John Sauvageau

Vice President - Senior Branch Channel Market Planner, Citizens Bank

Education: M.S. in Geo-Information Science (Salem State University), B.S. in Cartography and GIS (Salem State University)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
I work within the Retail Network Transformation team, which falls under the consumer business banking umbrella. We’re responsible for the strategy and planning of our branch markets, and where we want to put branches and ATMs. We leverage GIS to analyze and visualize our internal and external data spatially. We then use the ESRI platform ArcGIS Enterprise with its various tool sets including business analyst, network analyst, and spatial analyst as the tools to help us develop strategy.

We provide services to much of the northeast, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, and also parts of the midwest like Ohio and Michigan.  We’re responsible for supporting the analysis and branch recommendations for all types of branch actions – open, close and relocations.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
Grasping the various levels of geography and how they relate to each other is fairly important to understand. The banking industry is a little bit different than a standard retail industry, where chains can just put a store where there’s going to be high traffic. We deal with varying levels of governmental compliance. One aspect of compliance is proportionately locating branches in areas to ensure we are serving low to moderate income households, as well as middle to upper income households. We use internal and external data, including Census data,  to understand where that population is so we can target those areas.

Looking at the five themes of geography, I think we really touch two of those: location and region. Location – we have a network of branches and locations, we monitor other retail marketplaces, where they’re coming up, where they’re going away; other competitors’ locations, where customers are located. Location really is the number one thing that I think applies to what we do in this kind of planning. It’s kind of the same thing as real estate: location, location, location, everything is location.

At the regional scale we look at how everything works together and the nuances from region to region. We designate our own regions for organizational hierarchy purposes, but states, counties, etc. – they all have unique nuances, and we want to understand these so we can better interact with the population within those regions and be in the places where they are going to be. We also need to understand how they use the banks: are they primarily driven by branch visits, or using a more digital approach with online and mobile banking? How do we customize the look and feel from region to region to make our banks more attractive?

How does your geography knowledge inform your use of GIS and make it possible to get the most out of the business analyst software and work with big data?
Many of my colleagues across the industry come from more of a business intelligence background. Many have used GIS as a next step and have gone back to universities and vendors for formal training. These colleagues are amazing and have a great deal of hands-on experience and have been using these platforms for a long time. With my educational GIS & Cartography and Geo-Information Science background as a whole, I am able to bring in and apply more foundational concepts and tools to enhance our analysis. Maps can tend to be more mass produced and less of a cartographic product, but whenever I’m asked to make a map, I try to ask more questions first. Questions like: What is the purpose? What is it that you’re trying to convey? How will you be using and presenting the map? These and similar questions allow me to create a product that will be visually pleasing to the customer and their audience and allow the map to speak for itself. Different approaches and techniques will apply for varying levels of requests; it’s not always a “one size fits all” approach.

How did you discover geography was going to help you pursue your aspirations, professionally or in your personal life?
When I think of my “a-ha moment” I always refer back to a certain exercise with ArcGIS in one of my undergraduate courses, where we were working for a town searching for a site for a new fire station. We were given criteria where it had to have its own land within a certain square footage, and it couldn’t be within 7 minutes of another fire station’s service area. Taking all of that information, creating multiple layers and using a raster analysis to find out where the best possible areas were for this fire station – I had never seen that before, so I was like “wow, this is interesting!”

I was working at a bank at that time as a part time teller and thought “this would be really interesting to bring into the bank and use GIS to figure out where to put banks.” Being naïve as I was, I didn’t understand that it had already been going on. I didn’t know it existed. It wasn’t until a few years after that where I was taking some courses at the bank, learning about processes of improvement, efficiency and those sorts of concepts where I realized how interesting this was, and that I already had a good foundation for that kind of work from my education in GIS.

My branch manager at the time gave me the best advice I had ever received for this. He said: “Look in the organization, try to find somebody doing what you want to do, and just reach out to them and ask if you can talk to them and get advice on: How did you get over here, and what kind of preparation would I need to get into this kind of area within the organization?” So I did that. I identified the person I needed to talk to, reached out to them and we exchanged a few emails. Nine months later and I got an email from another person who he referred me to, and they had just created this GIS Analyst position within the bank to do exactly what I had been looking to do in branch site location. They asked me to interview for it, and a few months later I started on this path, which leads me here today. It all goes back to that one lesson in my undergraduate that kind of sparked my interest in the field, and without that I probably wouldn’t be here.

What attracted you to the banking industry? How did you initially develop that interest?
I had just returned from being deployed – I went to Afghanistan in 2010. I was looking for some part time work. My father-in-law had been working in the banking industry for a long time and thought it would be a great fit for me as a part time job.  A branch close to home was hiring, so I applied for a part time position as a teller. I began to thrive and before long I ended up becoming a supervisor. A few years later I was  promoted to a financial services representative. While I was gaining all of this financial experience, I was also going to school full time for GIS.  I had this passion for banking and this passion for GIS and I wondered, how great would it be if I could combine them?

I started in 2014 working on the real estate team and market planning, and gained a great deal of job experience in my first year. I transitioned to another financial institution performing similar tasks. I spent the last 3 years there, and now I’m taking a more senior role at a new institution. It’s been amazing, and it’s interesting because a lot of these types of decisions don’t require banking experience. It’s a unique combination of having worked in a branch and having the GIS experience that gave me insight into how the branch operates, while many of my peers don’t have the same understanding of what it’s like to work in a branch. When I’m helping to program details like how many desks we want to design in a certain branch with a certain amount of staffing, I’m able to bring a different perspective, because I’ve been in their seats before.