In the global financial landscape of today, one of the biggest keywords is digital and digital transformation. More and more organisations, companies, banks and financial institutions are transforming their entire processes both internally and externally to embrace the ever-growing demands that a digital market brings with it.
Bank ABC is an international bank headquartered in Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain. Founded in 1980, the bank has firmly established itself as a leading provider of banking and financial services throughout the Arabian Gulf and across its footprint in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia.
Naturally, on its journey towards its market leading presence today in 2017, the company has had to undergo its own digital transformation in order to continue to be the bank of choice. This is an ongoing change, but where ABC Bank differentiates itself is in its approach to the very understanding of digital banking.
“Digital banking became a go-to word around 2013, but everybody has a different understanding of what is meant by digital banking,” says Stuart Rennie, Group Head of Information Technology.
“Our digital strategy at ABC is not only about our customers and providing more digital services for customers, but includes the organisation itself - internal touchpoints with staff, customers, vendors, outsource providers and of course, how the Internet of Things will change our processes.”
For Stuart, it’s very much centred around the idea of an agile approach to developing the organisation’s internal applications and processes, and not just embracing digital banking for digital banking’s sake.
Through the transformation, Stuart is overseeing a digital strategy that will enable Bank ABC to become quicker and faster in terms of its capabilities to rapidly develop new services and applications.
Stuart describes this as “packaging smaller sets of functionalities”, developing and delivering these functionalities in a series of “sprints”.
Despite the company seeing itself in the infancy of this digital strategy, the agile approach has been extremely successful and it will look to replicate this approach in other areas of the business.
One of the biggest challenges of any form of digital transformation is ensuring there is always a business case first, and not simply looking to digital just because your competitors are.
Striking this balance comes down to an understanding of the market and keeping a clear eye on the business case or problem that can be solved through digital.
“There’s a lot of hype around digital and other technologies such as artificial intelligence, distributed ledger technology, crypto currencies right across the market,” says Stuart. “But at the end of the day, we need to keep asking ourselves; how is this going to benefit the customer? The Bank? And why have existing technologies not been successful previously? Many times, the real issues are not with technology.”
One such example of this that Stuart points to is blockchain, arguably one of the biggest buzzwords across the financial industry right now. As more and more organisations began to discuss and build prototype solutions based on blockchain, it brought about a level of pressure to those companies that did not.
“Naturally, people are going to want to know what your blockchain strategy is if competitors are talking it up,” Stuart says.
“But really, it’s not an IT question, but a business question. It’s about understanding if there is an opportunity, existing or new, that digital or blockchain, etc. can now help to resolve. Even then, is it feasible and do the numbers stack up? If these stars are aligned, it is time to move … and fast!”
No transformation journey can be completed alone and, for Stuart and Bank ABC, establishing key strategic relationships both internally and externally has and will continue to be critical.
Stuart says that an organisation is nothing without the people that make it up.
“Systems may help you become more efficient in terms of overall cost and operations,” he says. “But essentially everything comes down to relationships with people, managing those relationships and partnerships with a long-term strategic view.”
In a digital landscape, one that will see the implementation of new systems and ways of working, there is an element of risk involved that is inescapable. This approach to key relationships and being smart about the partners that Bank ABC selects to work with that allows the company to navigate this risk and collaborate successfully.
“We have an extensive record of long term relationships with banking application partners such as AFS, Unisys, Finastra, Moody’s Analytics and technology providers such as Microsoft, Almoayyed Computers, GBM, and Batelco. The new digital requirements more recently have required establishing close ties with BackBase and R3.”
“We are always looking for partnerships that are centred around trust, open dialogue and a synergy between our ambition and their capabilities to help us get there,” says Stuart.
During the digitisation of an organisation, there can and are often casualties in terms of losing staff. Heading up the group’s IT team, Stuart is a firm believer that undergoing such a transformation should excite anyone in IT, as it presents the perfect opportunity to create new challenges, solve new problems and access new technologies.
“Working in IT, particularly within the current environment of this digital transformation process, if you feel you’re being challenged and you have work hard for something, that’s much more gratifying than it being handed to you on a platter,” he says.
“That’s what we’ve felt here. A personal responsibility to systems. We’ve been pushed and, when issues are encountered, we’ve taken ownership and endeavoured to overcome them. That is difficult to achieve if you outsource ownership of IT during these transformations.”
Having worked in IT for more than 20 years, Stuart maintains a very hands-on approach to IT, one that he feels is critical from top to bottom in digital transformation.
“You need to roll your sleeves up and get involved,” he says. “Half of our management team’s time is spent on our systems, with the other half on people and process. There’s a real appetite for continuing to learn and leverage the systems here.
“People feel challenged and are encouraged to push themselves, which for me is crucial towards achieving success as we continue to navigate this ever-changing digital space.”