A single mainframe technology was not the technology platform on which to meet the changing needs of building society customers. Just as with retail and banking, a marked change in customer behaviour required a technology approach to meet those needs. Skipton Building Society, based in the castle town of Skipton Yorkshire, had to preserve its strengths in customer service - in particular at the branch level - whilst expanding its options for the future.
Dan Akrigg, Skipton's Head of Systems Development at Skipton Building Society led the move to a component and API focused technology estate that protected the customer service legacy and the future opportunities.
We are a building society with members and not shareholders and in the sector there is a lot of pride in that structure. We pride ourselves on a deep customer service.
Akrigg, who has been with Skipton for over 18 years says the culture is very different in a building society with its mutual business model compared to the share price, quarterly earnings targets environment of major banks.
We don't measure the time that call takes and the same approach is used in the branches.
Founded in 1853 in the town it takes its name from, Skipton Building Society is the UK's fourth largest building society with over a million customers and 88 branches across the country. Skipton also owns the Connells Group estate agency business. In the banking crisis of 2007 to 2010 Skipton Building Society merged with the Scarborough and Chesham building society organisations, both of which had got into difficulties during the recession.
As consumers of all ages begin to demand a greater purpose from those they bank, shop or transact with, the customer centric approach of Skipton Building Society could well be a major advantage to them. Investing time in the customer does not mean that an organisation can ignore the march of technology, in fact the demand for greater purpose will depend on organisations having a reliable and efficient technology estate to ensure it can deliver greater customer service.
We have a large monolithic back end with an internal development team, but there was no gearing for interoperability.
Akrigg explained how the physical and digital services of the building society were unable to connect and offer the customer what they wanted. This had the potential to hold Skipton Building Society back. Akrigg uses the example of the Lifetime ISA product, which savers can take out to either save for a first-time house purchase, or to save for their retirement. The government has been actively promoting the Lifetime ISA product. For the building societies to offer a Lifetime ISA requires working closely with HMRC.
We couldn't leverage the outside opportunity. The monolith had 15 million lines of code. Like any organisation, the funds are not unlimited, so we had to be cautious with our strategic spend.
Akrigg says of how the technology team at Skipton fortified the building society with a component and application programming interface (API) strategy that has left the monolith in place as the society's "brain", but created a technology architecture that interoperates with taxation bodies and others. APIs and components were developed in a partnership with Tibco, the provider of integration, analytics and event-processing software. Akrigg says Tibco understood the need to protect the monolith core.
They opened our eyes to into how we might go through the change, which has changed from a traditional delivery model to being more Agile
We went through some bumps and challenges and there were mistakes on both sides.
New methods, new customers
In a study of digital maturity amongst building societies released in April 2020 Skipton topped the rank of 40 other building society organisations in the UK.
We were the first to offer a cash online Lifetime ISA. That is a significant shift. We have also developed a mobile app to compliment the Lifetime ISA.
Traditionally the building society sector does not have apps and were able to land the Lifetime ISA and app services pretty quickly.
Akrigg says of the change in speed to market for financial products and the supporting technologies that today's customer demands. He adds that the app has received 2.7 million log-ins and is increasing the amount of contact with the customer that Skipton Building Society has.
We have achieved a lot of catching up and that has given us a lot more opportunity, so we are now improving the speed of delivery. For example we have just gone through a time of not being able to open and use our branch network, so there will be a shift and we are securing that shift to the digital and we are discussing with the organisation what that means for the society. It is a delicate balance, as we do pride ourselves on the contact with the customer. But as we are seeing with the Lifetime ISA generation, some customers want to interact differently.
The component and API architecture of the Skipton Building Society has provided the organisation with the ability to serve traditional customers in traditional ways, but to also meet the needs of a more digitally savvy customer base.
We are always increasing the functionality of what we are offering and how we provide self-service. It is about giving the customer choice. We are seeing customers want to do their research online and we can now interweave that with face-to-face services.
Fortunately for the technology team and the customers of Skipton Building Society the organisational culture adapted and recognised the need for a change.
Five years ago there were parts of the organisation that did not realise the importance of an API strategy and how such a move was vital to Skipton.
Skipton Building Society is predominantly a Microsoft shop, with Tibco as its API, integration partner. The building society has hardware and software and change teams of about 100 full time employees in each. With many of the team also working on the Jade Software, a technology business that is part of Skipton Building Society and offers virtual assistants, artificial intelligence and other customer contact technologies.