Rob Clegg: Building Digital Transformation Global Bank

October 01, 2020

Building Digital Transformation - Lessons Learned

Welcome to the Rob Clegg blog page. Global retail banks are very risk-averse, slow-moving, bureaucratic behemoths that will struggle to survive unless they embrace change and accelerate their ability to adapt to and adopt new technologies and ways of working. This problem is probably accepted by most big global banks as a theme and challenge. However, they still seem incapable of doing much about it. 

In 2015, Robert Clegg started working to set up one of the core teams for a global bank embarking on a Digital Transformation. There was a high level of excitement and apparent commitment by the bank and its senior managers to deliver a true Digital Transformation globally. They wanted to completely change both the technical services and products offered to customers as well as change the way the bank operated and managed its technology through the introduction of Agile Methodologies.  

This involved building a team from scratch ( he joined when the team was 20 people), changing the embedded ways of working within the technical teams (as well as in the operating country teams who had had the run of the place for many years doing their own thing with very little cohesion or overall strategy) and trying to do this in 40+ countries all at once.

Over the next 4 years, the team grew to include 6,000 people globally. This brought with it insurmountable problems of management, control, and communication. Changing the culture and ways of working amongst these many people that quickly was almost impossible. The projects taken on were sensible and targeted at the right problems and solutions for customers – the introduction of customer-led product management techniques and the process was novel and new for the bank but was adopted. However, over time they were severely hindered by constant specification changes mainly driven by inter-country arguments and infighting or the sheer scale and complexity of trying to fix the biggest problems in the biggest markets first rather than starting small and scaling up. 

The teams in the Digital Transformation organisation tried every single thing they could to ensure success and drive to completion. There were many successes over time and the bank launched one of the best mobile apps in the market, relaunched a great set of online services, launched tablets into branches linking online with in-branch, increased customer security levels considerably, introduced Apple Pay and other innovations faster than other high street banks. Momentum was built and, if allowed to continue, with continuous changes and improvements could have been a huge success. Legacy culture and process, resistance to change, infighting, risk aversion, and misalignment of outcome goals meant, in reality, that progress was not as fast as it could have been and ultimately resulted in the demise of what was a great project and opportunity to truly transform a global retail bank. Lots of great work was completed and customers have a better digital service by far but the culture change did not happen and old inefficient, risk-averse, slow ways have returned.

What now? Banks such as this will struggle over time. They will start to shrink unless they adopt appropriate measures. Fintech startups, challenger banks, new ways of banking with trusted and innovative suppliers will challenge the status quo and over time market share of the global banks will fall and the global institutions we know today will not survive. 

In summary, Robert Clegg's main learnings from the Digital Transformation are: 

• One of the potentially best ways to prove the case is to build from scratch a new challenger bank and then scale it back into the bank. Do this with an architecture fit for purpose and to meet this need from day 1.

• Try one country first and build from there. Start small, make mistakes, learn your lessons, and build scale over time. Take a smaller market and make it work from top to bottom and then scale out to other markets. Trying to focus on the two biggest markets from day one is suicidal and highly inefficient especially if those two markets do not work together or have other agendas

• Get absolute buy-in and commitment from every level especially across the board and most senior management level with a commitment to see the project through 

• Appoint the right oversight management who understand the project and aims from day one

• Cut out any infighting or alternative agendas at source by either working through the differences and get agreement and commitment or cut the problem out 

• Be inclusive of all levels and opinions

• Bring in new fresh ideas and talent

• Give talent the ability to execute the projects fully – do not tie their hands behind their backs and expect success

• Recruit carefully. Ensure the makeup of the team is balanced

• Build a fully integrated and managed team and do not try and do it too fast

• Do not let it get too big or unwieldy

• Communicate openly and fully 

• Embrace and encourage failure and trial and error. Learn early, learn fast, adapt, and change, and go again. Banks are inherently risk-averse but legislators and regulators are keen on change and progress so work with them to ensure risks are minimised and understood 

• Build rewards appropriately around delivery, change, performance improvements. Do not allow old legacy rewards structures, inertia, and risk aversion to getting in the way.

Rob Clegg is a business founder in the finance and tech industry. Learn more about Rob Clegg on his Zimbio here. Visit the Robert Clegg website here. Read more on how to integrate new technologies into your core businesses, while evolving management model on the Rob Clegg Medium blog here.

Watch the Rob Clegg video below

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