Optimizing over innovating: A key strategy with the end goal in mind | HCLTech

Optimizing over innovating: A key strategy with the end goal in mind

Sebastiaan Kalshoven, IT Director and CTO at de Volksbank, explores the balance between embracing cutting-edge technology and adhering to the regulations that govern the financial services sector
5 minutes read
Felix Speulman
Felix Speulman
Editor, ICT Media
5 minutes read
Optimizing over innovating: A key strategy with the end goal in mind

How do you choose the right innovation strategy? How do you move away from legacy systems? And how do you strike a balance between cybersecurity and user experience? These are important questions for any business – even more so for financials. 

Sebastiaan Kalshoven, IT Director and CTO at de Volksbank (the parent company of SNS, ASN Bank, RegioBank and BLG Wonen), helps dissect this topic.

What do you think is the role of leadership in driving innovation?

I believe it lies in optimizing the workforce's potential, allowing them to enhance their daily tasks and contribute to our product offerings. By focusing on gradual improvements and optimizing existing services, the bank aims to deliver value incrementally but with a clear strategy and direction. This strategy of focusing on the optimization of current products, transitioning from legacy systems to microservices, and empowering the team underlines the importance of collective success over individual achievements.

Businesses in the financial services sector are usually not known for their innovative nature. On top of that, there are regulatory constraints. How can you best innovate in this environment? 

The financial sector's conservative nature, driven by the need to ensure the safety of monetary transactions and compliance with regulations, poses innovation challenges indeed. However, we navigate these by leveraging our resources to invest in advanced technology and adopting a smart-follower approach to reach a high level of maturity in our services. This approach allows the bank to innovate within the confines of existing regulations and anticipate future regulatory changes, such as the EU’s Digital Operational Resilience Act.

How do you transform IT into a modern, lean platform? And is de Volksbank moving online exclusively? 

To start with the latter; contrary to moving entirely digital, de Volksbank maintains an omnichannel strategy, recognizing the value of physical touchpoints like through our SNS stores and RegioBank representatives. This approach, coupled with a rigorous transformation of our IT infrastructure under clear architecture and futureproof modernization, has allowed us to streamline the architecture, prioritize security, and manage costs effectively. By balancing team autonomy with strategic alignment, we create an environment enabling innovation and effective service delivery.

How do you foster innovation? 

We encourage innovation through a bottom-up approach, allocating time for teams to explore optimizations and new ideas. Regular tech-focused events, hackathons, and prototype sessions facilitate this process, allowing ideas to be tested and showcased before seeking senior management approval. This agile methodology, combined with overarching portfolio management, ensures that innovation aligns with the bank's strategic goals.

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How does one balance security and customer experience?

As the Digital Platform IT team, we also understand we are supporting our internal customers, colleagues and external customers daily to enable them to make more impact every day. At the heart of our strategy is our commitment to delivering secure and efficient platforms. Through continuous validation, pen-testing and adherence to industry standards, the bank ensures the security of its infrastructure and services. Simultaneously, we engage customers through A/B testing to refine user experience, highlighting the bank's dedication to optimizing services without compromising security.

By focusing on gradual improvements and optimizing existing services, the bank aims to deliver value incrementally but with a clear strategy and direction.

To be able to do so, our IT strategy is organized according to the following concepts: Provide, Enable, Create and Leverage. We provide fit-for-purpose platform services with clearly defined tools and platforms. We enable autonomous self-service by delivering easy-to-use platform services through CLIs, APIs and portals. We create reusable building blocks, focused on build-once and use many concepts to drive speed. We leverage innovative out-of-the-box technology, we reuse and do not build it ourselves whenever it’s not necessary.

Do customers need to be educated on security?

 There’s a gap in customer awareness regarding security risks. We try to educate our clientele through training sessions and online resources. This educational initiative reflects the bank's holistic approach to security, combining technological advancements with proactive customer engagement.

This interview was made possible with support from HCLTech.

Financial Services
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