Boardroom ignorance holding back bank's tech plans

Boardroom ignorance holding back bank's tech plans

Bank's IT departments are unable to pursue innovation with the latest digital technologies because they have lost influence in the boardroom with senior managers that do not properly understand new technology.

This is the conclusion of a survey of over 200 European IT heads at financial services firms commissioned by IT service provider Luxoft.

The report, Confessions of a CIO, found that 86% of respondents had recently proposed a major digital project only for it to be turned down once it got to the boardroom.

The IT heads believe the lack of traction they are receiving is partly down to misconceptions and unrealistic expectations among their senior management. For example, 78% say that their boardroom superiors do not understand the technology while 81% expressed frustration at the demand to provide innovation yet cut costs at the same time. 

The lack of understanding is especially acute in the UK (85%) compared to the likes of Germany (76%)

“Tensions in financial services IT departments are reaching boiling point,” says Roman Trakhtenberg, Group Managing Director and Global Head of Excelian, Luxoft Financial Services. “Technologists in finance want to be the gateway to the innovation but right now they are unable to influence decisions at the top. Instead, IT professionals in finance are stuck dealing with internal legacy systems and imminent cyber-risks, and are not getting the support they need to implement real change.”

Despite bank bosses calls for more innovation, the majority of IT departments (78%) feel that they are underfunded. The problem is especially acute at small and medium institutions where almost all (97%) of IT heads believe they need greater investment.

The consequence of boardroom ignorance and chronic underfunding is that IT departments have lost the ability to innovate, says Trakhtenberg. "It is harder than ever working as an IT executive in a financial institution."

However, the report shows no clear consensus on how this problem should be solved, with less than half (41%) of respondents believing a change of business culture is needed - a percentage that is barely more than a third in the UK (37%). 

It is not the first time the subject of boardroom affinity witrh technology has arisen. A study by Accenture conducted in 2015 found that almost half of the world's biggest banks had no directors with any technology experience on their boards.

Since a number of big banks, such as JP Morgan, Santander and HSBC, have sought to appoint more senior executives from a technology background or else establish tech advisory boards, but the research from Luxoft suggests that, as an industry, there is still some way to go.


Comments: (9)

Rupert Bull
Rupert Bull - The Disruption House Limited - London 16 November, 2017, 11:53Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

This is why we created our FinTech scorecards. It has been designed to help business leaders understand their potential technology providers better and thereby enable closer engagement between business and IT and faster concensus formation. 

@Roman - would you like to chat?

Matthew O'Neill
Matthew O'Neill - VMware - Uk 16 November, 2017, 12:25Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Great article.  This is a problem beyond Banking, but FinTech, RegTech, InsureTech, WhatEversNextTech should be considered as real threats that Boards need to understand so that they can invest and/or compete.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 16 November, 2017, 14:43Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@Matthew O'Neill, excellent point on other verticals.

Also explains the headwinds that internal innovation labs, incubators and similar are seeing.

Help business leaders understand what's possible, how it will change their world, how to mitigate risk of adoption.

“Start with why.”

People and process, correlated with risk and results. The journey.

Technology is only the how.

Rupert Bull
Rupert Bull - The Disruption House Limited - London 16 November, 2017, 15:18Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I agree with @Matthew O'Neill re other verticals too. The real challenge is that early stage companies whose innovation capabilities large firms want to access are inherently risky. Over 90% of early stage software companies fail in the first 5 years. Large organisations want to work with the 10% survivors - they just struggle to identify who those ones will be.

Success has many fathers - failure has only one! That is the organisational challenge that early stage companies need to overcome. Technology in this scenario cannot sell itself and as we see in this report Technologists on their own are struggling to sell it too.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 16 November, 2017, 18:10Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

So much reference to funding / underfunding leads me to wonder if it's the CIOs that don't get digital. Digital simply doesn't require the kind of headcount and infra that finserv CIOs are used to controlling.

Indian Railways provides 5 minute response time to passengers' social media complaints on a 24/7/365 basis for its huge network of trains with a team size of 20 people aided by a few open-source free-of-cost sentiment analysis tools. There are many more such examples in the blog post titled Forget Frugal Marketing. It’s Time For Frugal Engineering on my company's blog (hyperlink removed to comply with Finextra Community Rules but this post should appear on top of Google Search results when searched by its title).

If CIOs continue to demand budgets for doing digital the way they demanded for doing legacy, it's not surprising that they will face massive pushback from the C-Suite. I will also not be surprised if the C-Suite is actively pursuing a "shadow IT" strategy as Forrester / Gartner terms the practice of LOBs doing digital without the knowledge / support of the CIO org.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 16 November, 2017, 18:42Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Good points, that get back to the original premise. Cloud changes the economics of infra and headcount. Security is a board-level, front page of the newspaper type of issue -- and hard to guarantee regardless of spend. Growing top-line revenues is the key driver apropos the fear-factor of getting crushed by Amazon/Google/Apple.

Pulling all these separate but interdependent threads together, with defined metrics/timeframes/risk, is hard.

Cracking the code now, not as shadow IT, but starting with the business, then working with IT to show the path. It's a very different tone and interaction if we're speaking with the business first.

The business cares about what and when. We techies have to show the how, in business terms.

João Bohner
João Bohner - Independent Consultant - Carapicuiba 17 November, 2017, 21:09Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

"...senior managers do not properly understand new technology...".

They don't have to!!! They have to know the financial business!

Watch out, IT heads!
YOU are responsible to show how technology will help financial business.

Allways remember Henry Ford:

"If I had asked my clients (the boardroom with senior managers) what they needed, they would have told me: 'faster horses'."

Henry Ford, American industrialist innovator, founder of the Ford Motor Company (1863-1947)...


James Piggot
James Piggot - Finastra - London 20 November, 2017, 17:21Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@Ketharaman that is a valid point, I was thinking the same thing while reading the article.  And shouldn’t it be the boardroom demanding digitilisation rather than the IT heads?

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 20 November, 2017, 18:12Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes


Valid question. In fact, I think the boardroom IS demanding - and going ahead - with digitalization. While I alluded solely to the CIO org. in my previous comment, on second thoughts, I think the vendor community - to which I belong - is equally well to blame for "Shadow IT". 

The case of a private sector bank in India comes to mind. A couple of years ago, the boardroom wanted to launch an instant account opening portal that would enable online opening of a bank account in a few minutes. Business asked IT to execute the project. IT consulted the incumbent CBS vendor and came back with a $M cost and 6 months delivery period. Neither the cost nor the timeline matched the boardroom's vision of getting something up and running within their perceived time window of 4-6 weeks (after which they thought competition would catch up). Did they give up after seeing IT's estimate? No. They gave a chance to a small web development company that had been knocking on their doors for months.

Long story short, the instant account opening portal was launched in 8 weeks for a cost a couple of $100K. Apart from a couple of CBS services that IT was involved in exposing to the new portal, this was a classic example of Shadow IT in action.