TD payments exec: COVID response breaking barriers, spurring diversity
Jo Jagadish has never really met the team she heads as TD Bank’s head of commercial products and payments innovation. She started in April from her New Jersey home office during the peak of the pandemic and hasn’t left.
From the moment she started this role, Jagadish was pulled into marathon meetings by video, phone and text helping with TD’s rapid response to the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, including building a digital PPP app in less than 72 hours.
“TD operates on an agile foundation, so when I started, we were already moving at the speed of a fintech,” Jagadish said. The bank accepted a record number of 100,000 PPP applications in a short window of time before scaling up other pandemic-related services for U.S. and global clients in accelerated time frames.
If there's one clear lesson from the pandemic, "it’s that we can very effectively connect with companies and people not just across the country, but around the world. Fintech isn’t confined to Silicon Valley anymore,” she said.
TD Bank’s U.S. headquarters in Cherry Hill, N.J., is near Manhattan, a major hub for fintech and innovation, but Jagadish says increasingly the fintechs she seeks out are based anywhere her connections and research take her.
“A lot of research goes into finding the right partner, not just from a technical and product perspective but making sure it’s good to go beyond short-term projects,” Jagadish said.
Jagadish became deeply interested in working with fintechs over the past several years, most recently in JPMorgan Chase's commercial banking division, where she was executive director, head of new product development and fintech partnerships. Over more than four years, her position there evolved from heading investment strategy for the commercial bank to developing products and services for the treasury department.
She was spending more and more of her time striking and cultivating fintech partnerships to accelerate product development and get new tools to market faster.
“It’s important to explore the VC community, do market research, study analyst reports and understand the backgrounds of the founders to learn who they are and what they’re trying to solve for,” she said.
Before joining Chase, Jagadish spent several years at Citigroup, where she held key posts including global management of Citi Cards’ franchises, and was vice president and product manager in digital payments.
Citi was among the first banks to launch Apple Pay, and Jagadish had a hands-on role in that deployment. She was also briefly engaged with Google Wallet, which Citi was the first issuer to support. “I really enjoy developing new ideas into new products,” Jagadish said.
At TD, Jagadish gets to draw on all her experience to nurture and develop new products with fintechs, a habitat that suits her even though she acknowledges the hard-driving, entrepreneurial fintech sector is largely male-dominated.
It doesn’t faze her, because she has always considered herself to be somewhat of an outsider who’s skilled at finding her way in.
“My parents were born in India, but my father was a diplomat, so I grew up living all over the world,” Jagadish said.
She attended middle school in Africa (in Namibia) and high school in Saudia Arabia, and also lived in Vietnam, moving every few years.
“It taught me so much about adaptability and range," she said. "In product development, cross-cultural values help you put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you think of the demographics of the U.S., it’s the most racially diverse population ever with a big generational range.”
TD puts a strong emphasis on developing diverse talent, Jagadish said.
“TD promotes talent across every type of background — and whatever your race, if you see someone who looks like you in a senior role, it creates aspiration and motivates everyone.”
The payments industry also has lacked representation from women and underrepresented groups, and Jagadish aims to help change that.
“This is who I am," she said. "I’m a minority woman in payments, but it’s evolving and changing, with more companies focusing on STEM talent. I’m a huge advocate of encouraging women in engineering, because I remember being one of nine women in a classroom of 91 engineering students.”
The summer of 2020 has been a catalyst for confronting social unrest around equality and racial justice.
“As a country, as a society and at our company we’ve had a lot of very different conversations about race, about who we are and what it means to be an American," Jagadish said. "It’s become important to have these conversations, even if they’re uncomfortable. And not just at senior levels but at the grass roots, face to face. At all levels of leadership, these conversations are encouraged and it’s been very, very positive.”
Gradually, the fintech industry too should start to see more diversity, especially as the digital revolution stemming from the coronavirus pandemic eliminates physical distance as a barrier, Jagadish said.
“What we’re doing in fintech — bringing ideas together from people and locations around the world to power new capabilities and toolkits for financial services rails — is really powerful," she said, "and it’s happening at a very interesting time right now in the atmosphere of coronavirus and social change.”