Founded back in 2014, Atom Bank sought to change the landscape of banking by becoming the UK's first bank to be built specifically for mobile applications. Having gained regulatory approval, Atom launched with the aim of allowing its customers to manage their financial needs wherever they are, via their smartphones.
We spoke with Atom Bank CTO Rana Bhattacharya back in 2019 about how the challenger bank had started to move some of its infrastructure and services to Google Cloud Platform (GCP), in a bid to shift away from third party data centres and improve its agility.
In a follow up conversation with Bhattacharya this week, diginomica has learnt that Atom Bank has continued to pursue its migration to GCP at speed, shifting its core banking systems to the cloud, and in turn has seen an upswing in customer satisfaction.
The boost in customer sentiment is testament to both the speed of services in the cloud and the ability for Atom developers to now respond quickly to the needs of the market. Bhattacharya said:
When we last spoke, we had our website on GCP and we were about to launch our brand new mobile app. We were also moving a lot of our integration workloads onto GCP. That happened in summer 2019. Before that our App Store rating was under 3 stars, and three months after December, we went to four stars across the board.
And I would say that the key elements are that we obviously rebuilt the mobile apps, but what we also found is that things are running faster by running those integration workloads in Google. Partially that's because we did some optimisations on our end, but also because the ISPs optimise traffic on Google.
Going all in
Since launch, a lot has changed in the banking technology market, particularly as it relates to how regulators view modern digital technologies. When Atom Bank was first conceived, Bhattacharya said that the cloud wasn't really an option at the time, due to regulatory concerns, and as such went live using this-party data centres.
However, since then the benefits of the cloud - particularly in terms of availability and security - have become mainstream. Bhattacharya was keen to shift Atom's operating model to reap the benefits of cloud-based delivery and Google offered a strong partnership. He said:
On this journey we really wanted someone on our side that would be a partner. When we did an RFP, we whittled it down to GCP and another provider, but we felt that Google would help us on this journey rather than just point us to documentation. The relationship was important.
Atom has since moved its biometric service to a SaaS offering and is also using MongoDB's database-as-a-service. Not only this, in 2020 Atom made the decision to move its core banking platform, Thought Machine, to the cloud too. Bhattacharya explained:
Thought Machine is what I would call a skinny core banking platform. It is cloud native, smart contract based, you can define your own products - but it doesn't give you all the other things that traditional banking platforms do. And that's good in a way. Because what you end up doing is buying something that is quite bloated, quite slow, and you haven't got the best of notifications, the best of document storage, all that sort of stuff.
So what we did as part of our platform is that we either built stuff ourselves, or we partnered with people that had good SaaS offerings that were high end.
In Summer last year Atom went live with the remainder of its stack in the cloud - which consisted of Thought Machine, as well as its in-house developed documents and notifications architecture. It is also making use of Airship for SMS push and it has built a real-time data architecture using Apache Kafka. Bhattacharya said:
I can now press a button and can see exactly how many customers we have and see exactly what the balance is for a given product. In the past you would never have been able to do something like that.
The platform was put together and deployed in July last year and went live with the public in September with a new product, which was the instant access saver. And within three months we took on roughly £550 million of deposits. Our customer sentiment rocketed up and they're telling us that it's fast, secure and reliable.
Atom Bank is now 80% of the way through its decommissioning journey, Bhattacharya said. The shift to the cloud has meant that the bank has been able to respond more swiftly to its customers needs, by being more proactive with its infrastructure monitoring.
It has started using tools like Stackdriver with Data Dog, which lets it monitor the health of its estate in real-time. This allows Atom to intervene early if there are shortages in memory or storage, for example. In the third-party data centre model, Atom couldn't get any insight until a service fell over. Bhattacharya added:
The whole service element of the estate significantly improved and we integrated it with our service management tool, ServiceNow. So we are getting alerts out to our production team to come out, monitor, intervene, fix the issue, and none of our customers know anything about it. The maintenance and proactiveness dramatically improved.
Core to the benefits of Atom operating in the cloud is its ability to now develop quickly and test out new features, where it sees demand. Bhattacharya said:
It's the whole paradigm of cloud that allows you to have this agility. Another element of this is that we can put things into true production but lock it down for a subset of people. So for example, we've been testing things with Atom employees as customers and once we have validated that it works, we unlock that to our public customers.
With this platform we are looking to grow our business. With Thought Machine and our broader platform on Google Cloud, we can create our documents, notifications, our own products, we can modify the app ourselves. We are looking to grow our product propositions more into the business banking side, as well grow our core retail business as well.
But what we've invested in is a platform that will allow us to grow in the future, giving us pace and nimbleness. As opportunities arise we can now pivot appropriately to seize those opportunities.