CIO interview: Chris Worle, chief digital officer, Hargreaves Lansdown

Former marketing director is defining the newly created CDO role at the financial services firm, and is starting to appreciate the cultural changes involved in digital transformation

Chris Worle, chief digital officer (CDO) at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown, is moving into new territory. He became CDO last June, having previously held the position of interim marketing director. Now Worle is thinking about how to use technology to create new opportunities for the business.

“The focus of my role is to be less operational and more strategic,” he says. “I have the fortunate position where I can reach across the business and bring the experiences I have from the marketing side and understanding the demands of the client, which is still important. I also have to look internally at the digital opportunities to bring efficiencies and improvements to colleagues.”

Worle reports to Hargreaves Lansdown CEO Chris Hill and is a member of the executive team. Having handed over day-to-day responsibilities for marketing, he has more scope to think about systems and services – and he’s enjoying getting his hands on the kit.

“I’m loving it – it satisfies the technology nerd within me, but it also allows me to dream a little and help set out how I see the business in the future,” he told Computer Weekly at the recent Adobe Summit in London. Most encouragingly of all, perhaps, Worle has not received any kind of push-back from IT and business peers, even if the freshness of the CDO title might come as a shock to some.

“I was surprised, when I took the role, about how open many people within the IT department and around the business were,” he says.

“I think my title almost gave them permission to speak to me and to ask questions about what we’re going to do in terms of digital transformation. It showed intent on behalf of the business and showed that, despite the success and the massive growth we’ve seen, we recognise that we still need to do more.”

That is where Worle hopes to make a difference. He recognises that the newness of the CDO in terms of C-suite positions means he has an opportunity to shape his own destiny. He agrees that the CDO role today is a bit like the CIO of 20 years ago – it’s a relatively new title that, unlike CEO, CFO or COO, is still open to interpretation and definition. So, do people now understand what CDO means? Worle is not convinced.

“No, I’m still not entirely sure they do,” he says. “There is a big education piece and I’m kind of the internal disruptor. I think that, to a certain extent, the digital part of my title is a bit of a red herring because the word ‘digital’ means different things to different people. To some people, it means the website; to others, it means innovation. And actually, it’s all of those things combined.”

“Digital is not just about the technology itself, it’s also about cultural change”

Chris Worle, Hargreaves Lansdown

Worle says it is also worth noting that defining and interpreting a role is a two-way street. While his senior peers begin to understand his potential impact, so Worle continues to shape his executive position. One of his key learnings so far is that systems and services are just a starting point for any CDO.

“What I’m finding is that digital is not just about the technology itself, it’s also about cultural change,” he says. “One of the areas we focus on a lot is agile transformation. So, we’re going to bring in all this technology, but how is the business going to need to change in order to make the most of the systems and services we use?”

The success of that change process, says Worle, is directly related to people, organisational structures and processes. “You can get the technology right, but you can still fall down because of everything else,” he says.

Worle acknowledges that the relationships that drive cultural change must be forged across departments – and the tie between digital and IT is critical. He says a big part of his role is establishing a strong bond with Hargreaves Lansdown CIO David Davies. “We’ve got to work really closely together and ensure that we’re moving in the same direction,” says Worle.

“He’s obviously got a huge responsibility in terms of, for a start, keeping the lights on, keeping operations going and delivering the change that the business needs to make on a day-in, day-out basis. My role is really to provide a longer-term perspective, to think about challenges and to provide direction.”

Forward-looking digital vision

Such is the strength of his bond with the CIO that Worle suggests his biggest achievement since becoming CDO last June is the working relationship that has been established between IT and digital. While some organisations struggle to forge that connection, Worle says Hargreaves Lansdown has created a joined-up approach with a single objective.

“We did a lot of work late last year on shaping the 2025 vision for the business with the leadership team,” he says.

“I was really proud and pleased with what came out of that process because that’s again really helped shape the intent. A lot of key technology decisions have been established – if we’re aiming to get to a certain destination as a business by 2025, then certain elements of IT are just not compatible.”

Worle says the business today benefits from a platform that gives its clients strong capabilities in managing their investments. However, that technology will also need to be tweaked to stay relevant in the digital age. Worle says the platform is, in effect, a closed box that has been designed not to talk to anything or anyone in the outside world.

“Ultimately, our focus at the moment is on how we deliver change faster,” he says. “We have got a technology platform that’s been built up over the past 15 to 20 years, which I will admit is slower than we want.”

Worle says the platform is “clunky” in places and also includes legacy code. What the business needs to think about, he says, is how it creates a digital platform that enables developers to make changes that respond to client feedback and demands as quickly as possible.

“Everything that’s on our current platform we have developed and delivered ourselves,” he says. “If you step forward from now and through to 2025, then actually we’ve got to create a completely open ecosystem that leverages the technology and investment of our partners, such as Adobe. We will be accepting the fact that we’re going to need to be consuming data from others and probably sharing it with other parties as well in a secure manner.”

Open approach to development

Worle says an open ecosystem will allow Hargreaves Lansdown to move faster when it comes to delivering services and experience to clients across multiple channels. The open platform will also enable the firm to integrate with third-party services, their tools and their data.

The other key area for development is around how the company creates a multichannel experience. Worle says the goal is to reach a position where clients can self-serve. That development process will mean giving customers the same of kinds of functionality and capability as someone in the firm’s office working in operations.

“That might require us to work in completely different ways with different restrictions, but, ultimately, that’s the aim,” he says. “And then we also need to ensure that people on our helpdesk taking calls have the same functionalities as clients do on our website and mobile apps.”

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Worle says Hargreaves Lansdown has seen a “huge rise” in the number of its clients using mobile devices to access services – yet the growth in mobile should not be viewed in isolation. He says the firm must create an integrated approach to client services that puts customer requirements at the heart of the development process.

“People still value that human touch; they still value that phone call,” he says. “People of all demographics will put a call into us at some point, just to check that someone is there to help and support them. Ensuring that people can do what they want, when they want, through whatever channels they want, is really important. And it’s for them to decide how, not us.”

Delivering value for the business and clients

Worle says the main focus in digital technology is the implementation of Adobe’s Experience Manager platform. He says the tool – which provides an integrated approach to content and digital asset management – will enable his team to respond quickly to new demands in front-end development.

Back-end engineering and back-office systems are also key areas of IT spending, and budget here will help to boost operational pace and efficiency. The aim is to create a careful balance of ongoing technology investments, says Worle.

“We've got to be careful not to just do window dressing on the front-end website, while everything falls apart in the background,” he says. “The areas that our 1.2 million clients are seeing and touching day in and day out are our website, mobile website and our mobile app, so we need to make sure we focus on delivering continual improvements.”

The watchword is value, says Worle. While it is easy to get wrapped up in the implementation of a tech project, he says the digital and IT teams at Hargreaves Lansdown are determined to make sure they stay focused on delivering value as they go through the platform modernisation and digital transformation process.

“The benefit that we have is that we’ve built the business up over the past 35 years by focusing on what clients want,” says Worle.

“So, yes, our vision is about technology and, yes, it’s about people and internal culture. But ultimately, it comes down to delivering stuff that clients want and that will add value to them.”

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