Singapore at front line of Standard Chartered's technology quest

Standard Chartered's Michael Gorriz (above).
Standard Chartered's Michael Gorriz (above).

With digital technology now at the heart of banking, the task of a chief information officer is more challenging and demanding, as Standard Chartered's Michael Gorriz knows only too well.

Mr Gorriz, who joined the bank in July last year, says the financial sector's embrace of all things digital has made it crucial that the industry be agile in responding to customers' needs.

"There are roughly 18,000 banks in the world and right now they are going through a lot of consolidation, particularly in the United States and Europe," he said.

"However, in some emerging markets in Asia, the industry is still able to get 15 per cent kind of growth - but we can only manage that growth with technology.

"So technology is the heart of a bank's growth strategy, a natural part of the whole business. This is the era where our customers simply expect that banking is as easy as anything else they can do with their mobile phones."

StanChart has responded by going more heavily into the high- tech realm, with IT-related expenses of about US$840 million (S$1.2 billion) last year, and expenditure set to exceed US$1 billion this year.

TECHNOLOGICAL IMPULSE

Technology is the heart of a bank's growth strategy... This is the era where our customers simply expect that banking is as easy as anything else they can do with their mobile phones.

STANDARD CHARTERED'S MICHAEL GORRIZ

"We've ramped up our research and development capability by 25 to 30 per cent," said German- born Mr Gorriz, who is based here. He is no stranger to leading a company through technological transformation.

Before StanChart, Mr Gorriz, 55, was chief information officer at German auto giant Daimler, where he led the development of its IT systems and data centres.

His first big tasks at StanChart included revamping its mobile banking app, which was launched in 2012. "This is important because, whereas trust in a bank was built on relationships in the past, today it's built on fulfilled expectations. If we can make sure our interfaces can let users do their transactions with just one finger, we will have their trust."

The latest version of the application was rolled out simultaneously in 32 countries earlier this year.

Mr Gorriz said tech competition is raging across the banking industry, with local lenders putting up a very strong fight in the area of mobile retail banking.

"We may not always be the first mover in the market, but we have what I call the second-mover advantage. Given our global reach, we have the opportunity to take the latest and best technology and quickly roll out on a large scale."

Singapore will be at the front line of the bank's tech campaign. The revamped mobile banking app was largely developed by a team based here, Mr Gorriz said, while its first innovation lab in Asia - dubbed the eXellerator - opened here in March.

The eXellerator was one of the fintech labs opened for exhibition on Monday to mark the beginning of the week-long Fintech Festival organised by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

StanChart's technological ambition dovetails with MAS' strategy to turn Singapore into a fintech hub and smart financial centre. The partnership is strong, with the government subsidising half of the lab staff's salaries.

Mr Gorriz is impressed with the progress Singapore has made against other global financial centres such as London and Hong Kong. But the country needs to double up on the efforts to attract and groom the right talent.

"An innovation scene needs people who are open, smart, international. You have to attract talents that are explorative and well-educated. There are only a few places in the world where all of these come together. Singapore can be one of them," he noted.

"We also need a good local talent pool. For this, we must look at education, getting young kids interested in information sciences, but more than that - we must integrate them into the working environment as soon as possible."

StanChart this year partnered the Ministry of Education to run a study-and-work scheme. About 40 university students were the first batch to divide their time between campus and the bank.

As for the existing professionals, there is no denying that technology will be disruptive, Mr Gorriz said. "In the 19th century, when the weaving machines were invented, countless textile workers were out of a job. The same has happened to many industries.

"Not everyone will be able to move up the value chain... But you need to do something - take up a course, learn a new skill, because the same revolution is happening to banking now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore at front line of StanChart's technology quest'. Print Edition | Subscribe