CIO interview: Russ Thornton, chief know-how officer at Shawbrook Financial institution

Orchestrating suppliers and IT teams throughout a serious digital transformation is what Russ Thornton finds himself doing in his position as CTO at UK lending and financial savings financial institution Shawbrook.

Bringing a big group of individuals with totally different expertise collectively and making them collaborate isn’t new to him. A musical conductor by schooling, Thornton “fell into computer systems to pay the lease”.

In the early Nineteen Nineties, he was conducting orchestras in theatres in San Francisco, a city which he says, “even within the early Nineteen Nineties was an expensive place to lease”.

However on his doorstep was another opportunity as the IT sector in and across the metropolis grew rapidly. “I discovered I used to be fairly good with computer systems and was in Silicon Valley at the right time,” he advised Pc Weekly.

After studying “a bucket load” about IT in Silicon Valley, Thornton moved to the UK in 1997 to experience life abroad for a yr. At present, married with two youngsters, he’s nonetheless here.

Prior to now 25 years, he has since held know-how roles at huge banks and international consultancies and has established a couple of tech startups which he has bought.

He stated his job conducting giant orchestras in theatres is analogous to his position as a CTO. “I used to be an excellent musician, but never nice at anybody instrument, however conducting is about bringing numerous individuals with nice expertise together,” he stated. “I am good at a number of tech, however not great at a single tech.”

He stated that whereas he can be unlikely to be employed as a senior developer, he’s nicely rounded, with the talents wanted to convey a staff alongside.

Making music at Shawbrook

Branchless Shawbrook bank is a specialist financial savings and lending financial institution. It has a specific concentrate on the property sector however supplies providers to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and shoppers which are typically underserved by the mainstream finance sector.

The financial institution was the result of the approaching together of five totally different finance companies in 2011. By 2017, after years of progress, the house owners decided to take the bank into personal arms and embarked on an IT transformation, which Thornton was brought on to orchestrate as the corporate’s first ever CTO. Shawbook now has 1,200 employees after acquiring The Mortgage Lender in 2020.

Thornton stated: “The house owners might see the corporate was growing rather well, however the know-how was all over, so I was introduced in.”

He stated it was a chance to have a greenfield website, set the know-how technique and set off on a multi-yr transformation strategy.

The first job was to rework the IT division itself. “For the primary few years I was here, we spent a number of time creating a contemporary know-how perform slightly than the old-fashioned one we had. We went from a ‘cloud over my lifeless body’ strategy to a cloud-first coverage, we invested closely in cyber, infrastructure and productivity instruments,” he added.

The early investments made have been well timed given the disruption that emerged a few years later when the Covid-19 pandemic ripped up the working model of the world’s businesses. These investments “saved the financial institution’s bacon” in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, stated Thornton, as a result of the corporate “out of the blue went from having 900 individuals working in the office to 900 individuals working from house inside two weeks”.

Five pillars of IT

However Thornton was targeted on the long run, with 5 key pillars set out when he joined the financial institution in 2018. These have been: introducing a modern IT mannequin, turning into cloud first, getting on prime of cyber security, harnessing knowledge and writing software in-home.

The know-how division itself was the first. Thornton stated: “The know-how model was utterly broken with a very old fashioned Nineteen Nineties operations-led model.” He brought in a model more like that of a fintech. He then established an in-house cloud engineering perform, which he stated was “a serious piece of work”.

The appointment of a chief info security officer was additionally made to get infosec up to date. The financial institution then put within the foundations for a cloud-based mostly knowledge lake to “take a look at analytics far more positively, and the final piece was round writing our own software”.

“Know-how was a aspect a part of our strategy, however now it is absolutely at the core”

Russ Thornton, Shawbrook


Thornton stated of the ultimate piece: “We have been a financial institution that was afraid of writing our own software program, however we shortly realised we will write our own software to deliver customer experiences.”

Maybe probably the most vital determination was made in 2018 when the house owners determined to spend money on IT. “Know-how was a aspect a part of our strategy, however now it’s absolutely on the core,” stated Thornton.

Immediately, he stated the corporate needs to make sure its employees, who are skilled in a really complicated and specialist a part of financial providers, have the tech they need to do things extra efficiently.

“Our technique revolves round combining our deep human experience with vanguard tech and knowledge. We retain the human aspect, as a result of we play in difficult markets, but we would like specialists to have the proper know-how and knowledge around them to make selections shortly,” he stated.

Shawbrook has round one hundred ten full-time IT employees and around 70 via its IT suppliers who are outsourced to the bank and “part of the staff”, in accordance with Thornton.

“For me, there must be a stability between full-time employees and those from suppliers. A 60:40 stability works nicely with a secure base of employees at the prime layers augmented by employees from suppliers to assist make delivery happen.”

Thornton just lately oversaw the rewrite enterprise process software program and automate customer journeys in part of its loans business, using low code know-how platform which is already saving 1,500 hours a month in consequence.

It now plans to digitise processes in its financial savings enterprise to hurry up the time it takes clients to open an account and make deposits.

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