Inside HSBC’s digital hub with CTO Jack Bennie

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth May 28, 2019
HSBC Origination’s CTO and Global Head of Product adopt tech methods and re-invent the digital journey


Jack Bennie, Global CTO of Originations at bank HSBC says everyone brings something unique to the table. Indicative of this collaborative approach, Bennie decides our CTO interview should include Lloyd Robson, Global Head of Originations Products and Services. The two bounce ideas off each other throughout the interview. The HSBC Originations hub buzzes with activity, everywhere you look teams are gathered at Kanban boards, are in huddles or are using video screens to work through a technical issue with peers in other major markets.

HSBC provides the full range of financial services a customer may need from private banking, general retail banking, wealth management, global investment and operates in 66 markets, employing a quarter of a million people.

Bennie and Robson lead technology and product in the Originations division, a key component of the HSBC Digital Solutions (HDS) arm. Originations is a unique and insightful view into how HSBC is becoming a digital bank, which Robson explains as:

We are trying to make it easier for customers to join HSBC and access products and services digitally

Bennie adds that any customer relationship with an organisation begins with that original experience - joining a bank or making an initial purchase - which in the case of a full service bank such as HSBC could include selling an additional service.

We exist to make it easier to join HSBC with a clear focus on customer experience and progressive technology adoption. Opening a bank account or helping customers with their borrowing needs is still an important process.

So the term Originations comes from a number of different processes executed to fulfil a banking product. Our job is to create a simple and secure digital journey for our customers – taking them through all the necessary steps right up to receiving a banking product or service.

In recent years there has been much hype about the launch of challenger banks in the UK, but Bennie and Robson are clear: their ambition is no copycat. Instead, they are learning from the rise of digital businesses to apply new ways of dealing with customers and technology led business practices to one of the world’s largest banks.

Business research organisation Raddon recently found that 85% of US millennials used mobile banking and this trend is forecast to increase, demonstrating the need for the strategy CTO Bennie and Robson are pursuing.

We play a crucial role at key moments for our customers and it is exciting what we can do digitally now as well as using data and messaging to make this experience increasingly personal and relevant.

Robson notes that HSBC is well aware of the power of being online, but also a physical bank. Interestingly Robson doesn’t talk of online as a new paradigm or becoming a challenger brand, instead his focus is far more grounded and realistic - and most importantly is focused on the customer.

It is about owning the customer problem and solving that digitally because that is where the customer is.

Robson says of when the customer has a challenge, perhaps needing a loan, mortgage or a need to save, their first port of call to find an answer is often on the web.

The market dictates those expectations. I expect to access an intuitive web journey or download an app to join the bank and if we can’t offer that, then we are failing.

Both Bennie and Robson believe this scenario is consistent across traditional retail banking all the way to wealth management.

Just as the Raddon financial services report highlights, banking’s customers are changing. Asia and parts of Europe, in particular the UK, are seeing challenger banks and even ride hailing services coming on to the scene.

Get the front door right and we’ll be in a really good place.

Bennie adds that it isn’t just he and Robson that understand this, the entirety of HSBC is aligned and have given the duo and their team the opportunity to do things differently.

At the start we had to create a disruptive culture, now we are a leading example of a culture that can deliver digital at scale.

Digital culture

Talk to any CTO leading a major transformation and the greatest challenge is culture change and for the organisation to realise that evolution is a constant and not a one off project, which Robson describes:

It is always a moving horizon, we have met the challenge of having a digital core in the business. We have built a culture where the product and technology functions are strong.

To do that the leadership had to change some of its methods too, as Bennie says:

We have some basic principles; all teams are co-located and cross functional – they have the right skills. They are empowered and responsible for design, build and run - they are held accountable. This means they can make changes multiple times a week, constantly improving the customer experience.

That same level of empowerment comes from much higher in HSBC Robson says:

This doesn’t work unless you have executive sponsorship that provides empowerment because if you don’t have that you can’t be truly cross functional.

HSBC has had to bring in new skills from outside of financial services, but both leaders are proud of how the bank has combined the latest technology and product skills alongside strong banking domain knowledge.

Some CTO peers are deeply concerned by a depleted pool of technology skills once the UK splits from the European Union, but Bennie is not so worried:

I think the UK has an exciting pool of talent.

Inevitably the digital core that Robson and Bennie discuss has to work in tandem with the legacy technology that a bank of the stature and history of HSBC is bound to have and Bennie says many of these will not go anywhere soon and is completely practical about the position:  

The software we build has to complement the legacy systems and make the best of them. The opportunity is how we leverage those systems to build business logic and provide value, which creates digital journeys. The greatest challenge is reusability – scaling the software across many varied systems and markets.

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