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HSBC combines AWS with agile thinking to tap into growing demand for mobile banking

Banking giant opens up about how cloud and DevOps adoption is helping it cope with the growing consumer demand for mobile and online banking services

The banking sector’s major players know only too well the importance of ensuring they are primed and ready to respond to new competitive threats and changing customer habits.

With new challenger banks entering the market and looking to disrupt the status quo, and customers becoming increasingly comfortable with using the internet and mobile devices to manage their money, doing things the way you always have is no longer an option for the big banks.

And it is this realisation that is spurring Barclays, Lloyds, Santander and others to invest in technologies and services that reflect how their customers want to do business with them in 2016.

HSBC is no different and is in the midst of a mobile-first digital transformation push, underpinned by the use of cloud technologies and DevOps, to ensure it has all bases covered when it comes to catering for the changing needs and expectations of its customers around the world.   

“There are many angles to our digital transformation, but the one that is front and centre for me is addressing customer demand and expectations,” Marco Pera, HSBC’s global head of platform management, told Computer Weekly at the recent AWS Enterprise Summit in London.

“Customers are used to knowing in real time what is happening in the world and they are always connected, and we need to make sure we offer banking services through digital channels, so people can choose how they want to interact with us,” he added.

And those preferences can change rapidly as new banking services come to market, said Pera. He cited the speed at which consumers have adapted to contactless and mobile payment platforms, with many opting to use these rather than cash and branch-based services.

“People like using mobile as a vehicle to stay on top of their finances and this is why it is such an important part of our strategy,” he said.

“But you will have some customers who still value going into the branch, others who want to speak to a relationship manager and others who want to do everything through the internet and mobile. As an organisation, we need to cater to all of those needs.”

A change in culture

This has already seen the organisation create HSBC Digital Solutions (HDS), whereby more than 2,000 people performing business or technology functions across the organisation are working together to develop new services and platforms.

In parallel with this, the company has created a series of cross-functional teams, paving the way for it to take a DevOps-style approach to developing new mobile applications and services in the AWS cloud.

“Some of our team members are people who have been in the technology department for a while, but we are also injecting in new talent from other industries, so we can incorporate learnings from people who have [gone through digital transformation] in other sectors and bring that into our teams,” said Pera.

“It creates a diverse skillset where people who come from inside the bank, understand how it works and the expectation of how its services operate [mix with] people with fresh ideas from other industries.”

HSBC is using AWS to house its mobile-focused development and testing activities, with a view to using it for production workloads later down the line.

“We needed to help our cross-functional teams and developers work in a way that is effective for them, and reducing the complexity they might have from living in an on-premise world,” said Pera.

“And that means giving them access and availability to the latest tools that are required to create good services.”

The move to adopt cloud and agile methodologies had to go hand-in-hand for this reason, he said. “Once you form the teams, their demand for these tools goes up because they begin asking for [the technologies] they need to do their jobs properly.”

Early agile adoption

The company’s cloud and DevOps push is still in its infancy, but Pera said there was a willingness at all levels of HSBC to see its agile ambitions come to fruition to support its wider mobile platform plans.

“A lot of the senior people around digital already work and think in that way, and I’ve rarely seen large programmes be more effective than an initiative run in an agile way,” he said.

“The teams they look after always want this because working in a waterfall way is constraining and hard. It is also difficult to manage those kinds of programmes and get visibility of what is going on.”

The financial services industry is often given as an example of a sector that has been slow to adopt cloud because of regulatory and security concerns, but Pera said AWS’s approach to access control was one of the major reasons why HSBC chose it over its competitors.

Read more about financial services and the cloud

“We can have environments that are totally dedicated to us and refine the control and access that people have on it,” he said. “We can also monitor and scale effectively, which are all things that are necessary for us to have a secure, manageable set of technologies.

“It also provides a wide portfolio of applications and services within its ecosystem. So, once we have gone to the effort of securing it, learning how to use it and managing it, the tools we can use are quite vast and varied, which is attractive.”

With its cloud and DevOps plans in place, the industry will see the development of the bank’s mobile ecosystem continue apace, said Pera.

Personalised services

Another priority for the company is to personalise its services for customers and ensure it can respond in real time to any issues that arise for them with the help of big data analytics.

This might include pre-emptive action when a customer is in danger of missing a credit card payment and getting stung by a late payment fee, for example, or reminding them about an appointment they might have in branch to discuss a new mortgage deal.

“We want to move way from a one-size-fits-all experience and become more relevant, personal and timely with the messaging and communication we have with our customers,” said Pera.

“Data is the heartbeat of our business and if you make the data subservient to the customer experience, it can really help them have the best experience they can.”

Read more on Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

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