CIO interview: Russ Thornton, chief abilities officer at Shawbrook Monetary institution

Russ Thornton swapped lifestyles on the theatre podium for monetary services and products IT, nevertheless flourishes in an ambiance where orchestrating IT groups is a core skill

Karl Flinders


Printed: 17 Mar 2023 15: 30

Orchestrating suppliers and IT groups at some level of a vital digital transformation is what Russ Thornton finds himself doing in his feature as CTO at UK lending and savings bank Shawbrook.

Bringing a huge community of folk with tons of talents together and making them collaborate is no longer fresh to him. A musical conductor by schooling, Thornton “fell into computers to pay the hire”.

Within the early 1990s, he used to be conducting orchestras in theatres in San Francisco, a city which he says, “even in the early 1990s used to be an costly bid to hire”.

Nevertheless on his doorstep used to be one other opportunity because the IT sector in and around the city grew all of a sudden. “I discovered out I was moderately correct with computers and used to be in Silicon Valley at the correct time,” he urged Computer Weekly.

After studying “a bucket load” about IT in Silicon Valley, Thornton moved to the UK in 1997 to trip lifestyles abroad for a twelve months. On the present time, married with two kids, he’s quiet here.

Within the past 25 years, he has since held abilities roles at substantial banks and global consultancies and has established a few tech startups which he has supplied.

He stated his job conducting huge orchestras in theatres is the same to his feature as a CTO. “I was a correct musician, nevertheless by no manner mountainous at any individual instrument, nevertheless conducting is about bringing tons of folk with mountainous talents together,” he stated. “I am correct at tons of tech, nevertheless no longer mountainous at a single tech.”

He stated that while he might well be unlikely to be employed as a senior developer, he’s properly rounded, with the abilities important to bring a team along.

Making song at Shawbrook

Branchless Shawbrook bank is a specialist savings and lending bank. It has a explicit focal level on the property sector nevertheless presents services and products to diminutive and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and customers which shall be on the entire underserved by the mainstream finance sector.

The bank used to be the final result of the upcoming together of 5 tons of finance corporations in 2011. By 2017, after years of convey, the owners determined to spend the bank into non-public palms and launched into an IT transformation, which Thornton used to be introduced about to orchestrate because the corporate’s first ever CTO. Shawbook now has 1,200 workers after shopping The Mortgage Lender in 2020.

Thornton stated: “The owners might well peek the corporate used to be rising if truth be told properly, nevertheless the abilities used to be in every single bid, so I was introduced in.”

He stated it used to be a probability to comprise a greenfield bid, plan the abilities strategy and urged on a multi-twelve months transformation strategy.

The vital job used to be to transform the IT division itself. “For the first few years I was here, we spent tons of time constructing a as a lot as the moment abilities feature as an alternative of the outdated skool college one we had. We went from a ‘cloud over my ineffective body’ diagram to a cloud-first policy, we invested closely in cyber, infrastructure and productivity instruments,” he added.

The early investments made were timely given the disruption that emerged a few years later when the Covid-19 pandemic ripped up the working model of the arena’s businesses. These investments “saved the bank’s bacon” at some level of the Covid-19 pandemic, stated Thornton, on narrative of the corporate “with out warning went from having 900 folk working in the bid of enterprise to 900 folk working from dwelling inside of two weeks”.

5 pillars of IT

Nevertheless Thornton used to be centered on the lengthy length of time, with 5 key pillars plan out when he joined the bank in 2018. These were: introducing a as a lot as the moment IT model, turning into cloud first, getting on high of cyber security, harnessing info and writing tool in-rental.

The abilities division itself used to be the first. Thornton stated: “The abilities model used to be entirely broken with a terribly outdated skool college 1990s operations-led model.” He introduced in a model extra like that of a fintech. He then established an in-rental cloud engineering feature, which he stated used to be “a vital a part of work”.

The appointment of a main info security officer used to be moreover made to salvage infosec as a lot as this level. The bank then place in the foundations for a cloud-based info lake to “leer at analytics great extra positively, and the closing part used to be round writing our bear tool”.

“Technology stale to be a aspect a part of our strategy, nevertheless now it’s fully at the core”

Russ Thornton, Shawbrook


Thornton stated of the closing part: “We were a bank that used to be alarmed of writing our bear tool, nevertheless we snappily realised we can write our bear tool to bring customer experiences.”

Seemingly the largest resolution used to be made in 2018 when the owners determined to make investments in IT. “Technology stale to be a aspect a part of our strategy, nevertheless now it’s fully at the core,” stated Thornton.

On the present time, he stated the corporate wants to scheme obvious its workers, who are skilled in a truly advanced and specialist a part of economic services and products, comprise the tech they want to scheme things extra successfully.

“Our strategy revolves round combining our deep human abilities with progressive tech and records. We encourage the human aspect, on narrative of we play in advanced markets, nevertheless we desire consultants to comprise the correct abilities and records round them to scheme choices snappily,” he stated.

Shawbrook has round 110 stout-time IT workers and round 70 thru its IT suppliers who are outsourced to the bank and “a part of the team”, per Thornton.

“For me, there wants to be a steadiness between stout-time workers and folk from suppliers. A 60: 40 steadiness works properly with a staunch wicked of workers at the pinnacle layers augmented by workers from suppliers to relief scheme birth occur.”

Thornton recently oversaw the rewrite enterprise direction of tool and automate customer journeys partly of its loans enterprise, the spend of low code abilities platform which is already saving 1,500 hours a month as a result.

It now plans to digitise processes in its savings enterprise to tempo up the time it takes customers to delivery an narrative and scheme deposits.

Read extra on CW500 and IT leadership talents

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