The Women to Watch: No. 18, BMO's Alex Dousmanis-Curtis

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Group Head, U.S. Retail and Business Banking, BMO Harris Bank

BMO Harris Bank’s 2011 acquisition of M&I Bank in Milwaukee roughly doubled its assets and greatly expanded its footprint, but the integration took a toll on customer service and staff morale — particularly in its new markets.

By early 2013, only one bank in the Midwest had a worse customer approval rating than BMO Harris, according to an annual survey conducted by J.D. Power & Associates. In the same survey just a year earlier, BMO Harris was ranked among the best banks in the Midwest.

To reverse the slide and revitalize the retail business, senior leaders in 2014 turned to Alex Dousmanis-Curtis, then the head of private banking in Canada for its Toronto-based parent, BMO Financial Group. It was a wise move.

Customer satisfaction scores, which fell following the merger, are once again rising and for the first time in years the $130 billion-asset bank is adding retail customers. Last year, with customer acquisitions up 30% over the prior year, Chicago-based BMO Harris started to regain some of the market share it had been losing in Wisconsin.

The improved performance of the retail bank — profits are up nearly 33% since 2014 — can be traced in large part to Dousmanis-Curtis’ decisions to eliminate sales targets for customer-facing employees and invest more heavily in technology.

Rather than tracking performance by products sold, Dousmanis-Curtis switched to a new model that emphasized customer satisfaction, resulting in significantly higher employee engagement scores and, in turn, improved customer loyalty.

Meanwhile, improvements in the bank’s mobile offerings, streamlined application processes for small-business and home equity loans, and a new partnership with Allpoint (which has vastly expanded the bank’s network of surcharge-free ATMs) have all helped BMO Harris attract new customers.

Dousmanis-Curtis said that a pivotal point in her career was accepting a lateral move within BMO Financial to head the Canadian private banking business. At the time she held a high-level post in retail banking, overseeing 6,000 employees, but her direct boss insisted that the new job, in which she was responsible for just 750 employees, would greatly improve her leadership skills and set her up for larger roles down the road.

He was right.

“Had I not taking the private banking role, I may have limited my capacity to learn and perform,” Dousmanis-Curtis said. “I can attribute my success in my current role as a group head to this position, which directly prepared me to lead a business segment.”

This article originally appeared in American Banker.
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