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Navigating the technology landscape through the eyes of a CIO

Navigating the technology landscape through the eyes of a CIO

Digital TransformationInsightsInsightsThought LeadershipTop Stories

Michel André is CIO of Banking Circle – the tech-first payments bank. Banking Circle’s technology enables payments businesses and banks of any size to seize opportunities in the new economy through providing financial infrastructure such as cross-border payments. Here, André discusses the role of a CIO and the qualities the CIO of the future will need to have.

How would you describe the current role of a CIO and has it transformed compared to five years ago?

To be a CIO you must be curious and strive to learn new things about both technology and the business you are working for. This has always been a requirement for the role but as the world becomes increasingly dominated by tech, it can be difficult to stay on top of.

A lot has changed in the past five years. Just take the pandemic as an example – it has undoubtedly accelerated Digital Transformation and changed the way we interact in business and society for good. From running a company, to keeping connected to friends and family, we have all been forced to adopt digital tools – and they aren’t going anywhere.

In the payments space specifically, Digital Transformation is thriving. Consumers today have high expectations for real-time payments (particularly cross-border) as well as a range of services, from lending through to foreign exchange. FinTechs and financial institutions must step up or risk getting left behind. The same goes for CIOs. The newest ‘new normal’ is just around the corner; you have to be open to learning about it so you can adopt the latest technology and use it to empower your business.

What is a business/IT challenge you have faced in your role and how did you overcome this?

Despite the incredible acceleration of Digital Transformation in financial services, transferring money between countries remains a slow, expensive and cumbersome process, with transactions taking anything from two to five days. Cross-border payments are core to Banking Circle’s offering and we are always working towards making payments as fast and cost-effective as possible for our clients.

As part of this, we recently shifted our entire infrastructure to Microsoft Azure. Although our technology has always provided compliance and cut down the manual handling of transactions, our core banking systems were previously supported by a managed service that was a bottleneck for development. Shifting to the cloud was the answer; with our entire infrastructure cloud-based, we can evolve architecture rapidly to respond to the ever-changing demands of the industry.

During this project, one of the biggest challenges my team faced was learning to operate with a cloud mindset and figuring out the way it allows you to scale up and down. They say knowledge is power and the project required significant upskilling. We worked through this by making sure internal communication was prioritised as well as working closely with the provider. 

What management qualities do you believe are essential for leading a successful team and how do you instil these into the workplace?

There is a broad palette of skills needed to be a CIO. Primarily, you need technical competency and an understanding of the technology landscape. The next step is applying technology to business challenges. This combination of business sense and tech skills is crucial to success.

You also need to be a strong leader. Your team will look to you for answers, so being equipped with sound managerial skills and the ability to work strategically and tactically means being an effective mentor. To achieve this, good communication skills coupled with integrity and independence are a must. You can inspire these traits in the workforce through leading by example. For instance, encourage entry-level employees to ask questions and encourage mid-level managers to lead the way.

How do you ensure you deliver outcomes that support Banking Circle’s business goals?

We put clients at the heart of what we do. In turn, clients are loyal which helps us grow and allows us to invest time and money right back into innovating for them. That’s the reason we migrated to the cloud – it offers so much flexibility and scalability, enabling our clients to be agile in the face of ever-evolving requirements. We also offer open APIs which enable easy integration between the platform’s functions and clients’ workflows so they can easily integrate payment services into their own infrastructure.

This client-first approach is absolutely key and it’s meant we have doubled our client base since 2020. We’re now working with over 170 financial institutions including Stripe, Alibaba, Shopify and Paysafe.

How do you see the role of CIO developing in the next 12 months? What qualities will the CIO of the future need to have?

Technology is constantly evolving which means so is the role of the CIO. Indeed, there is a whole host of new technology to learn about. For example, in financial services, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have the power to totally transform the industry. We are already making major inroads, especially when it comes to fighting money laundering and fraud – whereby AI dramatically increases rules precision, highlighting patterns the naked human eye could never spot. It’s the job of the CIO to tap into new trends and stay ahead of the curve.

Embracing emerging tech is one piece of the puzzle, another relates to navigating a permanent shift to hybrid working. With teams separated by geography at least some of the time, soft skills such as communication, mentoring and leadership will be even more critical than before. Not only do soft skills help manage a team effectively, but they also help instil a large degree of trust across the whole organisation, from board level to interns. This is crucial because as a CIO you’re making decisions that keep the company running and you need to reassure people that you’re making the right choices.

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