CIO50 2018 #26-50: Ben Tabell, HSBC

Ben Tabell first became a CIO in January last year. He says his first lesson was more of a ‘realisation’ that the buck stops with him when it comes to the technology running HSBC.

“While I might not have made the decisions that led to the dependence on systems that date back more than 20 to 30 years, my stakeholders were holding me accountable,” he says.

“Although I have been in and around technology delivery and leadership for more than 25 years, only when truly being accountable do you realise the responsibility you have for every technology decision that you make.

“I know for certain that I don’t want to be associated with more of the same so my primary goal is to enable innovation – an innovation capability that is sustainable and repeatable. Part of how the bank and technology teams operate day in and day out.”

HSBC has more than 15o years of history and a deep-seated aversion to risk, particularly reputational risk, which means that it takes look to complete the due diligence necessary to get tech projects over the line, he says.

“While risk management and due diligence is core to banking, it can be confrontational for technology entrepreneurs, which is a hurdle for partnerships and innovation.”

Tabell says he builds trust through smaller innovations and educates himself about the risks – inherent and residual – if what he is proposing, while educating other staff about technology and its inherent value and safety.

Open access to innovation

Tabell and his team have looked outside the bank to drive innovative initiatives, engaged fintech hub Stone Chalk to assist with two projects using an Agile development approach.

Firstly, the team working with the fintech on a cloud-hosted business-rule driven case management platform that is used for the complex management of retail construction loan ‘stage payment’ processing. This is traditionally a back-office process for banks, says Tabell.

The project was executed in a ‘proof-of-production’ format over 90 days and was launched into full production within six months from concept stage.

“The speed of change for the operations teams in the bank was previously unmatched and has now set a new benchmark for what is possible,” he says.

The second project involved the adoption of blockchain technology to support new data management capabilities and provide an immutable source of information for regulatory reporting.

“It’s my view that regulators will have a growing focus on the quality and reliability of data reporting and the blockchain provides an excellent opportunity to meet such a challenge,” Tabell says.

Tabell says that open access to innovators like Stone Chalk has turned on a new accelerated capability and rapid delivery for its customers and staff.

“In the first case, the case management platform solved an issue inside the bank that could have prevented the growth in construction lending for our retail business. This came about as a reorganisation of the underwriting team created new challenges for the back-office teams, forcing too much subjectivity into the process for quality to be maintained,” he says.

“Adopting new automated business rules, with API-enabled integrations to services like property valuers

Meanwhile, Tabell says HSBC had long been challenged with the need to manage data in the lead up to its quarterly reporting cycles – a task that required significant manual effort. The new blockchain-based platform, when focused on a subset of data for a proof-of-concept, proved there were significant benefits for the bank beyond the manual effort involved.

“Again, the API-enabled platform of this nature proved that the ‘currency’ of our data could provide significant savings in our operation across the board as well as give us a far more reliable, accessible and consistent data set for reporting,” Tabell says.

CDO the new CEO?

Tabell believes the CIO role needs to evolve, says

“If almost all organisations need to be digital in the future, then isn’t the chief digital officer (CDO) the CEO?” he asks.

“I’m struggling to see the CDO and CIO role title being interchangeable across some industries so the definition and accountability of the role needs to be clear As I said, the CIO role needs to evolve or it will be left behind as technology either fragments industries or builds new ones.

“At its heart, I feel strongly that the CIO needs to support the growth of the business to enable innovation and to continuously deliver new technical capability to support both.”

Byron Connolly

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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