Leading with strategic thinking, analytical skills, business acumen, financial literacy, and adaptability, David Donovan
provides innovative solutions to global markets investment banking and asset management clients.
As the Executive Vice President at Publicis Sapient, David executes and spans all significant assets with a strong understanding of facing challenges.
David has led several transformational programs for many of Sapient’s largest clients. In addition to leading transformational programs, he has also been responsible for shaping some of Sapient’s most prominent outsourcing and co-sourcing relationships related to technology and business operations. We caught up with David and discussed his professional journey and what he aims for in the future.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Briefly describe your professional journey up until now.
I currently lead the Global Financial Services Practice for America for Publicis Sapient and have P&L responsibilities across the Americas for setting global strategy and driving revenues. I am proud of the wonderful team I lead, where we work with some of the largest and most innovative financial services institutions, helping them with strategic digital transformations to solve complex engineering challenges.
Looking back at my professional journey, I can break that into two distinct parts. The first part of my professional journey was where I got to learn the business by actually working in the ‘business of finance’. After graduating from Boston University, I worked for 13+ years on the trading desk of one of the largest asset management firms and, over the years, led technology trading desks during the significant growth of technology IPO/M&A activities.The second part of my career journey involved building teams and capabilities at scale and leveraging technology to provide services to some of the US’s largest and most innovative financial services players.
Last 18+ years, I have put on my consulting, strategic adviser to -C-suite executives hat. I am proud to be involved with multiple strategic initiatives helping digitally transform banks, capital markets, and equity trading platforms and leveraging globalization to reduce costs and grow revenues.
What challenges did you face along the way?
Any career journey goes through its own unique set of challenges. Everyone experiences their ups and down. Sometimes those are macroeconomics related – market shifts, global changes, to sometimes organization dynamics. I have had my fair share of challenges and opportunities. Some of them were market drives – from the 2000 .com crash to the 2008 financial services market crash. Working in those challenging market environments required developing innovative ways to manage teams, clients, and markets. I would say the biggest one for me would be transitioning from being in the business to providing services to the business. It took me a transition period to adjust to and understand what it takes to be a value-added trusted adviser. I was fortunate that having worked in the industry for several years allowed me to indeed be in the customer’s shoes and build on services and capabilities.
What significant impact have you brought to the financial services industry?
From running a trading desk and now in the consulting technology space has allowed me to offer unique insights to our customers. What I am most proud of in terms of impact on the industry comes from seeing our large and marquee financial services customers build strong digital technology foundations, build partnerships with fintech and make their customer lives more accessible.
We at Sapient have been able to offer a unique perspective on doing engineering at scale to provide cost-effective digital transformations that have significantly impacted our customers. From building digital banks to unique cross-border capabilities.
Tell us about Publicis Sapient and its foundation pillar.
Publicis Sapient aims to be a new breed of digital transformation partner. What is needed today is a combination of vision to help companies identify where they can create value and the capabilities that help them achieve it. We can straddle those two worlds and help our clients determine the right things to do as well as execute. It’s about transforming and innovating clients’ businesses to create exponential value by driving new revenue growth, increasing operational agility and effectiveness, and creating better customer experiences.
How does Publicis Sapient promote workforce flexibility, and what is your role?
Our culture is one of our greatest assets and allows us to deliver better client outcomes. Much of that culture stems from our workplace flexibility, where we have won numerous awards for Diversity & Inclusion, LGBTQ+ equality, and working mothers, including a recent 2023 Great Place to Work certification, which highlighted the fact that 94% of our people cited the benefit of being able to take time off, among other highlights, as one of the reasons why they like working here. We place great importance on knowing that our teams deserve a healthy and supportive workplace. We have programs that support that, including a Work Your World program that allows any employee to work anywhere on the plant where there is a Publicis Sapient office.
What is your take on technology’s importance, and how are you leveraging it?
“All companies are Technology companies” is a saying which has been talked about in the corporate world now in a digital native and digital-first generation. So as an organization, I believe technology, the right strategy, and execution can make a crucial difference in a company’s competitive position. We serve as and have earned the trust of senior C-Suite executives with our clients so that they turn to us for advice on technology and digital transformations. We leverage our deep understanding of technology, understanding the domain into how clients can benefit from leveraging technology.
Technology, and especially what it can do, is an incredibly noisy field. From AI to Machine learning to Metaverse to digital currency to cloud and more can overwhelm the best amongst us. What we also pride ourselves on also is that our teams are made up of practitioners who are avid learners, technologists, and domain experts. We leverage these abilities to leverage ‘real value’ to our customers, separating the signal from the noise. Technology, for the sake of technology, offers little value to organizations. Making it impactful is what makes me so proud of our teams.
What will be the next significant change in the financial services industry, and how are you preparing for it?
I am sure you can write this in your sleep. However, an excellent spot to highlight the Gen Z material here: The most significant change impacting the industry will be the growing segment of Gen Z entering the marketplace and bringing entirely different behaviors compared to previous generations. Current stats show that less than half of them have a traditional bank account, representing a massive opportunity for banks to win them over.
However, these banks will have to look beyond just offering a checking account and lending product. Gen Z, and Millennials, for that matter, want better, more personalized experiences and to connect with brands they feel are authentic and trustworthy, including financial institutions. Banks need to start taking steps to showcase trustworthiness and transparency, offering options for ESG-linked investing and making commitments towards preserving the environment. Gen Z also craves financial literacy and wants to learn about finance in new and innovative ways.
To attract and retain younger generations, banks will need to develop products that offer educational value. They are looking for frictionless and seamless experiences. Banks should focus on simplicity and ease of use while using data at a granular level to ensure that young people are reached in a way that shows they are “known” and “understood.”
What are your goals in the upcoming future?
We at Publicis North American Financial Services have built an engine to offer engineering solutions to financial services customers at scale. We currently have between 400 and 500 million. My goals are to continue to drive the practice to a billion in revenue annually and change how consultants partner with the FS ecosystem. We believe in true partnerships and have a stake in our client’s success and not just another vendor, which is why we have the trust of some of the largest financial institutions.
What advice would you like to give the next generation of aspiring business leaders?
The next generation of leadership has grown up in a digital-first, knowledge economy and has a tremendous opportunity to make a difference. My advice would be for the next generation of aspiring leaders to be bold, curious, learn, and be willing to take calculated risks and find organizations that support their value systems and beliefs. Career paths are a journey and unique to you, so find roles that challenge you personally and professionally and contribute to a larger goal and not just offer short-term monetary benefits.