Prepping for the Next Banking Revolution

Before Charaka Kithulegoda was guiding IT for Tangerine Bank, the CIO played an integral role in transforming how Canadians bank forever. Kithulegoda discusses how those experiences shape his approach to work and the banking industry.

Charaka Kithulegoda was part of the team that transformed how Canadians could conduct banking, having built the infrastructure and software that put banking in pockets, safely embedded on mobile devices. It was in 2000, when ING Direct started the development of its Internet-banking platform and asked Kithulegoda to be the head of the project’s start-up team. It was a genuine Canadian success story. Then, when the ING Group—under the new Tangerine Bank banner—introduced the concept of direct banking, it again shifted how most Canadians conducted banking. Here, Kithulegoda shares five guiding principles that keep Tangerine’s client experience fresh.

Keep communication lines open

I have always believed that open communication and excellent collaboration are essential to the success of any department in any organization. I make an effort to keep all communication lines open—both internally within the IT department and the broader organization as well as externally with partners and vendors. A great deal of valuable knowledge can be lost in translation through poor communication, so I strive to make it a priority at every level within IT.

Find partners to fill gaps

We strongly believe in working with our partners. We embrace the fact that there are many companies with in-depth knowledge and expertise in all areas of technology. Ultimately, Tangerine needs to be an expert in providing the best banking experience for our clients  and leveraging the right technology—it’s not necessary for us to become specialists in anything else. Our philosophy is to leverage the skills and knowledge that our technology partners have, and we do our very best to create a mutually beneficial environment. For example, we’re a relatively small client for IBM, but we’ve managed to establish a meaningful, reciprocal relationship with them. Our approach to rapidly piloting and adopting new technology opens opportunities for both IBM and Tangerine. This type of relationship grants us access to their top resources across a wide spectrum of technology innovation.

Kithulegoda is passionate about technology, and he gets genuinely excited about developing better and more useful apps.

“We actually get feedback from our customers regularly. We take this feedback very seriously. We were getting great feedback, but also some of it was not good. ‘It really doesn’t work very well.’ ‘What were you thinking doing it this way?’

We became proactive about capturing feedback by building in a contextual,
real-time feedback element within our core banking app. We developed a mechanism that allows our mobile banking users to shake the phone while in our app to prompt feedback through a designated screen. The coolest thing that happens is that the app catches the context of what went on—what the client was trying to do at that point in time. Gathering all these variables, we can act on this feedback in a very relevant and contextual way.”

Take innovation into consideration

Although a successful CIO must deal with technology decisions in one form or another, it is equally as important that the IT organization is equipped and structured in a way that allows for innovation and accelerated delivery.

ING Group introduced the concept of direct banking to Canadians. I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. I was also fortunate enough to have a technology team that was able to provide the technology to deliver direct banking. CEO Arkadi Kuhlman said, “Tangerine is a technology and marketing company that happens to have a banking license.” Our philosophy has always been to use technology to deliver simple, relevant, and useful production services to our clients. We’ve never been an organization that has delivered technology for technology’s sake. We’ve never considered technology as an enabler; we consider it to be one of our core competencies. The best technology is that which is undetectable to the client.  I would say that is the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity that I’ve had as a CIO.

Realize that you don’t call the shots

Until recently the user didn’t come out of the forest. That’s because we called the shots and we were in control. But that paradigm has completely changed. The client not only dictates what they want, but how they want it. The legacy approach to meeting consumer demands within IT is providing services through a predefined set of features using a prescribed channel. This attitude doesn’t bode well with the modern consumer.

Our initial architectural framework that delivers all facets of our client experience was built between 2001 and 2002. About two years ago, we thoroughly reviewed our technology architecture and determined that much of the framework was available off-the-shelf. We had the presence of mind and foresight to realize that someone else had developed it better than we did and was continually focused on improving it. Needless to say, we replaced elements of our technology stack, which resulted in a tremendous success story.

Adopt a customer-first mind-set

We have close to $40 billion in assets and just under two million clients. Much of our client base is technically savvy, forward thinking, and possesses a high degree of financial literacy. I consider this to be an ongoing opportunity for somebody in technology because of the need to continually deliver value to our clients while providing operational effectiveness within our organization.

The people who work in technology at Tangerine understand and are equally as passionate about our clients as the marketing team or the sales and service team. They truly have a customer-first mind-set.

We are constantly evaluating new technologies and looking for areas to improve, streamline, and simplify our services and systems. One of the core principles that has made us successful is our approach to technology integration. We have always been an agile organization. In my lifetime at Tangerine, I can essentially count on one hand the number of projects that have exceeded four months. Although we have delivered some very large programs, we always figure out a way how to incrementally deliver value within very short periods of time.

We strongly believe that we have a high-quality product, but fully understand that the ongoing feedback we receive from our clients continues to shape and improve what we offer Canadians.