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LOW-CODE TECHNOLOGY BOOSTS THE GROWTH OF SPECIALIST BANK

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That’s where Netcall’s Liberty Create came in. Create is a new breed of low-code software solution, built for both business users and professional developers

Hampshire Trust Bank (HTB) is a digitally-focussed specialist bank staffed by experts that enable UK businesses to realise their ambitions. Primary operations include development finance, specialist mortgages and specialist business finance (including wholesale, block-discounting, structured asset finance and classic cars). HTB also provides award-winning savings accounts to individuals and businesses. With an ambitious growth target in mind, the bank targeted digital as key to its expansion.

 

A fresh approach to change

HTB was frustrated with relying on external resources for technical developments on tasks that they didn’t deem to be particularly challenging. Results were slower than expected, often failed to match business requirements, and the associated price tags were unreasonable. The team knew the job could be done better in house and began searching for a way to utilise the knowledge within the business without hiring an additional army of developers. Low-code clearly stood out as the solution.

That’s where Netcall’s Liberty Create came in. Create is a new breed of low-code software solution, built for both business users and professional developers. By using its drag-and-drop interface to configure, rather than code, it allows users to build a new app fast. And once the app exists, it can be tested, refined and improved on an ongoing basis.

The low-code platform has enabled HTB to form a small team that can now build the systems the bank needs and manage process improvements easily.

 

Modernising the front office to improve customer experiences

“Our journey with low-code development started because we needed to modernise the front-office application suite, across the business and across all of our products. We invested in Liberty Create initially for our specialist mortgage division, to replace manual processes, improve workflow to drive cost efficiencies, and increase consistency in process execution across the team,” explains David Patterson, Head of Solutions & Delivery at HTB.

The initial mortgage division project was successful and Liberty Create is now driving cost efficiencies and business improvements throughout the organisation. The platforms that have been built by using low-code have become core assets, assisting with vital areas such as linking the bank’s API infrastructure to data services, fraud prevention, credit risk, and Companies House data.

The use of Liberty Create has enabled HTB to focus on the time it takes to serve customers (and serve them well) and as a result, it has positioned the bank for exceptional growth.

HTB’s latest platform a property development finance system, has replaced a host of manual and spreadsheet-based processes that handle client customer and credit-rating data. Low-code lends itself to an agile improvement approach, so the system can be continually enhanced and added to.

“This project has come in at less than one-third of the anticipated cost. Plus, it will be delivered four months earlier than planned. These very short timeframes are enabling us to move towards weekly deliveries of capability enhancement, and with confidence in the quality of delivery,” adds Russ Fitzgerald, CIO at HTB.

 

Delivering – and delivering faster

The delivery model of Liberty Create matches HTB’s agile project approach. Without getting bogged down in the process, the development team utilises the elements of agile that work best in digital transformation in banking, especially for a small bank. Liberty Create lends itself perfectly to that capability.

During its low-code journey, HTB invested heavily in testing capabilities, providing value with an improved turnaround time for any defects. Previously, developers would publish a change, finishing in the evening, then the test team would arrive the next morning and start the test pack, which could run for 3-4 hours, ensuring everything worked correctly and highlighting any regressions. The developers wouldn’t get feedback until lunchtime, therefore losing half a day of development time.

Now, the developers publish an update and leave for the evening. Liberty Create takes 30 minutes to package the release and push it to the test environment, waking up the testing platform automatically once complete and running the series of tests. By 9 am, the test team starts the day with the results and the developers work on any fixes needed immediately. As a result, an extra half a day per developer is gained from every push. This acted as the first step for HTB on its journey to seamless integrated testing and DevOps.

 

Changing the relationship with off-the-shelf for good

Today, HTB’s confidence in front-end building capabilities now influences how the bank approaches new potential suppliers with a clear strategy that needs to work with low-code. By tailoring its own front-end capabilities and utilising API services, the bank can pick the best out of the industry suppliers and create USPs for its customers.

Low-code has also changed HTB’s attitude towards buying tech – with no more front-to-back services that are not delivering value, or slow releases and outdated legacy systems. The bank commoditises its back-end systems suppliers based on the ‘best-in-breed approach’ to build or buy. It has become the cornerstone of HBT’s technology strategy, increasing innovation, flexibility, and creativity.

 

Growing with a trusted vendor

With the introduction of low-code, HTB has moved from being a user of a legacy core banking platform into building out its own capabilities. It has honed its ability to develop systems efficiently, change direction when needed, and react to an industry position or an operational challenge quickly.

“We can definitely say we’ve seen time and cost savings by using low-code to solve business challenges,” says Russ Fitzgerald, CIO at HTB.

Today, the bank sees itself as a five-year start-up. With investment, a new leadership team and many specialist hires, it has experienced exceptional growth and developed thriving specialist lending propositions for SMEs.

“Initially, we worked alongside the Netcall team, which started our delivery and then worked extremely well with us to hand over to our small but very talented internal team. We’ve had very strong engagement with Netcall, from the CTO all the way down – we value this support and attention greatly. For us, it is amongst the highest criteria we look for in a supplier – and there are only a handful of suppliers where we genuinely feel we get that top level of support, plus the ability to feedback, request and input on product road mapping,” adds David Patterson, Head of Solutions & Delivery at HTB.

The HTB Development Team is now building a portfolio for the year ahead. Like any innovative business, the team has more ideas than resources. Reflecting their confidence in using low-code as a front-end tool, the team is considering using it for internet-facing services and a number of digital services to improve internal workflow and processes. “This will become the blueprint for how we do it going forward,” comments Mike Beveridge, Business Analyst at HTB. A number of ‘microservices’ are also on the agenda.

“We’re looking forward to growing our technology capabilities using Netcall’s low-code, adding to our current technology estate and allowing the bank to move towards the next generation of banking technology,” adds Faizal Danga, Project Manager at HTB.

The team aims to utilise the workflow insights provided by Liberty Create in a wider element across the bank to improve back-office efficiency, data governance, data quality, and control, while also improving the operational efficiency of the bank.

 

Banking

BANKS OF THE FUTURE WILL BE ASSEMBLED, NOT BUILT: HOW BANKS CAN EXPAND AND INNOVATE BY RETHINKING THEIR PARTNERSHIPS

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Author: Kelly Switt, Senior Director, Financial Services Strategy, Ecosystem and Strategic Partnerships, Red Hat

 

The financial services business ecosystem has been radically reshaped in recent years and is arguably more dynamic and ripe for innovation than it has ever been. Banks that take bolder steps to build strategic partnerships have the potential to dramatically transform themselves and the industry. While open banking reforms have encouraged organizations to open up their architectures to each other, there is much potential still to be unlocked: beyond the minimum of meeting regulations by the deadline and exposing the APIs required for aggregation services, there is a vast untapped opportunity for creativity in joint business models. The kind of opportunity that has long since been grasped by web-scale companies and fintech startups.

 

Deutsche Bank, BBVA, and neobank bunq are examples of banks that have understood the value of creating open finance communities. However, the majority of financial organisations are yet to embrace deeper collaborations that truly take advantage of external parties’ ready-built solutions, which would save time and resources and enable inhouse teams to focus on differentiating their business where it really counts. So how can an organisation break free of legacy structures and attitudes to better integrate and engage with partners?

 

Step 1: Adopting a growth mindset

Establishing deeper strategic relationships with partners requires a mindset shift for much of the industry. Traditionally, banks have tended to see third parties as vendors, treating the relationship as a transactional exchange, in the context of legal agreements that set forth the provisions and conditions of the services to be provided. Instead, banks need to adopt a growth mindset that encourages organisations to look beyond their own four walls, and embraces participation in a wider community. By engaging with an ecosystem of partners and treating them as a valuable additional set of experts, banks can accelerate problem-solving and reach their business goals faster.

 

Step 2: Aligning internally as an organisation

Before bringing in a partner to tackle a business problem, an organisation needs to conduct an internal assessment. It’s important for all departments within an organisation (IT, sales, marketing, etc.) to contribute their perspective on unpacking why a problem exists across the organisation: what are compliance and risk issues? What are the technical challenges? In what ways is the business impacted? Once everyone is grounded on why the problem needs fixing, it is a much clearer path to identify both the business and technology capabilities needed to solve the problem – i.e. the tools as well as the people skills. If different departments aren’t set up to engage with each other, it’s time to dismantle barriers and build bridges to ensure everyone is included in this discovery phase.

 

Step 3: Be open with partners

When the business has galvanised around its key objectives and the capabilities it needs to move forward, the organisation can look at engaging partners that have experience and expertise in the right areas. The more information that is shared with a partner about the company’s challenges, opportunities and goals, the more empowered and committed the partner will be to help meet the desired outcomes. Armed with insights, partners can help connect the dots and invite further parties to a project, leading to a network effect that benefits both the organisation and the wider ecosystem. To ensure that everyone continues moving in the same direction every step of the way, it is crucial to have transparent discussions in which ideas can be exchanged freely, and to make decisions in an open and collaborative way. Disagreement and constructive feedback must be encouraged – partners should be empowered to speak up with concerns – as this is an important part of mitigating risk.

 

Step 4: Humanise business relationships

Business relationships are personal relationships. The most successful ones are built on mutual understanding of what makes each other tick, what motivates someone to behave the way they do and what drives their performance. Getting to know people on a more personal level can create deep-seated relationships where everyone feels fully invested in driving the project forward. The banking sector may not be known for encouraging vulnerability, but revealing a bit more of the human in us is a key ingredient for building trusted relationships. The pandemic has added urgency to the need for greater empathy to lead people through difficulties, and has shown how people can come together through shared emotional experiences to better manage adversity.

 

Step 5: Build on a consistent technology platform

The technical foundation for engaging in any new partnership is a strong integration strategy. An organization may need to rethink its system architectures and shift towards open platform models. In the case of using containers to take advantage of cloud scale, establishing a common platform at the base of the technology stack that runs consistently across an organisation can provide more control, security and stability. A common application management layer that is agnostic to the underlying technology and based on open APIs gives internal teams together with partners greater freedom to collaborate, accelerating innovation. It helps avert the risk of ending up with many custom integrations, which can lead to cost overruns, outages or services-related issues for customers.

 

Unleashing future possibilities

Progress is able to happen much faster when people and teams work together. As more and more businesses in banking and adjacent industries wake up to the opportunities inherent in a move towards greater openness, we will start to see unprecedented innovation in financial services, and myriad other areas of our lives, creating better and more inclusive customer experiences for societies globally. Banks of the future will be assembled, not built.

 

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Banking

SHIFTING EXPECTATIONS AND THE RISE OF FLEXIBLE BANKING

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Rajasekar Sukumar, Vice President Europe, Persistent Systems

 

In virtually every aspect of connected life, consumers are demanding personalisation — and banks are under pressure.

While financial services led many sectors in recognising the potential of technology decades ago, rapid advances more recently in areas like retail have put banks under increasing pressure to deliver services that are tailored to the individual.

The general view is that banks are just too slow to transform, but it’s an assumption I readily challenge. Over the last few years, banks of all sizes have developed and launched new digital services and mobile apps at a pace I’ve not see in the financial services sector before.

The perception of slow and steady persists, however, and it’s because banks are missing the focus on personalisation. With consumers so used to the personalised services of brands like Amazon and Netflix, this gap is widening even further — and it’s what’s giving challenger brands their advantage.

Created and developed to offer everything to every consumer, large banks are being challenged to deliver the rapid pace of change that is needed to put personalisation at the heart of their offerings.

Conversely, smaller challenger banks have no legacy strategy or proposition to adapt. They are entering the financial services market with clear and focused propositions, designed to appeal to a niche demographic for maximum differentiation and appeal.

So, what does this mean for the banking landscape of the future?

 

Shifting expectations

Taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to banking has been relied upon for decades, with the assumption that appeal is maximised if everything is offered to everyone. Yet this standardised approach is not connecting with customers.

As I mentioned, banks aren’t being reluctant to change this situation through digital transformation — it’s just that it’s not easy.

The challenge here is two-fold. Firstly, in how larger banks were built, with a one-size-fits-all architecture to deliver every product or service a bank could ever want to offer to any customer. Adding new systems through integration brings some flexibility, but under the hood this core banking infrastructure is restrictive.

The other issue is that larger banks are the victims of previous success. They have worked hard to appeal to every type of consumer, and they’ve got them on their books. But personalising and segmenting such a broad group is a huge, unwieldy undertaking.

In contrast, newer banks don’t have to shake off legacy perceptions or rework legacy systems. A digital-first approach brings agility and flexibility from the outset, with the ability to rapidly create a banking proposition that is designed for a very particular type of customer.

A great example is UK-based Monument. Launched this year, this digital bank has purposefully hand-picked a focused segment: the mass affluent with between £250,000 and £5 million in liquid assets.

Every Monument message and product has been developed with its niche audience in mind, pushing aside the myriad banking services they could offer to focus only the ones that really resonate and matter to those with high incomes.

 

A digital mosaic architecture

Instead of being shackled with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ infrastructure, challenger banks have the opportunity to develop what we at Persistent Systems call a digital mosaic architecture.

Instead of building in everything from the outset, a digital mosaic provides a flexible structure to add and integrate the right services, applications and data platforms to meet the needs of a particular customer group.

It’s easily composable, and that brings new levels of efficiency, flexibility and agility — and a step change in the personalisation of the customer experience.

With this clear advantage, digital banks can take a truly tailored approach from the start, selecting only the products and services they need, whether that’s debit cards, loans or cross-border payments. With each component acting like a Lego brick, they have the opportunity to select only the best technologies for each product or service they want to offer.

For larger banks, this becomes more complex, as “under the hood” their technology infrastructure lack the flexibility they need to adopt a mosaic architecture quickly. Furthermore, the workflows within this infrastructure were originally created with the bank’s processes in mind, rather than the customer’s priorities, demands and expectations.

With a more composable, mosaic architecture, everything starts with the customer experience — and the technology becomes the enabler, not the blocker, of personalisation.

 

A customer-first approach with the cloud

To even the playing field and gain more competitive advantage, established players in the financial services sector are increasingly looking to the cloud to remove their dependency on complex, legacy IT infrastructure.

I’m seeing previous trust issues with cloud delivery dissipating, as banks recognise the cloud is now both highly trusted and critical to digital transformation projects. Flexibility and security is created in core components such as a credit decisioning system, KYC solutions and anti-money laundering technologies, and banks benefit from the ability to deploy and scale at speed.

The cloud brings the opportunity to break free from a single technology, to compose and integrate a unique and powerful combination of cloud-based services and applications for the optimum customer experience.

Partnering with a trusted systems integrator means this doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge either. Use experts to create and implement a best-in-class cloud infrastructure while you focus on what’s really core to the business: running the bank for your customers.

In today’s fast-moving banking landscape, the power and flexibility of a digital mosaic has never been more critical — and the opportunity is now.

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