Chris Loake, chief technology and operations officer at C Hoare & Co.

Chris Loake, chief technology and operations officer at C Hoare & Co, talks to Liz Lumley about building a simpler, faster, better bank.

One of the benefits of working for a 350-year-old, privately owned bank is it comes with an in-house focus group, much like the UK investor TV show ‘Dragon’s Den’, which offers regular feedback on how products and services need to evolve. That gives Chris Loake, chief technology and operations officer at C Hoare & Co (Hoares), a degree of freedom and flexibility that is unavailable at other commercial banks. 

“Culturally, we were in a family business — the focus is on the long term, we’re not a slave to quarterly earnings numbers and annual results,” he says. “As a technologist, you’re constantly being asked to compromise at every other business because you need to hit your quarterly numbers, whereas here, you’re not asked to compromise. You’re asked to do the right thing for customers, day in, day out, and that’s a much more engaging way of working.”

Career history – Chris Loake 

  • 2019 – C Hoare & Co, chief technology and operations officer
  • 2014 – Close Brothers Premium Finance, chief information officer
  • 2012 – Experian, vice-president, head of global product development, Europe, the Middle East and Africa credit services
  • 2001 – The Woodland Trust, project accountant

Hoares is a British private bank, founded in 1672 by Sir Richard Hoare and is currently owned and led by the 12th generation of his direct descendants. It is the second-oldest bank in the UK and reputedly the fifth-oldest in the world. According to Mr Loake, the legacy of the bank offers an interesting environment for banking innovation. 

“[From the] outside looking in, when you’re sort of looking at it quite superficially, you imagine an old organisation, perhaps resistant to change, doing things the same way for a long time,” he says. “When you get a little bit deeper into it, what you see is something quite different. You see an organisation that’s been through three industrial revolutions, and is incredibly adept at reinventing itself and remaining relevant to its customer base.”

Currently, the bank is working on an optimisation strategy to become “a simpler, faster, better bank”, says Mr Loake. “[The bank has an] incredible long-term outlook and a sense of importance around making sure it is around in 25 years’ time to hand it on to the next generation.”

While most commercial banks are in the middle of digital transformation journeys, which involve actions such as closing physical branches, reducing headcounts and using digital technologies to replace traditional delivery channels, Hoares is walking a different path. Because of the close relationship the bank has with its high-net-worth clients, Mr Loake and his team are looking to complement their personal service model with digital, but that does not always mean reimagining it as a digital service. 

When you get a little bit deeper into it, what you see is an organisation that is incredibly adept at reinventing itself

Mr Loake says there are four main reasons why customers have a relationship with a private bank like Hoares. One is security, and the feeling that customers’ money is “safe” with the bank, he says. 

The second point “is about how we understand them”, he says. “We have this deep understanding of how they live their lives and what they need.” For example, a traditional high street bank may not understand how the lord of an English estate or a private equity entrepreneur makes their money, or the types of liquidity events that can impact that income, he adds. 

The third and fourth reasons include the level of personal service and feelings of membership that they have joined a special club, says Mr Loake.  

Because of their customer base, Hoares needs to tailor its banking products to meet unique needs, rather than offer off-the-shelf services. 

“We have an incredible diversity in our customer base,” he says. “They’re all wealthy, but they actually earn money in different ways. They work in different ways and they need different things for their products and services. In many ways, the large banks can sort of ignore the complexity at either end of the bell curve and they can focus on a homogenous product set.”

While the bank does not want to be leading-edge from a technological innovation perspective, it strives “to be leading edge from a service perspective”. However, that does not mean the bank is ignoring exciting technology where it is needed, says Mr Loakes. The bank’s online banking platform is run on the “latest cloud technologies”, such as Kubernetes, the open-source container orchestration system for automating software deployment, scaling and management.

Because service is so central to the Hoares offering, Mr Loake and his team tend not to look to other banks for insights on innovation. 

“You need to look outside of your industry,” he says. “When I think about high-net-worth customers, who they are and the organisations they engage with, [I ask] who does innovative things?” Industries that serve to influence the bank include the luxury goods market, especially fashion and the automotive sectors.

“What are the high-end brands that charge a premium for service in the customer service space in other industries and then what lessons can you learn from that?” he asks. “Sometimes that’s how you drive innovation in your industry — by looking at what your customers like and who’s doing cool stuff in other industries.”



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