HSBC Banks on Rapid Change
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CTO and Global Head of Product describes how HSBC builds a digital vision based on the needs of its customer.
Banking is a sector often cited as facing major disruption from technology and the change in consumer behavior. For HSBC, one of the most globally recognized banks, the response is not a case of wait and see, far from it. HSBC has focused on its customers and taken all the best practices of technology companies and re-imagined them for banking in the 21st Century.
“We are a truly global bank offering private, retail, wealth, commercial and global investment banking,” says Jack Bennie, Global CTO of HSBC Originations. As CTO, Bennie works in partnership with Lloyd Robson, Global Head of Originations Products and Services. The two bounce ideas off each other all day and sometimes away from the office too. Obviously there is a dynamic and collaborative relationship between the two of them. The HSBC Originations hub buzzes with activity, everywhere you look teams are gathered at Kanban boards, in huddles or using video screens to work through a technical issue with peers in other major markets.
The Originations division is a unique and insightful view into how HSBC is becoming a digital bank. “We are trying to make it easier for customers to join HSBC and access products and services digitally.” Robson says.
Bennie adds that any customer relationship within an organization begins with that original experience - joining a bank or making an initial purchase, which in the case of a full-service bank such as HSBC could include selling an additional service. “We have a clear focus on customer experience and progressive technology adoption. Opening a bank account or helping customers with their borrowing needs is still an important process.”
“The term originations comes from a number of different processes executed to fulfill a banking product, our job is to create a simple and secure digital journey for our customers – taking them through all the necessary steps right up to receiving a banking product or service.” the CTO says of making the lives of new and existing customers better with technology.
"We play a crucial role at key moments for our customer and it's exciting what we can do digitally now as well as using data and messaging to make this experience increasingly personal and relevant."
Putting The Customer First
“We play a crucial role at key moments for our customers and it’s exciting what we can do digitally now as well as using data and messaging to make this experience increasingly personal and relevant,” Robson says of how HSBC is well aware of the power of being online, but also as a physical bank. Interestingly, Robson doesn’t talk of online as a new paradigm or becoming a challenger brand, instead his focus is far more grounded and realistic and most importantly focused on the customer.
“It’s about owning the customer problem and solving that digitally because that is where the customer is.” Robson says of when the customer has a challenge, perhaps needing a loan, mortgage or need to save, their first step to finding an answer is usually the web.
“The market dictates those expectations. I expect to access an intuitive web journey or download an app to join the bank and if we can’t offer that, then we’re failing.” CTO Bennie adds on top of Robson’s customer focus. Both business leaders believe this scenario is consistent across traditional retail banking through wealth management.
Bennie adds that he joined HSBC because of the opportunity to be part of "a massive transition to customer centricity and to make sure we are doing the right thing by our customers.” Bennie doesn’t mean that HSBC was not customer focused before, but that HSBC aims to ensure moving to digital methods is consistently customer focused and not just about the technology.
“The customer needs to spend, save and borrow, not do banking,” he adds, explaining that the Originations team works through a myriad of use cases, such as opening a joint account, taking out a loan and all the different variations across markets. When the team has understood the customer problem and the digital ways to resolve it, they look at how that solution can be replicated. “There are endless nuances,” CTO Bennie says.
Future customers are most likely to be young; and with challengers and purely digital banks constantly entering the market, HSBC is well aware of the importance of the next generation of customers, as well as its existing customer base and their differing uses of online banking.
“Get the foundation right and we’ll be in a really good place,” Bennie says of creating a great digital experience.
To get the right foundation, Bennie and Robson had to evolve the technology and delivery approaches at HSBC, moving to iterative development methods first pioneered by technology giants such as Google.
“We have built a balanced triumvirate of product, technology and delivery. All three have equal weight and no single one overrides the other,” Bennie says. He adds: “I have seen poor product development as result of that triumvirate not being equal.”
Robson believes that it has been important to create a strong leadership level to ensure the balance. “In a large complex business, the alignment between business, technology and customer centricity can sometimes not be as real as is made out, but as a team I feel we have managed to do it properly”
“You have to believe it’s possible and commit to it,” says Bennie. “We set out, as part of HSBC’s digital journey with a remit to operate in a different way,” and both describe HSBC’s senior leadership as giving them and their organization a wealth of support and belief. Not only have they changed the way HSBC operates, they have done so in a way that can scale up across the bank.
“We gave ourselves six months to get this new approach off the ground, we quickly realized it was working and in the following months we had validated thin slices with effective pipelines, APIs that integrated through the stack and new data flows – soon after we could scale up the organization. Now after three years we have over 20 teams in six locations who all operate in the same way,” Bennie says of how the short sprints of development and continuous delivery cycles have become a de facto operating model in Canada, India, and Poland as well as the UK operations.
“The success this model can have is exciting as it breeds a culture that fulfills itself and perpetuates,” the CTO says. “What I love about what we have created is that people have a sense of ownership and pride in what they have delivered.”
One tip Bennie shares with fellow CIOs and CTOs is: “We don’t deploy software on a Friday, the risk is too great, and all the teams here understand that the focus is all about the customer.”
The success of the Originations team is not just about using digital industry methods of delivery, Robson and Bennie are clear that HSBC has worked tirelessly on ensuring the injection of new skills and experiences work closely with “bank and customer domain knowledge.”
“We have struck that balance really well,” the CTO says.
“The balance doesn’t work unless you have a leadership environment that provides empowerment and if you do, you can build a truly cross functional team,” Robson adds.
“In the first 18 months we had a lot of internal visitors and people were intrigued, but once our teams had matured, we didn’t need to explain it anymore, we just supported them and let the delivery do the talking.” Bennie says of how a cultural change can grow.
"What I love about what we have created is that people have a sense of ownership and pride in what they have delivered."
Technology And Retail
“Our banking systems have been here for quite a while and they’re not going anywhere, so the software we build has to complement and bring out the best in them,” Bennie says of working with legacy technology. “Some of these systems are decades old. The opportunity is how we leverage those systems to build business logic and provide value, which creates digital journeys. The greatest challenge is reusability – scaling the software across many varied systems and markets.”
“We have used a number of suppliers and partners, all of which add value and offer a variety of knowledge and skills. Some have helped with the Agile adoption, some with product and design and some with progressive technology adoption,” Bennie says of the wide range of technology suppliers a bank the size of HSBC works with.
Bennie joined HSBC in September 2015 from the UK based retailer Tesco, where he spent seven years in a wide range of technology leadership roles.
“I’m a newbie to banking,” Bennie jokes of his three- and half-year financial services career. “I met people that recognized something had to change, plus the feeling my background and experience was welcomed with open arms,” Bennie says of joining the bank.
“You have to have a catalyst for transformation and a level of comfort for what needs to happen,” he says of disrupting the normal operating model as a retailer joining banking. “It was strongly encouraged and by and large embraced which I’ll always reflect on positively.”
“The clear message was the bank wanted to evolve. It was daunting initially, but I quickly realized that there are similarities with retail. Both sectors have an appetite and expectation to deliver amazing digital products and experiences.”
Reflecting on his time in retail Bennie says: “Tesco taught me the importance of the customer and I’ve had the opportunity to apply that here.”