Exclusive Interview with Roel Louwhoff, Chief Transformation, Technology & Operations Officer, Standard Chartered Bank: The real challenge is how you are going to deliver transformation, not if you can do it.

TDB: Banks often struggle in their modernisation journey. How can institutional leadership help navigate complex transitions and inspire an organisational change in mindset to embrace innovation and unlock new growth?

Roel Louwhoff, Chief Transformation, Technology & Operations Officer, Standard Chartered Bank: Compared to other sectors, banking is relatively late in understanding the need to link all transactions and activities to the client experience, this is particularly so for traditional banks. Traditional banks, having come from products, tend to be product-oriented rather than client-oriented. Unlike newer FinTechs, more established businesses in financial services also face the ‘burden’ of legacy platforms, components and mainframes that can be over 50 years old – a key challenge many businesses often cite.

To move forward, this is a mindset of ‘playing the victim’ which must be left behind. Instead, organisations need to work with what they have and continually innovate to achieve their goal. The real challenge is how you are going to deliver transformation, not if you can do it.

To navigate the complex transitions in this modernisation journey, institutional leadership in banking needs to bridge the gap of moving from ‘product’ to ‘client’ and working horizontally across specialisations and disciplines, instead of only or mostly vertically in individual silos down the organisation.

I have observed that many transformation journeys in businesses today are focused on digitalisation of the front-end, and less about simplifying technology, process, organisational structure end-to-end, or empowering people. Transformation is about bringing all these components together to create a modern, innovative culture and mindset.

Standard Chartered is at the forefront of banking innovation, and we continue to encourage a high-performance culture that fosters experimentation and continuous improvement. While setting the culture is important, it is even more important to interlink innovation with business outcomes. You can only get the best results out of innovation when you ensure it directly impacts the clients you serve.

TDB: The global banking landscape is being defined by wide-ranging digital transformation, increased competition from new market entrants & platforms and evolving customer behaviour How is Standard Chartered Bank (SC) adapting to this change and what role is the Transformation, Technology & Operations (TTO) team playing in embracing and adapting to this paradigm shift, while also fostering the development of new digital ecosystems?

Roel Louwhoff: The pace of digitalisation is accelerating across the world, bringing to the forefront key questions around the balance between privacy, security, and the benefits of cross-border flow of data and innovation.

The main goal of TTO is ensuring Standard Chartered truly becomes a client-centric data-driven digital bank that is trusted and unafraid to innovate banking to meet the needs of the future. This means working on our processes, technology, data infrastructure and skills needed in the future to deliver a complete, efficient and enjoyable client experience.

Going digital in financial services is often perceived as the front-end interface with clients. But that is just one aspect of digitalisation, namely what clients see. If your end-to-end processes are not optimally aligned and fully digital, even a fantastic interface on the mobile phone will not deliver a swift and seamless customer journey.

Banks today focus predominantly on the front-end of being digital and often forget the back-end, thereby neglecting the total end-to-end process.

At TTO, we adopt a bold approach to transformation that continually empowers all our stakeholders to reimagine what banking should be today, and could be tomorrow, on a global scale – digital, secure, inclusive and personalised. Our four-pronged approach is:

  1. Take a collaborative and client-centric view of innovation across all products and services to reduce friction and increase speed at which ideas convert into solutions,
  2. Strive to set the industry standard for robust operational, cybersecurity and data practices through simplifying and standardising the core building blocks of our technology architecture,
  3. Leverage the unique scale of our deep cross-border networks, in-market capabilities and partnerships, and
  4. Build on the strength of our diverse employees to differentiate ourselves as an employer of choice and an inclusive, future-ready workforce.

We believe these strategies can help futureproof the Bank and ensure we remain innovative, sustainable and fit-for-purpose for years to come.

TDB: Banks often are working with layers of legacy infrastructure and multiple platforms. Is there a more permanent fix to this predicament and how has SC addressed this challenge?

Roel Louwhoff: A longer-term solution would be ensuring that existing infrastructure and platforms remain relevant for our business and clients. These systems should be continually reviewed, updated, and improved to ensure that the ever-evolving client needs are met – and this is achieved by utilising the right technology.

Technology sits at the heart of many solutions to our biggest challenges and those of our clients. By taking a collaborative and client-centric view of innovation across all our products and services, our data-driven approach empowers us to be more intentional for our clients, building customised solutions and experiences that deliver real value. This approach also helps negate unnecessary layers of legacy infrastructure and platforms.

To innovate at scale, both swiftly and securely, we must simplify and standardise the core building blocks of our technology architecture by balancing between resilience and agility as new technologies are onboarded and existing systems are maintained.

We have clear frameworks and oversight for the development of new technology and are implementing a safe open banking software development environment for innovation and experimentation with cutting edge technology to continually innovate and improve existing solutions with new technology.

TDB: In 2024, what key technologies such as Gen AI, blockchain, cloud computing and robotics etc. do you believe will become central in augmenting the Bank’s ability to deliver elevated customer experiences and enhanced operational efficiencies and why?

Roel Louwhoff: Robotics, in the form of robotic process automation, and blockchain have been applied across banking activities for some time now, and we see continual, rapid growth in cloud computing.

AI has been a true disruptor across many industries with Gen AI having a mind-blowing potential to impact businesses. The catalyst function of AI and LLMs are having a profound impact on digitalisation across the world and even more so on privacy.

As these technologies are becoming mainstream, there is growing urgency to have conversations around the change and impact on the human environment. So in addition to elevating client experiences, a key challenge for banks is how to embed these technologies across operations and activities safely and securely without compromising client data and trust.

While the sophistication and adoption of emerging technology is rapidly growing, it also requires strong self-governance and a collaborative, cross-industry approach. At Standard Chartered, we are applying AI to deep internal data resources across client segments to provide personalised content and solutions on various touchpoints.

We regularly engage with regulators to understand the evolving regulatory landscape around emerging technologies and innovation. We also have a robust data governance framework to manage handling data and deploying innovation responsibly and maintain regular collaboration with public and private sector players to manage risks.

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