How Investec marries foundational and pioneering tech forces

As CIO of Anglo-South African international banking and wealth management group, Investec, Shabhana Thaver has a multi-purpose approach to tech trends. On the one hand, there are foundational forces, which protect the existing business and include talent, information security and modernization. Then, on the other, there are pioneering forces, which drive business growth and include information, interaction and computation. Each needs to engage with the other to achieve desired results.

Modern CIOs must find a way to balance the new and the old, and embrace innovative tech while prioritizing the basics. This means making sure that the right foundations are in place to keep the business running as smoothly as possible. “Technology people are always after the shiny new toy but it’s important to highlight the difference between experimentation and innovation, and actually implementing something in your business,” she says. Getting this right is about staying abreast of new technologies and being open to exploring and experimenting with new things, while also remembering that technology doesn’t work in isolation. When Thaver makes decisions, she considers how to protect the existing business by assessing the risks around new tech. This is important so the business stays relevant but also so it grows. “It sounds really easy but these are all tough decisions to make,” she says.

High touch, enabled by high tech

According to Thaver, Investec differentiates itself by being high touch, enabled by high tech. To deliver this, she and her team have built an API fabric around their estate that allows them to expose the business to the market in a highly secure way.

Describing it as “secure open banking,” this API fabric makes it simpler for the bank’s corporates and private business clients to connect with them. “Our transactional banking clients can connect through these APIs in real-time,” she says. “This enables them to access their transactions, and do their ERP integration or make bulk payments directly with us. In doing so, we’ve created operational efficiency and helped them reduce costs, which is a big win because everyone wants lower costs.” As this solution involves external stakeholders, Thaver says the idea started out as an internal business and technology conversation but, in order to make it real, they had to sit down with business leaders, and then with clients, to discuss possibilities, as well as potential stumbling blocks. 

The bank wanted to use APIs to change the experience for the developer community and make their lives easier. According to Thaver, this was the impetus behind their programmable card. At a very high level, Investec issues a card that has generic transactional capabilities but because they’ve wrapped it with APIs, they’ve given the developer community the opportunity to personalize the card and program it to do whatever they want it to do. If someone wanted to keep track of their monthly budget, for example, they could use the API to do an analysis on spending habits. A developer could even program a card with a specific spend limit for a particular store. “From a developer experience perspective, it’s given us massive benefits because we might be the only organization that has a community of banking professionals or developers working on a programmable card API,” she says.  And they’re now trying to create a low code environment so anyone—not just devs—can benefit from this programmable functionality.

“All of this also future proofs the business,” she adds. “If Investec were to merge with another business or acquire a business, we want to do this at pace. Having our estate wrapped in APIs enables us to gain a consolidated view of all our systems and seamlessly integrate and plug into other systems.”

Prioritizing scalability

Just like the rest of the industry, Investec needs to drive scale, and, to do so; it’s going to use the cloud. “But cloud isn’t going to give the cost efficiencies the business expects if we just lift and shift everything,” she says. “So, we have to modernize first and then move smaller chunks into the cloud so we can enjoy the cost benefits we want.”

For Thaver, it’s important to have a technology state that is rent and assemble, meaning things need to be in these smaller instalments so it’s faster to remove and replace things as and when technology shifts. “Right now, we have a great deal of complexity because we have monolithic systems that are not well distributed,” she says, noting that by eliminating these they can deliver the scale needed to deliver business growth. This will help the bank keep up with the rapid pace of technological change.

“When you come up with technology solutions that are going to drive business growth but are fundamentally different to how the business thinks, it’s important to make sure you have business sponsorship and buy-in,” she says. “Because without that, you won’t succeed.”

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