Case Study: Interim CIO of Vanquis Bank Ltd
Alex Lenihan, Consultant in our Financial Services Practice, speaks to Julia Warrack about her recent assignment as Interim CIO of Vanquis Bank Ltd
Vanquis Bank Ltd is a subsidiary of the FTSE listed Provident Financial Group. The bank is mostly recognised for offering credit cards to people who can find themselves excluded by mainstream card issuers. It also offers small loans and a range of savings products.
To help customers stay in control of their account, Vanquis makes a point of maintaining a high level of customer contact. The bank recently identified the need to update and improve how it services its customers’ needs including an improvement to its digital channels.
As a business, Vanquis is a relative newcomer to digital, with an award-winning customer app which, along with web access, provides customers 24/7 access to manage their accounts. Internally, the technology & change function had historically been functionally aligned. However, with a determination to become the customer champion within its sector, the senior leadership team wanted to explore other available operating models to further improve technology delivery. The company was able to draw upon the extensive experience of its interim CIO, Julia Warrack, to design and implement a significant organisational transformation.
When considering the task at hand – to provide rapid, high quality technology to support customer and company needs – it was first important to define success. This was summarised as being to:
- connect the delivery teams and investment budget directly to business goals;
- create an organisation structure that supports a healthy learning and performance culture; and
- deliver better technology and digital solutions more quickly, delivering value every two weeks
With these success criteria front and centre, various operating models were considered along the continuum from centralised to federated. In addition, an assessment of the company’s maturity in delivery (agile and waterfall) was conducted along with a review of the existing organisational balance between ‘run the bank’ and ‘change the bank’ for both investment and people. Finally, a study of overall ways of working, processes, quality measures and controls for both ‘run’ and ‘change’ was initiated across the end-to-end technology & change function.
Julia and the leadership team were then able to pull together a recommended operating model and transition plan to establish a new centralised bi-modal demand management structure and process (i.e. one that supports both agile and waterfall). This directly linked investment to company goals and was supported by a multi-location technology delivery centre. The centre was established to nurture and grow engineering talent within ‘communities of practice’ with individuals allocated to fixed scrum and project teams tasked with delivering a backlog associated explicitly to one or more of the company goals. A clear, fully resourced, ‘run the bank’ support and transition model was designed and resourced separately to (i) safeguard ongoing operational excellence and (ii) protect scrum and project teams focussed on change activity from the ever-damaging context of switching technology that teams so often have to battle with.
To ensure ongoing individual and team growth a new engineering director role was created to lead across all engineering disciplines (software, infrastructure, data, test). This was supported by new senior engineering leadership roles that were baked into the structure to develop the individual communities of practice. Julia and the team also designed into the model the important role of ‘agile coach’ to take the lead in maturing the delivery framework and develop the proxy PO and scrum-master community of practice to a high standard, bringing a focus on teamwork, quality and agility.
To carry out what was a highly complex piece of transformation, Vanquis Bank engaged Odgers Interim to source a recognised leader with an established pedigree in delivering major operational change.
Julia Warrack was appointed into the role of interim CIO in January 2019 after being assessed against a field of suitably qualified peers. Julia’s selection was down to her experience as a senior leader, with demonstrable success at Board and executive committee level within regulated financial services businesses.
Julia has worked across public and private sectors, spanning multiple industry verticals including: intelligence, retail banking, manufacturing, FMCG, professional services, hospitality & leisure, investment banking, wealth management and, through Vanquis, sub and near prime consumer finance.
Leading the technology & change function for Vanquis Bank, Julia quickly saw one of the most impactful changes would be to bring lessons in from the world of FinTech and truly celebrate the importance of the engineer. She also recognised quickly the need to centrally co-ordinate and manage change demand and delivery through the business change function in a more transparent and dynamic way. This helped the teams to link more clearly their own day to day work to the company’s goals, a lesson again learned from time spent in other industry verticals.
It is early days for the Vanquis technology & change function within its new operating model. Further settling in and evolution will be needed but, from early 2020, Vanquis has enjoyed greater visibility across its change portfolio. The bank is in a better place to make more informed investment and resourcing choices to meet evolving priorities, with a focus on delivering measurable value every two weeks. The major components of the new operating model are now in place, resourced and tangible. The transformation can now be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and organic as the company evolves its vision and goals.
With the focus on developing fungible engineering talent, individuals have an exceptional opportunity to grow and broaden themselves within Vanquis and develop a rewarding and varied career. Business change professionals can equally gain exposure to both waterfall and agile and are positioned centrally to work across a range of short-, medium- and long-term change initiatives. This gives them the opportunity to grow and learn whilst tangibly contributing to the realisation of the company strategy.
As the changes bed in further, Vanquis customers will see and feel the benefit of a modern, agile technology & change function that can deliver great technology and digital solutions to meet their evolving needs. With Vanquis delivering easier, everyday access to non-mainstream lending, customers are able to stay firmly in control of their account, helping them on the path to a better everyday life.
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