Almost four years ago, I decided to make a big change in my life as I accepted the role as CDO in Sbanken, including a weekly commute from Oslo to Bergen. It may be the worst-kept secret in the industry that I considered my missions in the bank as accomplished and decided to move on in the beginning of the year. As my last day in the bank is approaching, it is time to announce my departure.
My mission as head of IT and business development was to contribute to double-digit growth, increase innovation, and maintain and manage a stable and secure IT operation while cleaning up technical debt and building a scalable IT operation in order to stay ahead of the curve as a leading digital bank without resting on the laurels of past achievements.
Important deliverables has been (but not limited to):
- Evaluated chose and migrate core banking solution, including renegotiating five-year-long core banking agreement resulting in a significant cost reduction
- Scaling development capacity through an increase of in-house development capacity, establishing and scaling an offshore development capability in Lisbon Portugal, as well as establishing a student program where technology students are given the opportunity to work part-time as developers in the bank. This has given the bank a necessary increase in development capacity, while substantially reducing the average cost per hour
- Established autonomous teams as a way of work across the business and its side of the organization in order to increase productivity and reduce time to market. In order to measure the effect, SINTEF has followed our work and evaluated it underway. This has given valuable insight and the opportunity to adjust our course along the way
- Developed a sophisticated robo-advisory service for our customers based on technology from fintech-startup Quantfolio (where Sbanken also holds a majority stake). The solution has enabled Sbanken to offer automated advice to our savings customer’s equivalent of a double-digit number of human financial advisors. Through good collaboration and serving on the board of FinAut, the robo-advisor service also aims to be authorized as an authorized financial advisor
- Built and launched a bank for SMEs from scratch with the ambition to achieve the same success as when the bank launched for private customers through a simplified interface, decent interest rates, and no hidden fees. The business bank aims to provide a frictionless everyday bank for small- and medium-sized enterprises through a digital-only offering
- Cleaning up technical debt, and modernizing the digital platform to an API-based platform, and micro-services oriented architecture and thus enabling open banking capabilities for Sbanken. Some examples of our open banking deliverables during this time includes integrations with cloud-based accounting systems for SMEs, integrating with Lånekassen to include student debt in the online bank, as well as a developer portal where customers of the bank can build their own services based on their own data
- Making sure the bank stayed compliant through a barrage of directives has hit the banking sector that has required significant changes on the technical side. But compliance sometimes create possibilities as well, and we decided to get ahead of PSD2 together with a selection of banks to test the waters in advance of the directive
- Carefully monitoring IT spending to make sure IT cost always stayed below budgets (while still maintain momentum on technical modernization and reduction of technical debt)
- Embarking a full migration from on-premise infrastructure to a cloud-based infrastructure, establishing a cloud-first strategy for the future of our digital platform to ensure cost-efficient operations and reduced time to market for new initiatives.
- Launched a new mobile bank after rigorous testing and feedback from 20 000 beta testing customers for more than a year. This approach let us fine-tune both look and feel as well as which features this provided the most frictionless everyday banking experience for our customers
- Maintain second place on the Nordic Innovation index for three consecutive years
- Established a platform for data-driven sales based on behavioral data and nudge-theory with the goal of becoming world champions in cross-selling and personalized sales dialogues
After doing a transition I always find room to look back and reflect on what I have learned, and as I’m preparing for the next phase in my career, I would like to share some of my thoughts. Somethings came naturally as part of the role, and other things I learned the hard way. While the setup of leading a combination of IT and business development was enticing on paper, I soon realized that combining the two roles proved to be demanding at times. It required great discipline when it came to prioritizing my time between looking towards the horizon and setting the future agenda, when to follow up short- to medium term deliverables, and when to follow up everyday operations.
At the same time, I needed to maintain a balance between IT and business development. Regarding that issue, it is no secret that when running a digital bank, stable operations, security and compliance was always the top priority. This responsibility was both new, but also rewarding work. I am extremely grateful to have led and worked side by side with such dedicated colleagues who time and time again always walked the extra mile whenever there was an incident that needed to be fixed.
I have learned a lot about the human factor of leadership. Since much of my previous leadership experience came from the consulting industry, I was used to basing my motivational factors on quantitative metrics, such as utilization and sales targets. Getting to know your team on a personal level to understand each individual’s inner motivation was an important realization for me to become a better leader of a large and more diverse department. Leadership is about bringing out the best in others and giving my teammates a feeling of confidence and personal growth. Setting clear expectations and deliverables. Provide feedback on an even basis. Make sure that praise is given when someone performs well. Provide guidance rather than solutions, unless someone explicitly asks for it. Ask the right questions rather than giving the answers – and above all, resist the urge to micro-manage. As a curious and engaged person, the latter has been one of the more difficult exercises for me.
Being able to stay consistent in the long haul has been a guiding principle for success in my entire career. Long-term ambitions require communicating clearly, where we are heading and why we are heading in that exact direction. In order to maintain a course, it is crucial to quantify goals and deliverables and ensure frequent feedback, both towards oneself, central stakeholders, and team members.
These years have been eventful, and I could go on forever describing my experience in Sbanken, but I would like to summarize that it has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of an organization consisting of so many highly engaged and talented individuals.
It is now it is time to end my weekly commute and come home to Oslo where my spouse and son have been patiently waiting for me these years. I still have some tasks to finish before I sign out, and will have my last day at the bank by the end of this month. What lies ahead is yet to be decided, and I will rather than rushing into something new spend some time to find something that is meaningful, and where I can continue to grow and make use of my experience.