Atom Bank is using Google Cloud to power a digital transformation that will help the UK’s first mobile-only bank deliver better experiences to its customers.
It’s a big shift for the challenger bank, which launched to customers in April 2016. CTO Rana Bhattacharya says that using the cloud as a platform for that launch wasn’t really an option. There wasn't enough clarity at the time from the regulators around using on-demand IT for banking services, so Atom went live using third-party data centres.
That platform remained as the bank’s core environment until a recent switch to Google Cloud. Atom wanted to be able to develop new services at a rapid pace and Bhattacharya says the move to the cloud provides a platform for continual change:
To go where we wanted to be, and to realise the vision for the bank, we realised we needed to be nimble. From an infrastructure perspective, if we want to have a new environment, we can't afford to wait three months for it. We wanted to have more control over our own destiny and we wanted to grab the opportunities presented by the cloud and take that forward. With cloud, you get a level of visibility and security that you just can't afford to build out in a data centre.
Atom started its journey towards the cloud in mid-2018. The bank went through an RFP process and ended up with eight contenders, which were whittled down to two providers, one of which was Google. Bhattacharya says there were two key differentiators that helped the bank select Google – partnerships and machine-learning capabilities:
We wanted someone that we could build a relationship with, rather than someone we were just going to buy capability services from through a portal. Our relationship with Google isn’t just transactional – I regularly talk about how I can leverage the best of Google to benefit my bank. Second, in terms of Google itself, the AI and machine-learning capabilities we’ll look to use – once we’ve completed the transactional part of our journey – are very appealing to the bank.
The bank is aiming to launch its new mobile app in the final quarter of this year. Rather than doing a lift and shift of existing systems, Bhattacharya says the transformation process associated to this launch means Atom is in effect creating a new mobile bank that sits on Google:
Our original app from 2016 has served its purpose in terms of the products that we're operating with. As part of our future business growth, we wanted to redesign the app. We could have done that on the existing technology platform. But as a part of our transformation, we wanted to optimise the entirety of the architecture. We strongly believed that we need to re-write our app and allow us to springboard to future platforms in an easier way.
The bank is also partnering with Thought Machine to deliver its new core banking platform on the cloud. The firm’s Vault technology will be used to help Atom record and manage customer transactions and payments. Bhattacharya says the embracing of new digital platforms is part of a wider move from the bank toward software-as-service (SaaS):
We’re taking the opportunity to say we’re not just using what we built in 2016, because the world has moved on. We’ll be looking to host more SaaS components in the cloud, rather than just having our own components bought in and hosted by us. There are strong SaaS players in the market that do things like notifications. Why build that ourselves when we get services through the cloud that are managed by a third party? So we kind of look at what are the important things for us to manage and own, and what are the things we want to rent and leverage.
When it comes to the benefits of using the cloud, Bhattacharya returns to the plus-points of using on-demand IT over a traditional data centre model. He gives the example of CIOs wanting to put in a new development environment for a service component. They’ll need to ensure they have enough rack space to put in the blade and they’ll need to go and buy a blade to put in the rack, manually install the operating system and test it. All that work comes with a schedule, says Bhattacharya – and that schedule isn’t appealing, especially when compared to the flexibility of the cloud:
It’s a manual process that comes with a big price tag. The key benefit of the work we've done is that we can now spin up another environment within hours. And when we're finished with this new environment, or the component or service that’s running in this environment, we can just switch it off. It gives us the rapid velocity to support and sort out the features that we want to have. From a cost perspective, it’s the ability to switch things off when you’re done with them.
Bhattacharya recognises that moving to the cloud isn’t without its challenges. He advises other IT leaders thinking of going on-demand to work on their security model as soon as possible and to back those preparations with conversations with the regulators. He also recommends paying attention to capability concerns:
Building up a team in a very tight timeline to make the progress we wanted was the key challenge. We’re based in the North East of England, so we've had to grow the talent internally to run the change programme. Google played a role in this. Part of the partnership was that they’d inject training and support to help us on our journey, which played a crucial role in building up our team to a very tight timeline.
Perhaps most critically of all, Bhattacharya has received strong C-suite support for the transformation initiative. He believes a move to the cloud will be crucial in helping Atom to change and grow as a business:
This is our flagship programme and all the top executives are involved because this service change is fundamental to the bank. It will give us the resiliency and the velocity that we want to create great experiences for our customers that will be safe and secure.