Developing Nationwide's digitisation

"I love this article about chief digital officers, I need to show it to our COO Tony Prestedge."

Nationwide's Daryl Wilkinson is chuckling away when we meet at the building society's head offices in Swindon at the end of April, a month before reporting its best ever year with pre-tax profits of £677 million. He's just been shown Ade McCormack's article in that month's edition of CIO magazine - The Four Horsemen of the CIO Apocalypse.

"My assistant underlined this section for me," Wilkinson says. "She said that it's me being described - the cheeky upstart shaking the tree." Wilkinson is Nationwide's Head of Group Digital Development, or, in McCormack's part-jovial and part-serious analogy, the third horseman - conquest - a de facto CDO with a smart TV and a smartwatch.

Nationwide operates with a unique structure, its COO Prestedge overseeing the mutual's IT transformation having joined in 2008 as a result of the building society's acquisition of the Portman Building Society, where he was group operations director.

"The Digital Development department was founded almost 18 months ago," Wilkinson says. "It was just me to begin with, I had been head of strategy and architecture working for Tony.

"But I'd been harping on about digital like a lunatic – like a guy wearing a sandwich board yelling out 'digitisation, digitisation'.

"Our CEO Graham Beale asked me to do this job because he saw that we were making progress, but wanted to turbo-charge what we were doing, to join it together so we weren't like speedboats racing off in different directions."

CDO apocaplyse

Wilkinson's first recruit was Jake Chambers, the head of Group Digital Strategy, Research and Innovation, one of three who sits below Wilkinson along with head of Group Digital Design Kate Watson and an interim head of Group Digital Capabilities.

"Jake leads all of our strategy, research and innovation. It's very much looking ahead, what's happening in the industry and consumer world and interpreting those trends," Wilkinson explains.

"Kate leads all the user experience. If I don't mandate standards for the customer experience in the digital world then we'll screw it up because we'll think we know what we're doing, but if we're honest and show some humility since a lot of us are still learning and get some expertise and support, and have a lead in Kate who can define very clearly what a great customer experience looks like."

It was this customer focus which underpins Nationwide's digital strategy, and what Wilkinson says was better to keep in house rather than turn to the services of consultants or other third parties.

"If you digitise and 'applify' some of this content, you're hiding some of the complexity from the customer, removing it from their experience – and it's simpler and quicker to do it this way and using agile development methods you can roll it out a lot faster," Wilkinson says.

"It's about empowering the consumer to make their own choices, and we're increasingly trying to be the voice of the consumer but we have to balance it with the voice of the regulator and the business as well. This is the challenge that Jake and I are embracing.

"And I asked Jake to do what he does because I didn't want to take opinions from consultants masquerading as thought-leadership, because it was just opinion. I'd rather form my own opinions and act on those.

"I found an awful lot of firms were buying consultants' opinions, large packs of information for a certain price, and an awful lot of what they were talking about – and if it sounds arrogant I don't mean it to – we'd discussed probably 12 months ago."

When CIO UK catches up with the Nationwide digital team at the end of April, the building society is fresh from its two-day leadership conference, where Wilkinson tells us CEO Beale announced to the company that at the heart of its strategy was going to be digitisation.

"It was fantastic how our CEO stood up on stage and talked about the next five years with emphasis on the customer using digital and told his personal story. And now he's on Twitter and immersed in this world and was encouraging everyone to sign up to Twitter and understand the power of social media, and utilise devices and applications," Wilkinson says.

"Absolutely digitisation is at the heart of what we do, but I think unlike others we recognise digitisation isn't changing society – society is using digitisation to change itself, and it's all customer led."

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