At Salesforce, Nichola Palmer works with customers to bring their stories of innovation and transformation to life. In this new series featuring Trailblazers who are Salesforce customers, Nichola introduces Colleen Toledo from UnionBank of the Philippines. An obsession with customer success has driven the career of this innovator who, until not long ago, considered herself an IT amateur.


There’s something particularly satisfying about feedback from a customer who is thrilled by their improved user experience, Colleen Toledo says. It means the work put in by her team has paid off. Their goals have been reached. It presents the human face of the constantly improving UnionBank experience. 

Colleen’s role as Designer with the Customer Experience Group, is to boost user experience through technology and develop a better understanding of individual customer needs. She has been at the forefront of the banks’s digitisation journey since 2016, when the organisation realised it was time for a technological transformation. 

But the perfectionist in Colleen, the part of her personality that falls deeply in love with the creative power of technology, finds it difficult to accept that she can’t keep all of the people happy, all of the time.

“People have called me a builder,” Colleen says. “If you give me an idea, then I’ll run away and come back and say, ‘Hey, I did it!’ That has been one of my strengths in this organisation and it’s why my career has taken the trajectory that it has.”

“But if people are not happy with the experience, then I’m not happy. However, on the other side, if people say they’re really happy with it then I take great pride in that.”


A passion for change

Colleen moved from her family home on the island of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines to Manila to study.  After she completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics at the University of the Philippines Diliman, she  wasn’t quite sure what path her career might take. As a graduate, Colleen spent around 18 months as a risk analyst at Citibank. She then moved over to UnionBank to take advantage of an early-career management trainee program.

This involved an introduction to the many aspects of the banking business and offered access to career mentors within the bank. It was a defining move for Colleen, who didn’t quite realise what she was searching for until she found it.

“I wanted to find something that would make me feel excited to get out of bed every day,” she recalls. “At UnionBank I went through eight months of rotation, through different business units, from sales through operations and through the back office. At the end of the rotation, the HR manager asked where I wanted to specialise.”

“That’s how I entered the IT scene, but I was very apprehensive because I didn’t have any computer science knowledge. One of the first things I asked my IT manager back then was, "What is a server? I really was that unaware, but I had a passion to learn.”

In the beginning, Colleen says, her mentors and managers explained the basics of IT to her in analogies. Think of a car, they said. The road on which the car is travelling is the network. “The engine with chassis is the server,” Colleen says. “The thing that powers the car is the operating system.”

By 2014, Colleen had moved beyond the basics quickly as the business began to explore the possibility of transitioning to the cloud.

“At the time it was a no-no for banks,” Colleen says. “We were not sure if our regulators would allow us to do it. But over time I saw the benefits of having systems run on the cloud. I asked to be part of a cloud project, and when my mentor suggested I lead it, I accepted the challenge and have not regretted it since.” 

That was the entry point to her cloud-based career, the first steps on the path that brought Colleen to where she is now. In the beginning she was apprehensive but energised. She saw the value in the cloud for improving processes and user experience. UnionBank’s move to the cloud is how Colleen’s journey with Salesforce started.


Leading a technological transformation

The bank’s digital transformation involved implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) solution on Salesforce, which helped better understand customers, leading to better strategic decisions.

“We had to start small, to see how UnionBankers would accept this kind of technology,” Colleen says. “The implementation only took about four months and began with 100 licenses. Now we have 1000 licenses. We’re only about 3000-people strong, so a third of the bank is now using it.”

What was it, exactly, that thrilled her about the opportunities presented by cloud-based technology? It was the positive change it promised, according to Colleen. It was the freedom it enabled. It was the profound effect the technology could potentially have on customer experience.

“It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of customer experience,” she says. “I realised that meeting a budget and building a quality application was one measure of success, but the real measure of success is whether the customers – external or internal – are happy with what you’ve created for them. So, for a while now, that has been my only metric.”

“That means my role is actually in customer experience design. I have to be obsessed with customer success. And I am very happy with the progress we have made so far. But, as some customers sometimes remind me, you can never rest. We can always do better!”


How to have a great tech career

Colleen’s advice for young people seeking a career in technology, is to actively seek out a great mentor. At the same time, she shares  the need to have a “courageous conversation” with your manager about where you want your career to go. In her own words, “you need to hack your own growth.”

“I sense that some people feel stuck in their current role, and that could be because they haven't been honest enough to their line managers, saying, ‘This is what excites me. This is where I want to go. I need your help to get to that place.’” Colleen says. “If you find the right mentor, they will help you take steps towards your goal.”


Watch this video to hear from Colleen about UnionBank's digital transformation journey.

For more stories of our Trailblazers, check out these other posts from our Inspired Trailblazers series: