platform feeds real-time information to the bank, so it can quickly adjust pricing as needed and test different strategies on various customer segments, said Johannson, whose role was expanded in March. She had previously been group head of North American personal banking and U.S. business banking.

Johannson’s innovative approach carries over to BMO Harris’ philanthropy. She was instrumental in helping create a new program called BMORE that is designed to train future bankers from two low-income neighborhoods in Chicago. Through this program, the bank plans to hire 10 people this fall who will be coached on the job for a year by Cara Chicago, a job training and placement provider for people living in homelessness and poverty.

For the first time, American Banker's Most Powerful Women in Banking celebration is open to the whole financial community. Join us virtually October 6-8 to hear our 2020 honorees' stories and experiences. Register here.

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Consumer banking Commercial banking Ernie Johannson BMO Harris Bank Women in Banking