TD Canada Trust merger an exercise in project skills

Although the prospects of successfully merging two of Canada’s largest financial institutions within a year and a half seemed bleak, Toronto Dominion Bank and Canada Trust did just that – and learned invaluable project management principles in the process, according to Toronto Dominion Bank senior officer John Davies.

During his presentation at project management (PM) symposium ProjectWorld Toronto 2002, Davies touched on some of the challenges of large scale IT systems integration.

“You never try to build something new- you just go with what you’ve got,” Davies said, adding that in February of 2000, when TD Bank (then Canada’s fifth largest bank) and Canada Trust (the largest Canadian trust company at the time) proposed a merger, an integration date was set for August 2001.

“One of our key objectives was we had to maintain business momentum throughout the integration,” Davies said, adding that the merger needed to establish a consistent TD Canada Trust service culture and brand. “There has been many cases of integration that have not worked because they forgot about the customers and building revenue.”

PM was never used with such a level of intensity and commitment before the merger and creating a technology steering committee that would govern IT systems integration and monitor IT project status was crucial, he added. Some key project management practices included systems selection, implementation strategy, and change, issue, and risk management, Davies said.

One of the biggest challenges was merging two complex IT infrastructures in one technology platform, Davies said, especially considering the tight timelines imposed.

He admits that there was a little bit of luck involved. TD was already in the process of redesigning core applications to “line up” its products and pricing model to look like Canada Trust, Davis said. In addition, Davies noted, TD was undergoing a new pilot call centre technology architecture that ultimately became the convergence platform.

Among the lessons learned, Davis said, was that IT and business are not mutually exclusive. The challenge was to create a business culture where those in charge of integration could “bridge gaps between culture and perception,” he said.

“Live by your plan,” Davies said, adding that test strategy and implementation plans need to be developed early. “Overall governance is key – focus all integration activities through one integration office.”

Integration personnel needed to have a deep understanding of PM practices and company operations, Davis said, adding that staff had deal with complex situations and be comfortable communicating setbacks with senior management.

Despite the best-laid plans, things will always go wrong, Davies noted. “(Integration was) much bigger and more complicated than thought – you don’t know what you don’t know.”

The key to PM, Davies noted, is to have a team with a focus on deadlines and results. “Clearly we had to maintain operational stability in a very large environment,” Davies said. “Strong integration leaders were key…the bottom line is that people made the difference.”

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