By his own account, Capital One Senior Vice President for Digital Payments and Identity Tom Poole (MBA ’99) was once a “reluctant banker.”
While at Darden to gain a deeper understanding of the business spectrum that supported his job as a software engineer, Poole wasn’t looking for a post-graduation career in banking. However, he changed his mind one evening at a recruiting event on Grounds when he heard CEO Richard Fairbank personally pitch the merits of his small, new company — Capital One.
“Afterward, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is such a different kind of company.’ I was blown away by the energy, the direction and the principles it stood for,” Poole said. “I was drawn to Fairbank’s zeal to build a company synonymous with solution-oriented innovation, future-forward improvement and outsized customer experience.”
Capital One was the only banking institution for which Poole interviewed.
Today, Poole sees himself as a change agent at Capital One, helping envision and realize the technology-driven possibilities that will catapult the company into the next generation of banking. A software engineer at heart, Poole’s passion is bringing to market Capital One’s breakthrough digital products like customized and personalized credit cards, the Capital One wallet, Apple Pay and Capital One’s new virtual assistant, Eno.
Looking back over the past 15 years, Poole says technology has been the industry’s great disruptor — and great enabler — with an impact reverberating across institutions. “It has triggered the gradual evolution of banks,” he explains. “Today, banks are as much technology businesses as they are financial services companies. The transition to banking through digital channels has led to remarkable advances for consumers, not only in the American market but globally. Take Africa, where for the first time mobile payments have empowered millions to pay for goods and services, access loans and send remittances around the world. Or how WeChat has revolutionized the payments infrastructure in China.”
With a laser focus on customer service, Poole holds that the key to successful product rollouts is a single-minded attention to consumer needs. “It’s more than just bringing ‘cool tech’ to market,” he said. “Two critical elements come into play. First, timing must be on point — you have to meet today’s unanswered need, not the one anticipated five years from now. And second, your product must ignite a lightning-quick recognition by customers that a persistent problem they have has been solved, or that a ‘wouldn’t-it-be-awesome-if’ need has been met.”
Poole sees an opportunity for the banking industry to improve e-commerce by developing better protections for customers in using their credit and debit cards. “There are two types of companies — those who know they’ve been breached, and those who have and don't know it yet,” Poole said. “Although the industry does a fantastic job in terms of fraud liability, the frustration and inconvenience that comes in the wake of a hacking incident — new cards, new numbers, new expiration dates, etc. — give us a chance to change that dynamic and develop a safer, slicker, more convenient alternative.”
As he addresses that and other challenges, Poole credits the high-caliber, high-energy teams he leads with helping to make the company’s digital products the go-to choice for millions. He emphasizes Capital One’s core priority to develop and empower the people who stand behind the company’s position on lists such as Best Fortune 100 Companies to Work For, Top 100 Military Friendly Employers, Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality and Best Workplace for Diversity.
“Although in some respects radically different than when I started, across almost every dimension, the company’s grown and excelled because of its cultural commitment to constant, meaningful improvement,” Poole said. “The fact is, there are always new ideas and better ways to do things. It’s up to us to find them for our customers.”
In doing what’s right by consumers, and erasing any and all “pain points” that mar the customer experience, Poole says that “Capital One will continue to reinvent and refine banking by doing what we’ve always done — leverage our investments in technology, innovation and an exacting attention to detail. That’s what makes great companies great.”
If he were to write the script for future achievement, Poole said that his one aspiration would be to launch a product or service that “truly makes a revolutionary and lasting mark across the financial services landscape — something that, across any criteria, undeniably and objectively makes a pioneering difference or solves a fundamental problem for consumers on a universal scale. Finding that innovation would be my Holy Grail.”