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Three Finnish banks, one core IT platform

Can a shared core IT platform enable three Finnish banks to become more efficient yet maintain individual competitiveness?

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Nordics: CW Nordics: Copenhagen woos tech startups

There are times when it makes sense for several different companies to share resources. This happens quite frequently in the car industry, for example, in which components and even entire sub-assemblies may be common to cars from different manufacturers.

Usually, although not always, the individual companies in such projects are all subsidiaries of a single, larger organisation. Even when they’re not, it often makes sense to avoid reinventing the wheel, as long as the wheel isn’t central to the business’s unique selling point.

Resource-sharing isn’t the exclusive preserve of manufacturers, as demonstrated by a project in Finland in which three banks are to share a single core IT platform. The three banks in the scheme are Säästöpankki (Savings Banks Group), Oma Säästöpankki (Oma Savings Bank) and POP Pankki (POP Bank Group).

Cooperation between these three Finnish banks isn’t a new concept. They previously shared resources with a common core platform, but that had been in use for almost 40 years, so a change was well overdue.

The new platform, implemented by IT services company Cognizant and banking software firm Temenos, will be based on Temenos T24 Transact and Temenos Payments Hub.

What drove the decision to use the same core platform for three different banks? “Digital technologies, as well as changing customer expectations, are significantly disrupting the banking landscape,” said Kaushik Sarkar, vice-president and head of Nordics at Cognizant.

“As such, there’s an increasing demand for innovative, plug-and-play, multi-channel and easy-to-use solutions that can be easily customised and implemented across the banking system.”

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Tero Niemi, chief operating officer at Säästöpankkiryhmä, said: “Overall, the core systems are becoming less of an advantage to any bank, and hence a standard solution that is maintained and developed as a banking-as-a-service model seems to be developing as the future standard in the banking market.”

But if core systems are less of an advantage to any bank, where does the advantage now come from in competitive banking? According to Niemi, customer experience is becoming the key differentiator. “Traditionally, banking has been seen as finance (reallocation of funds and risks); in the future, it’s instead becoming a service, which emphasises the importance of the customers.”

To revert to the car analogy for a moment, customers may be unconcerned about the finer details of chassis construction, gearbox manufacture and spark plug design, but will certainly consider fuel economy, safety and interior trim in their buying decisions.

In the same way, banking customers may have little concern for the underlying system that processes their transactions – as long as it remains stable, secure and reliable – and more focused on banking services, loan rates and financial flexibility. Even so, from the perspective of a potential customer, the idea of a bank’s core platform being shared with others may at first sound a little risky.

What about the concern that an error in one system affects the others, or that the platform may somehow become compromised and allow users from one bank to access the account of another? In reality, it’s not three banks running on one system: the code is shared, but the installations are not.

“We will have layered architecture,” said Niemi. “All banks will share generic, country-level and the three banks’ common code base. On top of these, the banks have their specific code. The code base for the three layers are the same, but the software installations are separate. The setup is tailored to minimise the bank-specific development needs while still allowing some flexibility.”

A common core

Sarkar at Cognizant added: “The platform is designed so that we have a common core built and designed for use by all three banks. We will also have multiple instances of the core platform to ensure the data is secure, and each bank can continue adding customised, digital modules to their specific design.”

In fact, if anything, this is a step away from interdependency for Säästöpankki, Oma Säästöpankki and POP Pankki. “For the three banks, there was much tighter cooperation before – with each one being a block in a unified mainframe core solution,” said Niemi, “With this solution, the robustness will come from standard software, rather than being part of the same installation.”

Coming back to stability, security and reliability, sharing resources has the potential to enhance all three, mainly through a reduction in development and maintenance overhead. “We are looking for benefits in maintenance, upgrades during the lifecycle of the system and faster time-to-market for new products,” he said.

“As we are moving away from custom-made software to a standard commercial product, development costs and regulatory compliance are also significant factors. These are the benefits we’ve seen from the banks that have recently completed their core renewal.”

That’s not to say that implementation of the new platform will be entirely straightforward, as new ground is being broken in the three-banks case.

“While banking-as-a-service is not a new concept in the industry, this will be one of the few cases wherein banks, product partners and service providers are coming together to deliver a cutting-edge platform, servicing multiple banks at the same time,” said Sarkar. “The nature of the engagement itself, however, is quite complex; but with our strong experience in delivery, we aim to exceed our clients’ expectations with the platform we promised.”

Time will tell. The new platform is due to be rolled out to the three Finnish banks in 2021. That’s when the customers of Säästöpankki, Oma Säästöpankki and POP Pankki will discover whether banking-as-a-service is a viable proposition for them, and if it offers banking service benefits they didn’t enjoy before.

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