The IT crowd – how technology informs the financial sector

8 July 2014

Without IT, today’s world would be very different. Christiane Vorspel, CIO commercial banking at Commerzbank, talks to Future Banking about how IT is shaping the financial sector, her role, and the challenges banks face in meeting an ever-changing IT world, customer needs and threats.

Future Banking: What are the challenges facing the financial services industry today from a core IT systems perspective?

Christiane Vorspel: The current situation in the financial sector is driven by the growing number of IT applications and their increasing complexity and interdependence. Nonetheless, IT applications need to be adapted and developed on an ongoing basis due to business-driven innovations in bank products, tougher regulatory demands and technological developments. Within this context, meeting requirements such as time to market and cost-efficiency is an increasing challenge.

What are the major challenges you face in the role?

The main challenge has two dimensions: first, IT needs to be up to date from a technological point of view and meet business-driven and regulatory requirements and, second, the complexity of IT systems needs to be managed actively; for example, by developing a comprehensive IT target architecture landscape. Optimising these dimensions will often result in conflicting goals, thus a prioritisation process has to be established that will ensure an adequate balancing of complexity, functionality and time to market.

To what level do a bank's systems need to be flexible/future-proofed?

Today's IT systems need to be more flexible than ever before. They face growing pressure to change quickly, which is mainly due to the requirements already mentioned. In addition, IT systems need to reflect changes in business models that are triggered by a changing economic environment. To deal with legacy systems does not always mean to replace and decommission them, but also to consider how they could be embedded in a new technical environment.

We have seen huge growth in mobile technologies. What does this mean from an IT perspective?

The safe and efficient integration of privately used devices into business systems is technically challenging. The various solutions available are not yet robust enough for an encompassing rollout because this would cause relatively high operational costs at the moment.

However, we have observed that the popular distribution of smartphones and tablets and broadband access has changed the demands of internal and external clients - they expect improved ergonomics and performance from the IT devices used in business.

How is this affecting compliance?

BYOD poses new challenges for security and compliance. We need to consider security issues; for example, in terms of preventing the introduction of malware within the corporate network and ensuring sufficient data privacy, as well as the legal risks that might arise if we provide our infrastructure for private use.

What recent projects has your IT department been working on?

We have been focusing on two projects recently. The first is our new digital strategy. This includes the relaunch and extension of the online banking portal for retail clients. The new online banking portal builds the foundation for our multichannel strategy where seamless transitions between the various sales channels will be supported.

Secondly, our regulatory requirements to establish and ensure compliance with SEPA requirements in payment transactions. A lot of organisations have been striving to bring all their systems in line to one system.

How practical is it to do this?

Currently, different applications support the various types of customer interactions. This heterogeneity impairs data quality and customer responsiveness. With our multichannel strategy we aim to provide one platform that supports the various sales channels (online banking, telephone banking, branch, for example) within the retail banking business, but that does not mean automatically that all data has to be provided by one system.

Christiane Vorspel, CIO commercial banking at Commerzbank.