Driven by technology: a farewell to the traditional bank

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ABN AMRO Hackathon 2015

An endless cycle of development is replaced by small teams working together at an accelerated pace. This is my vision of the future of IT at ABN AMRO, a logical move in an era when technological innovation is an everyday occurrence. For ABN AMRO this means a farewell to the traditional bank: product development without bureaucracy.

Whatever way you look at it, ABN AMRO is on the brink of a shift in culture Michel van Drie Michel van Drie Managing Director IT Solutions

Changing client needs

Over the years the bank has become less and less analogue. We no longer print money, nor do we hold physical cash, except for the cash machines. At the same time, though, ABN AMRO’s product range is still quite traditional. The focus is on payment transactions and lending. For IT, this involves digitally managing financial information in a way that centres entirely on our products. The development process for adding or improving products passes through a number of separate layers. First we work out all the product details, then we apply to a range of different departments for permission and only then can we get to work. By that time we are generally months down the road.

Client needs change rapidly, and clients expect the latest technology. Today’s innovations are already obsolete tomorrow: a completely opposite dynamic. Clients who find that their needs are not being met are increasingly comfortable switching to another provider. In this situation the bank needs to be flexible and possess a mindset that is geared toward digitisation.

Exhibit 1 for accelerated development: #HackITon

That mindset is one that requires work. For a variety of reasons – some good, some not so good – at ABN AMRO turning an idea into a product is accompanied by quite a ‘fuzz’. Sometimes this caution is legitimate: we are a bank and we need to be careful. At the same time, the bureaucracy makes the development process longer and sidelines the client.

To show that this is not the only way of doing things, last June ABN AMRO organised its first hackathon: #HackITon. Teams from ABN AMRO, Infosys, TCS, IBM, Capgemini and Owlin spent thirty-one hours developing twenty-one ideas for how the bank can give shape to our role in the API Economy. As the hackathon demonstrates, development can be fast when it is not held back by decision-making bodies and paperwork.

The event proved that it is perfectly doable to sit someone from the business down next to a developer to explain what he wants, without a series of translators separating them. The business and IT are both quite fluent in Esperanto, and they understand each other just fine. Everyone on the teams was equal: titles were less important than cooperation and the outcome pursued.

Working together, the bank, its partners and startups displayed an unprecedented creativity. New client-focused ideas sprung up that do not necessarily qualify as ‘traditional banking’. We learned how to further improve our range of products by adding third-party services, without giving away information or jeopardising privacy-sensitive data.

A shift toward a culture of digitisation

Whatever way you look at it, ABN AMRO is on the brink of a shift in digital culture. It is about to transform from a traditional bank concerned primarily with payment transactions and lending into a modern, digitised bank. IT should serve not only for automating existing bank products, but actively seek out new applications for the information that we possess. Within a secure and trusted environment, that information offers an array of new possibilities. We need to seize those possibilities: if we do not someone else will. These might be buzz terms, but we need to become more dynamic, more inquiring and more outward looking. While we need to stay in control, we also need to become bolder.

These qualities are not necessarily part of ABN AMRO’s DNA. So the time has come to take action. At IT we take a careful and controlled approach. We are investing in people, in a culture that revolves around digitisation and innovation. We will give further shape to the hackathon’s performance. We began with twenty multidisciplinary teams and an agile approach. The first step toward realising my dream would be two hundred small multidisciplinary teams working on accelerated development. Despite the added difficulty of remaining in control in such a setting, the benefits outweigh the challenge.

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