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June 10, 2016

The Lazaridis School of Business & Economics recently welcomed back one of its own, Bill Downe (BBA ’75), for its ongoing CEO-in-Residence speaker series. Downe, CEO of Bank of Montreal (BMO) Financial Group, was on Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus May 16 for a Q&A session moderated by Steve Balaban, an investment management instructor at the Lazaridis School.

During the Q&A session, Downe explained how branch activities and the behaviours of customers are changing, and how technology is making things simpler: “with a touch, you can make that payment.” BMO was the first bank to implement an online wealth management service also referred to by some as “robo advisors” – and did so by creating the technology internally, taking the features of the advisor platform and making them available to the self-directed client.

However, Downe realizes that there are certain things that benefit from human interaction and in spite of the rise of new technology, acknowledged that while simplicity and convenience are important, BMO strives to build trust. “We’re in the relationship business,” he said. “If we don’t see the world through the eyes of our customers, we’re not doing our job.”

Downe also imparted some wisdom about the importance of money management and, most importantly the benefit in setting aside some money for a rainy day. “There is a great deal of importance in saving,” he said. “Great fortunes have been built on putting a little away.”

Downe also touched on the importance of customer loyalty, and how the most successful companies focus on providing an experience that delivers meaningful value to customers. Companies who provide this kind of differentiated experience are far more likely to have customers try and adopt new products.

“It isn’t every day that students, alumni, faculty, staff and community members have the opportunity to hear directly from one of Canada’s leading CEOs,” said Micheál Kelly, dean of the Lazaridis School of Business & Economics. “We appreciate Bill Downe sharing his expertise with the Laurier community and the continued relationship we have with BMO as an exceptional employer through our co-op program.”

Downe will receive a honourary Doctor of Laws from Laurier at the June 17 spring convocation ceremony on the Waterloo campus. He was also named one of Laurier’s 100 Alumni of Achievement in 2011.

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