Yanan Song, Project Manager

Manager, Business Innovation Group, Scotiabank

Solutions don’t always have to use new technology to be innovative, they can use existing tech in new ways. 

Yanan's CareerMash

Yanan combines computer science and banking knowledge as a manager for a fairly new group at Scotiabank called the Business Innovation Group (BIG). The group’s overall objective is to foster a culture of innovation throughout the bank. This is done by encouraging other parts of the organization to think outside the box when approaching their own business problems. BIG inspires people to think about their own processes and ask themselves, “Is there a more practical way of doing this?”

Some issues require fairly simple solutions. “Solutions don’t always have to use new technology to be innovative, they can use existing tech in new ways”, says Yanan. “For example, we added QR codes to branch employees’ business cards. The QR code allows customers to scan the information into their smartphone without having to type anything, so they no longer need to take the physical card home with them. So over time, we would decrease the number of cards we need to print. That saves money. Other issues can require more complex solutions, in which case, the team creates a mockup or launch a pilot project to ensure that it works the way it should, without breaking the bank. Mockups of actual solutions are good enough that they can be shown to others, but aren’t fully functional."

A day in the life

Yanan is responsible for developing and managing relationships with other business lines such as Global Wealth Management or Scotia Capital as well as vendors, such as Microsoft and IBM.

Since BIG is a new group, not many other divisions know about them. A portion of Yanan’s job is devoted to the Innovation Centre, where two or three times a week, her and her team deliver the Innovation Centre Experience, a tour which showcases the numerous projects they have been working on to both internal and external groups.

The most exciting part of the job for Yanan is the Innovation Centre Refresh, when they close the Innovation Centre for two months and redesign it. They plan and rebuild the Innovation Centre, orchestrate the tour and get ready for a lot of public speaking. Prior to this role, Yanan didn’t deliver many presentations, but today, she’s very comfortable with it.

Why this job rocks

Yanan enjoys being exposed to the different divisions and people within the bank.  It offers her a more rounded perspective of what other departments are doing which is pretty exciting.  Sometimes, during Innovation Center Experience tours, she meets a lot of important people. It’s good for your career to meet heads of departments (when you make a good impression), but also a little nerve wracking.

Yanan’s group is fairly small with only seven full-time employees, one new grad and one summer student. Unlike other offices in the bank, her office setup is very open.  They can all see each other. When somebody has a good idea she can just swivel her chair around and talk to colleagues. It’s a very creative and collaborative environment.  Ideas just flow.

When she hears or reads about a cool piece of tech, Yanan can ask the vendor for a demo. One of the latest pieces of equipment she’s tried is a holographic laser projector which projects an image onto a solid surface, and turns that surface into a touch screen that responds to gestures.


  • Yanan wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to major in after high school, and computer science at the time “seemed like it would be easier to find a job after graduation”, she says. She earned a bachelor in computer science with a business option from the University of Waterloo. Looking back now, she does not regret studying computer science at all.
  • Her undergraduate program included six, four months, co-op placements. Her first placement was as a programmer for a robotics company, the second was for a software company specializing in healthcare imaging software.
  • She says of her program, “It did a really good job at teaching you how to solve problems.  Not everyone wants to be a programmer. But going through the program teaches you to manage your time and solve problems inspired by many algorithms we learned in school.”
  • Her last four placements were all spent with Scotiabank working with various departments on different projects.
  • Yanan knew that she didn’t want to spend her life coding, so after graduation, she looked for opportunities to move towards project management. Although it’s not programming but still requires technical knowledge when managing IT projects. She joined Scotiabank full-time after graduation as a program analyst but moved to a project control officer role within the Project Management Office (PMO) after a couple of years. During this time, she prepared and passed the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
  • In 2010, Yanan joined the Business Innovation Group as a manager.

Tips for success

  • Enroll in a co-op program: it enables you to get into the working world quickly and allows you to develop skills you don’t get in a classroom. And you learn what types of work you like to do and what you don’t like to do.
  • Studying IT or computer science opens many doors. Some people enjoy coding, but if you prefer doing other things, tech programs offer a good foundation to work in other areas.
  • It’s all about communication: learn to communicate well with others.
  • Be passionate about what you do and about technology.
  • Be knowledgeable: It’s important to understand different areas of the business and not just the inner workings of your department.