The chief operating officer of UK retail bank TSB, which has a long history but acts like a challenger, talks about the benefits of a modern, cloud-based infrastructure and working with global tech partners. 

Suresh Viswanathan

Suresh Viswanathan

Before Covid-19 struck the UK, TSB had never fully tested a scenario where staff could work from home at scale and service customers for months on end. And while the retail bank was on a path to expanding clients’ ability to self-serve at their convenience, there were still many customer journeys that had to be completed in a branch. “But when the pandemic hit, we had to instantly go digital,” says Suresh Viswanathan, chief operating officer at TSB.

The bank managed to go from an analogue/digital mix to more than 90% of customer servicing being done digitally; and, depending on the product, 50-70% of sales are now digital, Mr Viswanathan reports. “We managed to be there for our customers and support our colleagues working from home, which gives us a lot of confidence in what we can achieve,” he adds.

In terms of servicing customers digitally, the bank used Adobe Forms to rapidly add secure digital forms onto its website for everyday activities, like a change of address. In April, it also launched an AI-driven chatbot, TSB Smart Agent, which allows customers to chat live online with TSB employees. “It took us just five days to launch TSB Smart Agent,” he says.

Modern foundation

TSB is able to rapidly launch new functionality because its IT architecture is built on a modern, cloud-based infrastructure. “TSB doesn’t own or operate any data centres – the bank is run on the cloud and this allows us to innovate at pace,” says Mr Viswanathan.

Career history: Suresh Viswanathan 

  • 2019 TSB, chief operating officer (COO)
  • 2016 Barclays, UK COO
  • 2014 Barclays, COO, personal and corporate banking
  • 2013 Barclays, COO, retail and business banking (UK and Europe)

The advantages of the cloud are well documented, including flexible costs, scalability and improved collaboration. Mr Viswanathan also highlights access to specialist third-party platforms. “The advantage of the software-as-a-service model is that we can get specialists to help us. For example, Unisys runs our mortgage platform, keeping it up to date and in line with new regulations,” he says. “This approach makes it relatively easy for us to quickly scale individual components.”

TSB orchestrates its work across multiple cloud platforms. For example, when a customer phones the bank with a credit card query, the call lands first in the BT Cloud; it then goes to the card platform hosted on the First Data/Fiserv cloud; then to the customer relationship management platform, which is Microsoft Dynamics and runs on Microsoft Azure; and onto TSB’s core banking platform which runs on the IBM Cloud.

Having a multi-cloud environment already in place meant that TSB’s workforce did not have to familiarise themselves with Microsoft Cloud, for example, when working outside the office. The bank was able to scale up quickly through its third parties when shifting to the home environment.

Multi-cloud management

However, the downside of running a multi-cloud environment is that when a problem arises, it can prove difficult to pinpoint where it sits. To address this issue, TSB is beginning to implement better quality instrumentation and has chosen two software intelligence platforms, Dynatrace and ServiceNow, to assist in this.

TSB doesn’t own or operate any data centres – the bank is run on the cloud

“The way transactions happen in the banking industry is quite complex. They could be via the mobile phone, a browser on the mobile phone or on our platform, from the customers hands all the way through to the data centre and back. So it’s tough to tell where the problem is. A platform like Dynatrace provides us with the ability to know exactly what has happened, which makes it much easier to fix the problem,” says Mr Viswanathan.

“In a multi-cloud environment, the killer app is the instrumentation to manage when things go wrong,” he adds. “The bank then has a fighting chance of putting it right before it becomes a point of frustration for the customer.”

Next steps

Mr Viswanathan’s future plans include implementing a marketing technology stack called Adobe Experience Platform. He explains: “We want to help customers on their journey, no matter whether they are within a TSB environment or on another platform. Most retail customers spend 99.5% or more of their time living life outside a bank’s property, so we are investing in technology to be there for customers in their moment of need and to communicate with them through the channel that they prefer.” The bank will go live with Adobe Experience in 2021.

TSB is also building a partnership ecosystem. “We will lay the foundations in 2021 but will start capitalising on it from 2022 onwards,” he adds.

According to Mr Viswanathan, TSB has purposely connected with scaled global partners in technology, where the bank is relevant to the technology company as a brand and vice versa. “Because our infrastructure is either true cloud or a hosted service, we can move at a faster pace than many other institutions. That is quite exciting for scale partners, like an Adobe or an IBM, because we can get more done through the partnership at speed,” he says. “In addition, our decision-making structures are quite simple and our partners value that a lot.”

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