Using Technology to Redefine EY

March 30, 2017

Schwarzman College hosted the EY Symposium on Entrepreneurship and Innovation.  Aileen Tam, sat down for a personal discussion with Global Chief Innovation Officer, Jeff Wong. Read about her conversation here: 

EY is well known as a professional services firm with a strong global reputation and a high performing team culture. I joined the EY Symposium on Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Schwarzman College and had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Wong, Global Chief Innovation Officer of EY, about the work his company is doing to become a tech leader in the industry. It was a great lesson on how EY has reinvented itself by combining traditional “suit genes” and techie “jean genes” and also offered a look into their vision for the next ten years.

EY’s mind of innovation- new innovation department

As a Schwarzman Scholar, I was delighted to speak with Jeff about his decision to join EY and his role in a firm with roots dating back as far as 1849. Jeff is responsible for leveraging his experience in technology to shape EY’s internal operations and deliver better services to their clients. Prior to joining EY, Jeff had worked at eBay for five years where he was the head of eBay’s Business Incubation Group.

When EY called Jeff to discuss creating this new role, he thought about the challenges and differences as an amazing opportunity. “We need to be different in five to ten years. How will we define our firm in the future?” He was energized by the possible changes he could make at EY. “It means a big impact to more than 231,000 staff, and their families and a significant amount of Fortune 500 companies.”

Reinventing EY by combining “suit genes” and “jean genes”

Jeff’s team thinks about what EY’s business will look like in the future and has started to fund internal teams to pursue innovative projects within the firm. “They don’t need to fit in the current organizational structure. We combine groups and try to understand each side- look at the technology today and see how they could work differently. We build prototypes and try to apply it in the real world.” Jeff emphasized that the communication between suits and jeans is where the magic is but also where his biggest challenge lies. It is a day to day exercise for his team. He admitted that both sides questioned each other at the beginning but now collaborate like a startup. EY’s emphasis on tech is also changing its traditional apprentice model. Now, junior staff are teaching teams how to think about problems differently.

What does innovation mean to EY?

EY is not a tech firm, but they are aggressively leveraging new technology to deliver efficient services to their clients. From my conversation with Jeff, I learned that EY is a company that embraces history and change. “We look at disruption from a ‘build a start up’ perspective but also from a technology perspective. It’s the same question of how do we build that business but just through a different lens to look through. AI, blockchain, robotic process automation, and data analytics, are the four named technological areas we are focused on and we are in the process of hiring global leaders who build labs underneath them so we can actually go out and play with the technology that is out there.”  For example, his team was able to train AI robots to read contracts with impressive results. In the annual asset evaluation process, each company has 1,000 contracts and each contract has 100 pages. EY has to go through millions of contracts- an “AI robot doesn’t get tried of looking at contracts,” Jeff quipped. Technology not only means being able to do things faster, but it also means doing business differently.

Jeff’s advice to young leaders

Jeff believes in creating the world you want to live and work in. In our conversation, he emphasized the importance of learning to embrace and adapt to new things.

Aileen will be working at EY’s Beijing office as part of the Schwarzman Scholars Practical Training Program.