CIO interview: Russ Thornton, chief technology officer at Shawbrook Financial institution

Russ Thornton swapped existence on the theatre podium for monetary products and providers IT, but flourishes in an environment where orchestrating IT groups is a core ability

Karl Flinders


Printed: 17 Mar 2023 15:30

Orchestrating suppliers and IT groups at some stage in a significant digital transformation is what Russ Thornton finds himself doing in his feature as CTO at UK lending and financial savings monetary institution Shawbrook.

Bringing a gargantuan community of different folks with varied skills together and making them collaborate is now not unusual to him. A musical conductor by education, Thornton “fell into computer systems to pay the rent”.

In the early 1990s, he became conducting orchestras in theatres in San Francisco, a metropolis which he says, “even in the early 1990s became a dear contrivance to rent”.

Nonetheless on his doorstep became one other opportunity because the IT sector in and across the metropolis grew instant. “I stumbled on I became quite excellent with computer systems and became in Silicon Valley at the upright time,” he informed Computer Weekly.

After studying “a bucket load” about IT in Silicon Valley, Thornton moved to the UK in 1997 to trip existence in a foreign country for a year. This day, married with two kids, he’s soundless right here.

In the previous 25 years, he has since held technology roles at sizable banks and international consultancies and has established a pair of tech startups which he has sold.

He acknowledged his job conducting gargantuan orchestras in theatres is reminiscent of his feature as a CTO. “I became a excellent musician, but by no design mammoth at any one instrument, but conducting is set bringing hundreds other folks with mammoth skills together,” he acknowledged. “I’m excellent at quite a range of tech, but now not mammoth at a single tech.”

He acknowledged that whereas he could maybe well be now not liable to be employed as a senior developer, he’s properly rounded, with the abilities significant to raise a personnel along.

Making song at Shawbrook

Branchless Shawbrook monetary institution is a specialist financial savings and lending monetary institution. It has a command focal level on the property sector but presents products and providers to tiny and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and customers which could maybe well be generally underserved by the mainstream finance sector.

The monetary institution became the final consequence of the arrival together of 5 varied finance companies in 2011. By 2017, after years of growth, the homeowners made up our minds to retract the monetary institution into deepest hands and embarked on an IT transformation, which Thornton became precipitated to orchestrate because the corporate’s first ever CTO. Shawbook now has 1,200 group after acquiring The Mortgage Lender in 2020.

Thornton acknowledged: “The homeowners could maybe well stumble on the corporate became rising in truth properly, but the technology became in all places, so I became brought in.”

He acknowledged it became a likelihood to personal a greenfield space, location the technology technique and placement off on a multi-year transformation technique.

The main job became to transform the IT division itself. “For the main few years I became right here, we spent quite a range of time making a normal technology feature in contrivance of the worn college one we had. We went from a ‘cloud over my needless physique’ technique to a cloud-first coverage, we invested heavily in cyber, infrastructure and productivity instruments,” he added.

The early investments made were timely given the disruption that emerged a pair of years later when the Covid-19 pandemic ripped up the working model of the world’s corporations. These investments “saved the monetary institution’s bacon” at some stage in the Covid-19 pandemic, acknowledged Thornton, for the reason that company “without note went from having 900 other folks working in the office to 900 other folks working from house internal two weeks”.

5 pillars of IT

Nonetheless Thornton became centered on the future, with five key pillars location out when he joined the monetary institution in 2018. These were: introducing a normal IT model, turning into cloud first, getting on high of cyber safety, harnessing records and writing instrument in-house.

The technology division itself became the main. Thornton acknowledged: “The technology model became fully broken with a terribly worn college 1990s operations-led model.” He brought in a model more fancy that of a fintech. He then established an in-house cloud engineering feature, which he acknowledged became “a significant a part of labor”.

The appointment of a first-rate records safety officer became also made to salvage infosec up as much as now. The monetary institution then build in the foundations for a cloud-primarily based records lake to “stumble on at analytics rather more positively, and the final part became around writing our personal instrument”.

“Technology worn to be a side a part of our technique, but now it’s far definitely at the core”

Russ Thornton, Shawbrook


Thornton acknowledged of the final part: “We were a monetary institution that became timorous of writing our personal instrument, but we swiftly realised we can write our personal instrument to raise customer experiences.”

Maybe primarily the important decision became made in 2018 when the homeowners made up our minds to make investments in IT. “Technology worn to be a side a part of our technique, but now it’s far definitely at the core,” acknowledged Thornton.

This day, he acknowledged the corporate needs to be obvious its group, who are knowledgeable in a really complex and specialist a part of enterprise products and providers, personal the tech they must attain things more successfully.

“Our technique revolves around combining our deep human trip with innovative tech and records. We attach the human ingredient, as a consequence of we play in refined markets, but we need consultants to personal the upright technology and records around them to possess choices swiftly,” he acknowledged.

Shawbrook has around 110 fleshy-time IT group and around 70 thru its IT suppliers who are outsourced to the monetary institution and “a part of the personnel”, in line with Thornton.

“For me, there needs to be a balance between fleshy-time group and those from suppliers. A 60:40 balance works properly with a real extreme of group at the tip layers augmented by group from suppliers to attend possess provide happen.”

Thornton as of late oversaw the rewrite industry path of instrument and automate customer journeys partially of its loans industry, the expend of low code technology platform which is already saving 1,500 hours a month as a consequence.

It now plans to digitise processes in its financial savings industry to tempo up the time it takes prospects to originate an account and possess deposits.

Be taught more on CW500 and IT management skills

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