CIO interview: Russ Thornton, chief expertise officer at Shawbrook Financial institution

CIO interview: Russ Thornton, chief expertise officer at Shawbrook Financial institution

Orchestrating suppliers and IT groups throughout a serious digital transformation is what Russ Thornton finds himself doing in his function as CTO at UK lending and financial savings financial institution Shawbrook.

Bringing a big group of individuals with completely different abilities collectively and making them collaborate isn’t new to him. A musical conductor by schooling, Thornton “fell into computer systems to pay the hire”.

Within the early Nineteen Nineties, he was conducting orchestras in theatres in San Francisco, a metropolis which he says, “even within the early Nineteen Nineties was an costly place to hire”.

However on his doorstep was one other alternative because the IT sector in and across the metropolis grew quickly. “I discovered I used to be fairly good with computer systems and was in Silicon Valley on the proper time,” he instructed Pc Weekly.

After studying “a bucket load” about IT in Silicon Valley, Thornton moved to the UK in 1997 to expertise life overseas for a yr. Right this moment, married with two children, he’s nonetheless right here.

Previously 25 years, he has since held expertise roles at large banks and international consultancies and has established a few tech startups which he has offered.

He mentioned his job conducting massive orchestras in theatres is analogous to his function as a CTO. “I used to be a great musician, however by no means nice at anybody instrument, however conducting is about bringing numerous individuals with nice abilities collectively,” he mentioned. “I’m good at a number of tech, however not nice at a single tech.”

He mentioned that whereas he could be unlikely to be employed as a senior developer, he’s nicely rounded, with the talents wanted to convey a crew alongside.

Making music at Shawbrook

Branchless Shawbrook financial institution is a specialist financial savings and lending financial institution. It has a specific deal with the property sector however offers companies to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and customers which are usually underserved by the mainstream finance sector.

The financial institution was the results of the approaching collectively of 5 completely different finance corporations in 2011. By 2017, after years of development, the homeowners determined to take the financial institution into personal palms and launched into an IT transformation, which Thornton was introduced on to orchestrate as the corporate’s first ever CTO. Shawbook now has 1,200 workers after buying The Mortgage Lender in 2020.

Thornton mentioned: “The homeowners might see the corporate was rising very well, however the expertise was all over, so I used to be introduced in.”

He mentioned it was a possibility to have a greenfield web site, set the expertise technique and set off on a multi-year transformation technique.

The primary job was to remodel the IT division itself. “For the primary few years I used to be right here, we spent a number of time creating a contemporary expertise perform somewhat than the old-fashioned one we had. We went from a ‘cloud over my lifeless physique’ technique to a cloud-first coverage, we invested closely in cyber, infrastructure and productiveness instruments,” he added.

The early investments made have been well timed given the disruption that emerged a few years later when the Covid-19 pandemic ripped up the working mannequin of the world’s companies. These investments “saved the financial institution’s bacon” throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, mentioned Thornton, as a result of the corporate “abruptly went from having 900 individuals working within the workplace to 900 individuals working from dwelling inside two weeks”.

5 pillars of IT

However Thornton was targeted on the long run, with 5 key pillars set out when he joined the financial institution in 2018. These have been: introducing a contemporary IT mannequin, turning into cloud first, getting on prime of cyber safety, harnessing information and writing software program in-house.

The expertise division itself was the primary. Thornton mentioned: “The expertise mannequin was utterly damaged with a extremely old style Nineteen Nineties operations-led mannequin.” He introduced in a mannequin extra like that of a fintech. He then established an in-house cloud engineering perform, which he mentioned was “a serious piece of labor”.

The appointment of a chief data safety officer was additionally made to get infosec updated. The financial institution then put within the foundations for a cloud-based information lake to “take a look at analytics rather more positively, and the ultimate piece was round writing our personal software program”.

CIO interview: Russ Thornton, chief expertise officer at Shawbrook Financial institution

“Expertise was a facet a part of our technique, however now it’s completely on the core”

Russ Thornton, Shawbrook


Thornton mentioned of the ultimate piece: “We have been a financial institution that was afraid of writing our personal software program, however we shortly realised we are able to write our personal software program to ship buyer experiences.”

Maybe essentially the most important choice was made in 2018 when the homeowners determined to put money into IT. “Expertise was a facet a part of our technique, however now it’s completely on the core,” mentioned Thornton.

Right this moment, he mentioned the corporate needs to make sure its workers, who’re expert in a really complicated and specialist a part of monetary companies, have the tech they should do issues extra effectively.

“Our technique revolves round combining our deep human experience with forefront tech and information. We retain the human component, as a result of we play in sophisticated markets, however we would like specialists to have the suitable expertise and information round them to make choices shortly,” he mentioned.

Shawbrook has round 110 full-time IT workers and round 70 by way of its IT suppliers who’re outsourced to the financial institution and “a part of the crew”, in response to Thornton.

“For me, there must be a stability between full-time workers and people from suppliers. A 60:40 stability works properly with a secure base of workers on the prime layers augmented by workers from suppliers to assist make supply occur.”

Thornton not too long ago oversaw the rewrite enterprise course of software program and automate buyer journeys in a part of its loans enterprise, utilizing low code expertise platform which is already saving 1,500 hours a month consequently.

It now plans to digitise processes in its financial savings enterprise to hurry up the time it takes clients to open an account and make deposits.