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Finextra Leadership: Scotiabank co-CIO McNamara on the digital future

Monday, April 18th, 2016


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Scotiabank co-chief information officer Kyle McNamara talks to Finextra about how the bank is adapting to the digital future, going mobile, using analytics and working with the local fintech community.

This week Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter updated shareholders on the bank’s strategy. It was a familiar message of digital transformation as customers go mobile and the role of branches evolve.

A 25 year Scotiabank veteran, Porter got the top job in 2013. Shortly after, he took the unusual step of appointing co-CIOs: long-time staffer Kyle McNamara and IBM executive Michael Zerbs.

Explaining the move, McNamara says: “I think he [Porter] recognised that technology was going to fundamentally change banking over the course of the next five to 10 years. And so we need to adapt our tech strategy.”

In his update to shareholders, Porter revealed that the bank is investing C$100 million in upgrading the technology across its branch network, adding things such as iPads. Despite reports that job cuts are also on the way as customers migrate to digital channels, McNamara says that people are still going into branches for advice.

However, there is no doubt that the move to mobile is well underway. Scotiabank is working hard on adding new feature to its services, taking advantage of its ownership of digital-only bank Tangerine to experiment fast.

McNamara says that when Scotiabank first bought Tangerine in 2012 it kept its subsidiary at arm’s length. But that has changed in recent months, with Tangerine CIO Charaka Kithulegoda reporting to McNamara, who says that the subsidiary is well suited to fast prototyping and piloting, trying out things in areas such as biometrics that would be difficult for the larger organisation.

That’s not to say that Scotiabank is resistant to adopting a more startup-style approach itself. The bank is adding at least 350 tech staff to a new ‘Digital Factory’ in downtown Toronto focused on customer experience projects.

Here, a fail-fast approach dominates, with different parts of the business putting in requests that are then triaged, typically in under 16 weeks. McNamara describes a process where in the first 10 days a collection of people from the bank come together to walk through how a particular service (such as client onboarding) is currently done and how it can be improved. Then customer focus groups are brought in before the digital factory team gets to work.

“And then we use an agile methodology: we estimate the work, we break into block, we prioritise the stories, we estimate how long each story is, how much work it will be, we develop in one or two weeks sprints depending on the project and that iterates through and then we try to do the major releases in 12 to 16 week increments,” says McNamara.

A different sort of relationship has been developed with Queen’s University, where the bank has pumped C$2.2 million into a new customer analytics centre, hoping to harness the power of big data. 

Scotiabank has been busy building an enterprise data lake to help it meet upcoming regulations. But McNamara says that it is also providing a big boost for customer services. 

“So now we have that and we’re also capturing additional info, better customer interactions, the loyalty programmes that our customers participate in, the broad definition of customer interactions. So we’re capturing a lot of the info about – in the online and mobile space – how they interact with us. So we’re getting a holistic picture of the client.

“And that’s why I feel we’re on a very good path here and I can see the path were on. And that’s why I say that come 2017/18 I can see the pipeline of analytics use cases that we’re launching now and as they gain momentum I think that 2017 and 2018 will be the year you’ll start to see the banks that are doing this separate from the banks that haven’t.”

Scotiabank is also working hard to strengthen its ties with the fintech community. The Digital Factory will include an innovation hub where startups will be invited to demonstrate their products, with the best chosen for pilots with the bank.

Earlier this year the bank ran its first hackathon, which saw 24 teams compete to create ways to help people manage debt. McNamara says that some “excellent concepts” came out of the event and that he plans to “continue the conversation” with the top three efforts, while more hackathons are in the pipeline.

Some of this outreach could lead to investments. Last year Scotiabank joined Santander InnoVentures and ING in a $135 million funding round in automated lending platform Kabbage and McNamara says “the awareness and willingness to partner with startups has never been as high as it is now”.

This goes right to the top and Porter, who recently told his CIO: “I want to see more, give me more opportunities to see the startups we’re working with.”


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