As "fintech" becomes the hottest buzzword on Bay Street, the Big Six are on the hunt for a technological edge. For many, it is a quest that is centred more than 4,000 kilometres away.
While Canadian bank executives have increasingly been making pilgrimages to Silicon Valley, Bank of Nova Scotia is taking this interest up a notch. On Sunday, key executives are bringing the bank's board of directors with them.
"It's one thing for myself or my colleagues to get up in front of the board and talk about something," said Brian Porter, Scotiabank's chief executive officer. "But for the board to see a real, live demonstration in the heart of Silicon Valley, we think it's really important."
To be sure, plenty of other technology hubs are sprouting up in the world – including MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and Communitech in Ontario's Waterloo Region – as fintech's profile rises and banks try to adapt to an environment in which new technology can enhance consumer experiences and disrupt traditional businesses.
But Silicon Valley still resonates with blue-chip names. As Mr. Porter said, it is not just a technology and innovation hub; it is also a business hub.
The three-day tour, nominally led by Michael Zerbs and Kyle McNamara, the co-heads of information technology at Scotiabank, starts on Sunday and will take in some of the biggest players in the area: MasterCard Inc., to hear about payments technology; Google Inc., to learn about its corporate culture; Cisco Systems Inc., to understand how a large business can drive innovation; venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, to hear more about how software can disrupt industries; and Wells Fargo's Digital Innovation Lab, to see how technology can benefit financial consumers.
"Our strategy has a lot to do with technology," Mr. Porter said. "In many regards, we are a technology business."
He sees information gathered from the trip falling into three buckets: how payments can affect the bank's retail branches and commercial customers, what new cybersecurity issues are developing and how the bank can use its reams of data to be more relevant to its customers.
"As I've said, the old adage, 'the second mouse gets the cheese,' doesn't work today. Being leading edge is important," Mr. Porter said.
"If we can enhance the customer experience and lower costs, which we should be able to do, that works well for all our stakeholders."