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The future for core banking operations in European banking is at a pivotal point, as banks accelerate their digitisation of customer journeys to address an ever more dynamic marketplace. Operations teams need to be at the forefront in driving the digital transformation agenda.

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Laura O’Sullivan, banking strategy and consulting lead, UK and Ireland, Accenture

Banking operations teams are key to designing digitally enabled customer journeys that deliver a seamless experience and minimise exceptions, according to Laura O’Sullivan, Accenture’s banking strategy and consulting lead in the UK and Ireland, in an interview with The Banker.

Operations practitioners should be “in the room” when customer-facing products are being designed, ensuring operations is part of the end-to-end customer journey. She adds: “We talk a lot about the technical debt that is created by new programmes, but we also really need to consider the operational debt of some of the design decisions.”

However, incumbent banks are dealing with legacy organisations and infrastructure siloes, resulting in transparency, cost or productivity issues. The front- and back-office mentality that has grown out of silo-based banking has to change in the digital world. Effectively, legacy technology cannot be change with legacy mindsets.

Progress is being made in breaking down these siloes. Speaking during The Banker/Accenture webinar, ‘Digital is now: Driving sustainable ‘zero-based’ operations in European banking’, Jayne Opperman, chief operating officer, Barclays UK, said the bank was “bringing our technology and operations teams closer and closer together”. For her, even the term operations “is becoming a little bit outdated”.

As Barclays becomes more digital, traditional back-office processing-type operations roles are disappearing. “The majority of folks who sit in what we used to call operations are actually doing customer care,” she said. “They spend most of their days helping customers – they really are frontline.” To do this well, they depend on the bank’s data and technology platforms. As such, the technology and operations teams are now more likely to sit side by side.

Arguably neobanks and fintechs have an advantage in enabling technology and operations to work more closely together, as they don’t have to deal with similar legacy environments as incumbents. During the webinar, Helen Wilson, chief operating officer at Atom Bank, said: “Operations should be controlling and driving the tech agenda, using agile approaches and in collaboration with business and technology. The operations teams are on the front line and closest to the customer. They can identify where the issues and challenges are in terms of effort, in terms of processing.”


Data is a key component to addressing exceptions management in digital customer journeys. In a recent survey of more than 100 European bank respondents across 12 countries, conducted by The Banker and Accenture, most of the respondents reported being confident that they have good data visibility to understand the root cause of exceptions. However, they were not as confident that they have adequate workflow and workforce management tools in place to measure, monitor and forecast exceptions.

Société Générale (SocGen), which started its data and artificial intelligence (AI) journey in 2014, has been able to overcome the potential disconnect between operations and data by focusing on four dimensions: infrastructure, data quality, use cases, and talent. “These four dimensions cannot be built in a linear way – they have to iterate and be embedded in the strategy,” said Claire Calmejane, chief innovation officer at SocGen, during the webinar.

For SocGen, this journey included moving its infrastructure to the cloud, creating the golden source of data, identifying scalable use cases and launching a reskilling programme. Then the bank looked at tracking and defining how it will use AI and data in enhancing customer experience, business development, operational efficiency, and compliance.

While data scientists can manipulate the data and prepare algorithms, a bank needs “data wranglers” who can prepare the data and data sets for the scientists to use. “The challenge is the right infrastructure, the right talent, and being able to set an ambition which is sufficiently high [to retain the talent],” she added.

Julian Crossley, UK and Ireland financial services operations lead, Accenture, agreed: “Getting the data is just one part of the journey. Banks need to look at how they interpret data, simplify it, and do something with it, whether that be on recalls analysis and going back upstream to prevent the exceptions happening in the future. This is probably the next evolution of work that needs to be done.”


While a majority of survey respondents said most of their customer journeys were digitally enabled, many also indicated that customer adoption is limited. Is customer adoption lagging?

Ms Opperman pointed to the diversity of Barclays’ more than 10 million customers – while some are very comfortable with using technology and want the bank to move faster in rolling out apps, others are more nervous. “We have a role to play in society to help customers interact more digitally to help them come on this journey that the whole world is on and not leave them behind,” she said. Barclays trains staff to be ‘Digital Eagles’, to help customers become “more digital, help them feel safe online and help them build confidence”.

But it is not just about customer adoption; banks also are looking for tech-savvy operations teams. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents report that their ops teams are highly proficient in the use of modern technologies, such as AI, analytics, and application programming interfaces. “Human plus machine” is the new interaction. To make transformation feasible, banks need to up-skill and re-skill people for new way of work mechanism.

Interestingly, Barclays has moved some operations staff into technology roles, according to Ms Opperman. “You can’t necessarily take someone who has always worked in operations and make them an engineer or a data scientist. But there are many other roles which we find operations team members understand, particularly in optimising our customers’ digital journeys because they have lived through those pain points in the past,” she said.

Atom Bank’s Ms Wilson agreed that operations staff needed to have technology awareness and understanding. However, recruitment is proving more challenging in the UK because of the reduction in the skilled workforce following Brexit, along with the impact of the pandemic in the increased flexibility for people to work remotely.

“This has made us think differently about how we retain and attract talent,” she said. “We introduced a four-day working week in November last year and have seen a significant uplift in terms of driving quality of applications to the business, as well as a decrease in terms of attrition. Moving forward, recruitment is going to be driven more by what an employer can offer an employee.”

The winners in digital banking will be those banks that can be flexible and adaptable in terms of their operating model, said Ms Opperman. “During the past few years, Barclays has been insourcing many of the important roles, including technology. We have thousands of our own world-class engineers because we think that is fundamentally important for the strategy.” The bank has also reduced the amount of outsourcing it does for customer care roles.

Operational resilience will be a key factor in determining the optimal operating model, she added. “We have made a number of changes with some of our partners because we observed a lack of resilience through the pandemic. We are also much more demanding of our partners, raising the bar for them and for us to be super-resilient so we can cope with whatever is around the corner.”

Ms Wilson believes the banking industry is amid a paradigm shift in its operating model as a consequence of the pandemic. “The amount of change that we have all been through over the past 18 months to two years is quite phenomenal; we have had to adapt very quickly,” she said. In future, it is likely that the drive to digitalisation, removing repetitive processes and encouraging more self-service, will evolve as a continuum rather than radical change.


In designing journeys that deliver end-to-end digital capability, customer behaviour should be at the heart of everything. Much product design is centred on a “happy path” as opposed to an unhappy one, where potential problems are considered, Mr Crossley said. “This can lead to wasted effort and operational debt. Many of these programmes have an aspiration but ultimately don’t have top of the house governance. They need teeth – in the form of senior executive buy-in – otherwise they won’t get traction.”

Speaking to The Banker, Laura O’Sullivan says: “The key to effective governance is having a core design authority that can oversee what is going to be multiple changes to those parts of the business. This can help create the same simple – and it has to be simple – mental model of the hotspots to tackle.”

She believes that focusing on how to get the next 5% or 10% of costs out of the business through more efficient operations is not ambitious enough. “With the scope and scale of technologies that we have – the scale of design thinking and the opportunity in terms of digital adoption – we really need to be looking at reinvention of operations as a function,” she says.

  • Contact Accenture to discuss the research findings in more detail and how they have helped clients on their banking operations journey.
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