Andrei Popov: Growth, complexity and transparency in a modern-day, global bank

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Andrei Popov Chief Information Officer, Raiffeisenbank

Andrei Popov
Chief Information Officer, Raiffeisenbank

Raiffeisenbank began operations in Russia in 1996, shortly after the country opened its markets. This subsidiary of Austrian Raiffeisen Bank International is now one of the largest banks in Russia and regarded as among the most reliable by international ratings agencies. Andrei Popov took over the CIO spot in 2013. From that perch he oversees operations that stretch from Kaliningrad in the Baltics to the Commander Islands in the Far East, a distance that spans nine time zones. His technology goals are similarly expansive: to streamline and integrate a diverse set of systems and applications to provide a smooth customer experience.

Tell us about the banking climate in Russia right now.

The Russian banking system is young, but extremely dynamic. Because we’re young, we were able to leapfrog the legacy issues that often bog down older, more established banking sectors and start with a digital and more customer-centric platform. That has been enormously helpful.

On the flip side, our regulatory and operating frameworks are also mature, which means they’re often less efficient compared to those in western markets. However, the last few years have seen significant changes in the regulatory environment that have moved the Russian banking sector much closer to international standards. The Russian regulatory body has also strengthened enforcement to improve the reliability and stability of the banking system. That has led to a certain level of consolidation within the banking sector.

What is the role of the CIO in that kind of environment?

I came to Raiffeisen in the middle of 2011 and was nominated to join the board in early 2013. Management’s view was that the CIO doesn’t just run IT, but is there to be an equal partner within the board. Making that shift required a certain amount of culture change. Business colleagues had to trust that we in IT could add value and IT had to make good on that trust by demonstrating that value in real and tangible ways. We partnered by saying, “look you may know the product best, but we know the architecture best and we can help you implement the services in a more robust, efficient way. So let’s work together.” And we’d engage with them very openly at each stage to test, refine and make sure we put the business needs first.

How have you changed the perception of IT within the bank?

When I joined the bank in 2011, business and IT were not really talking to each other. The business saw IT as always late and over budget while IT saw the business as always indecisive and last minute.

Transparency was key to helping us repair the relationship. When we met with business unit and product leaders, we made a point of being open about our prior shortcomings and were forthcoming about our current plan and timeframe for implementing particular solutions. We also engaged with our business partners more frequently. That gave us a chance to solicit their ideas and reflect them back by testing and iterating refinements. Those changes earned us credibility and respect and put the relationship on a much healthier footing.

What do you see as your three biggest priorities?

My first priority is reducing complexity. It’s easy for businesses to accrue systems and applications that don’t scale because their functionality is too narrow and they can’t connect to other systems. Streamlining and integrating systems across the bank will translate to faster customer response times and lower cost of service.

Efficiency is my second priority. I’m working very closely with our COO to build a process-centric view within the business. If we’re making a change to a product, for instance, we need to think in a very systematic way about how that change will interface with the rest of the system and look for an optimal way to build the flow. The goal is to help the bank become a lean, mean operating machine.

My third priority is to advance digitization within the bank to create a more seamless, omnichannel customer experience.

Large-scale projects pose special collaboration challenges. How do you make them work?

We establish cross-functional teams for two or three big projects at a time. We treat our product counterparts as though they are our primary client and work with them in that spirit, engaging our business partners in the road map discussions and providing an holistic IT view so the underlying systems and applications created form part of a cohesive whole from an enterprise perspective.

Our annual strategic review process also gives IT an opportunity to go on a bit of a road show, visiting the various practices, sharing our ideas and aspirations, and gaining feedback. That strengthens relationships, fosters buy-in and helps inform our own process so that when we do go in with a big transformation project, there are established relationships and often a shared understanding of the same goals.

Given the information security demands of the banking sector, what are your best practices?

The goal is to find the sweet spot between safeguarding systems and data, and delivering a positive customer experience, because unwieldy authentication systems are disruptive. We achieve that by building security features in from the development layer on up with a goal of providing a ready-made level of security right out of the box. Data asset management is another key focus, both from the point of view of optimizing it to provide better customer service, as well as keeping that data properly secured to protect sensitive or personal client information.

It’s also important to tailor security protocols to the degree of risk. With transactions, for instance, we do this by adjusting limits and authentication requirements based on the size of the payment. So customers with smaller transactions have fewer authorization steps than those with large ones.

How has the consumerization of IT affected your bank’s digital strategy?

It has reinforced our need to provide a more consistent user experience across channels. Customers want the same ease of use and convenient online access they get with their personal banking to be matched by their corporate banking experience. Delivering on that requires that we integrate our infrastructure and move away from the silos that grew out of different legacy requirements, and increase the level of digitization across the corporate and commercial side of the banking business.

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