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Why partnerships hold the key to successful IT systems in banking

By Rob Orr, Executive Director, Virgin Media Business

 Is there anything more frustrating than finding out your bank account is unavailable due to a technical issue? Or being an IT manager at a bank and, through no fault of your own, feeling powerless when your IT system goes down?

Rob Orr
Rob Orr

IT failures at major banks are high on the news agenda right now. A recent Treasury Committee report found that the frequency of crashes and associated customer disruption was “unacceptable”, leaving customers cashless and cut off. Recent outages have happened as a result of various factors, such as upgrades going wrong and – in some unfortunate cases – crippling cyber-attacks.

As more banks digitise their customer proposition, responding to the rise of challengers such as Monzo and Starling, the impact an IT outage can have on business operations becomes more devastating. Beyond the immediate effect of customers being unable to access their money, there is long-term reputational damage to consider, as several leading banks have learned in recent months.

Given the costs of disruption to both customers and to banks, outages are simply not an option. To cope, banks must ensure their systems, processes, and underlying infrastructure are resilient – but doing so requires significant investment. How then, do they select the right partners who will help them not only survive, but thrive, in the long term?

Swiping right on an IT partner

With a vast range of technological partners out there, the first step for banks is knowing how to select the business best equipped to help them build resilient and effective IT systems.

An obvious place to start is with the technology partners most experienced in the financial services sector. These businesses will be familiar with the problems faced by IT managers at banks, from a security and efficiency standpoint. They will likely have worked with multiple financial service providers in boosting overall resilience, as well as completing regular stress-testing and scenario planning.

But it’s not just about experience. Crucially, an effective IT partner will adopt a certain approach to contingency planning. It will not only think about today, restricted to existing infrastructure, ways of working, services and threats. Instead, it will focus on tomorrow, asking how will innovation impact on systems; what new threats lie over the horizon; how will increasing automation impact on networks?

Selecting an IT partner with foresight, infrastructure and technical knowledge to challenge a bank to think about the future, is critical. It is the only way to ensure systems can deal with the now while proving adaptable as their business, and customer expectations, evolve.

Resilience is king 

If services go down – nothing else will matter. That’s why putting in place rock-solid connectivity with the stand-in systems and backup infrastructure for emergency situations is so important.

Whether that’s selecting a connectivity provider with 99.99% reliability or investing in high capacity backups to cover the 0.01% of times, banks need to plan for failure. Investing in resiliency is not a nice to have – it’s an essential part of keeping services running.

Evolutionary, rather than radical change

Financial service companies should look for a partner’s ability to implement incremental change. The best partners won’t be looking to rip out a client’s infrastructure and start again. Not only would that be incredibly expensive, but it would likely cause major disruption to employees and customers.

The best strategic partners are realistic about upgrading IT infrastructure. They won’t tell financial services institutions that they need to totally change direction, since they know that isn’t desirable or even possible. Instead, they’ll examine an IT system strategically, identifying areas for incremental growth in a way that will maximise business outcomes.

One bank that has realised this with great success is Danske Bank. Choosing Virgin Media Business to guide it through an overarching transformation agenda, it listened to advice on the potential of incremental change to deliver a new vision for customers, employees, stakeholders and society – with enormous success.

Boosting the bottom line 

Banks should also consider whether their potential IT partner has experience making the connection between IT systems and customer acquisition. Perceptions of IT departments as back-end and functional parts of a business are misguided. In fact, small changes to IT infrastructure can hold the key to boosting profitability and bringing in new revenue.

Metro Bank has transformed its IT architecture in a way that supports business goals. By using application programming interfaces (APIs) and a loosely coupled IT platform – as well as putting the IT team at the centre of its digitalisation strategy – the business has implemented a rapid and streamlined process for customers opening new accounts.

Clearly, getting the infrastructure right can have a major business impact. An effective strategic partner can play a crucial role in guiding a financial services institution towards incremental success that drives revenue.

Partnerships win

To prevent IT outages and move towards systems capable of supporting growth and a first-class customer experience, it’s vital banks choose a long-term strategic partner. This isn’t just to boost resilience in the face of cyber-threats, but to work out how infrastructure can feed into commercial growth and customer retention and acquisition.

As competition heats up in the sector and challenger banks continue to shake things up, infrastructure will take on a new importance – supporting business growth, creating compelling customer journeys and implementing effective cybersecurity strategies. Having round-the-clock counsel from a trusted and experienced partner is vital to achieving this.