Q&A With M&T’s Michelle Trolli, On American Banker’s ‘Women to Watch’ List

By Matt Glynn
The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Michele D. Trolli never thought she would end up working in Buffalo, at M&T Bank Corp., until a persistent recruiter persuaded her to come for an interview a decade ago.

Now, as executive vice president and chief information officer at M&T, she is overseeing sweeping technology changes at the Buffalo-based bank.

American Banker just named her one of 25 “Women to Watch” in banking and finance. If that’s not enough, she also helped relocate a polar bear cub to the Buffalo Zoo in 2013, in her role as a vice chairman for the Zoo.

The Cleveland native is quick to share credit, whether for the American Banker recognition or coordinating Kali the bear’s flight from Alaska to Buffalo aboard a UPS plane.

Trolli’s M&T duties have grown in importance as the bank upgrades its online and mobile systems, anti-money laundering systems, and data centers. She also serves on the bank’s management committee.

Q: What was it like to be named one of the Women to Watch?

A: My name is on the plaque, but certainly my job is a team sport. So there’s about 3,000 names I’d like to add to the plaque with me. … It’s a bank award, it’s not just me. It’s good recognition for all of us.

Q: How did you come to M&T?

A: It was actually about 10 years ago that I got the first call from the recruiter. And I lived in San Francisco, and I can remember the recruiter saying, ‘I’ve got this great job,’ and I said, ‘I’m just so happy here, I have no reason to move.’ It was like the third call and he said (the job) was in Buffalo, and I just laughed and said, ‘Are you kidding? I’m not interested in moving.’ He tried one last time, and said, I promise, it’s the last time. And I came and interviewed. I interviewed with the management team, I got to see (Chairman and CEO) Bob Wilmers and (then Vice Chairman) Mike Pinto, and I fell in love with the bank. I moved four kids, two horses, two dogs, a cat, two hamsters and a husband. We moved from San Francisco here, and we would do it 11 out of 10 times again. Everyone loves it.

When I did come here, I had responsibility for technology and back office operations. My job now has expanded. In addition to technology and operations, we have consolidated our lending support systems, so I’ve got lending services. I also have responsibility for our enterprise bank-wide transformation group, which is looking across the bank at how we execute our processes and ways to improve that for our customers and for our employees. I also have corporate services, which includes our facilities and real estate management and procurement area. And then I have responsibility for alternative banking, which is the non-branch side of retail banking, so I have the telephone and the online bank and the mobile bank. … We’re also working on a new online capability that will be coming to a terminal near you soon.

Q: The bank relocated its data center within Amherst. How has that worked out?

A: (This month), we completed the last move. There were 37 components of the move, and we’ve been moving pieces and parts since January. The mainframe moved in the summer around the July timeframe, and then we had some network equipment, routers and such, that we just moved, so our data center on Commerce Drive is lights out, and our new data center at Park Club Lane is our primary data center.

That’s the culmination of, I would say, four years’ worth of work. You obviously in technology really have to be looking at trends way in advance, and looking and understanding about your power, your heating, your cooling, your space. It was about four years ago that we identified we’re going to need to do something, and we identified we had to do something with both our backup center and our primary data center. (The backup center is in Delaware.)

To date, we’ve invested over $70 million in both of those. … To say, though, that it’s ever done is naive. There are always new opportunities, new threats, new considerations, new technologies that offer us better ways to process. We’ll always have a continued investment in the data centers. It’s not a one-and-done.

Q: M&T has put a lot of resources into upgrading its anti-money laundering systems. What is the status of that work on the technology side?

A: We have been tracking on schedule. I think that’s the most important thing. We said we were going to do a number of things. We said we would establish a (know-your-customer) program, we said we were going to establish a remediation process for high-risk customers, and we’re on track with the technology solutions that we’ve put in place.

We’re on track with the training out in the field, because it’s not just about the technology, it’s about understanding about how to interact with the customers to collect the information, and we’re on track with our remediations. It’s another one of these cases, though, even though we’ve made tremendous progress, this is an environment that, in the banking industry, I don’t think it’s ever going to be static.

Q: M&T officials have talked about building a state-of-the-art anti-money laundering system. What does that mean for you in your role?

A: I think as we’re collecting requirements. We can’t just think of the here and now, we have to be able to imagine what’s next. And although a requirement might not be to include a certain transaction set, we know that it’s going to be relevant, so let’s build the architecture so that we can eventually pull that in it. You can’t just build to the current regulation.

Q: How do these technology investments by M&T impact all parts of the bank?

A: Customers are demanding more capabilities, and we listen to the customers. … In August 2010, we introduced mobile banking. We now have over 800,000 customers using it. That adoption rate is well beyond anything we’ve ever seen, if you look at technology from years ago. … So we know that we’re building it, and they’re using it.

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