“You can’t bank in Mongolia without good IT, it’s impossible,” Luise Holscher, Vice President for Human Resources, Corporate Services and Chief Administration Officer at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says. Holscher has formed a double team with Louise McCarthy, Director of IT Transformation, who in recent years has been instrumental in change programmes at tax collectors HMRC and retailer Specsavers, insurance firm Aviva and London’s transport body TfL.
There’s a noticeable chemistry in the room between the two, they finish each other’s thoughts and, if they were singing, would be using the same song sheet, which exactly what the bank needs. EBRD finds itself in a strange position. Whereas many organisations are re-inventing themselves to see off new rivals or marked changes in the behaviours of its customers, EBRD wasn’t meant to be trading on a wet winter’s day. EBRD was set up as a sunset bank with the express aim of closing down once its remit had come to pass.
“EBRD was created 25 years ago to help the former Soviet states in their transition to democracy and the market economy,” Holscher says.
“The starting point was that it would take 15 to 20 years and then we would be closed down…but now we are in 36 countries including Asia and North Africa, so we have a very broad range of countries to operate in.
“The EBRD invests about €9 billion per year and in addition we mobilise investments made by commercial partner who are investing alongside us in countries and sectors where our involvement is seen as crucial,” Holscher says. Typical investments are in financial sector, but also include major hydro-electric dam construction and the bank has become a leading investor in green energy with the goal to increase the volume of green financing from an average of 24% to 40% by 2020. Big investments has seen the bank grow in size in recent years with five south and Mediterranean countries becoming operating centres and it now employs 1,914 people across the world. “That has changed the bank and the way we operate,” Holscher says. Just as those early investments in the former soviet nations were in economies not used to market dynamics, EBRD continues to operate on the fringes of market conditions you and I are used to. “The places where we create infrastructure is a challenge, parts of Turkey are largely affected by the war that is close to its border,” she says.
No conversation in London can ignore another looming challenge, Brexit. “We have our own privileges and we are not under British law,” Holscher says in the Liverpool Street headquarters.
“I would describe the IT structure as plug and play, something was bought and implemented without a real architectural view. We had a lot of business systems and processes that were just stuck together,” McCarthy says. “2012 was the first time when the shareholders agreed to keep us going. We now have a proper IT structure for the future, previously the future was not perceived.” McCarthy, as in her previous roles, has been introducing a broker model where IT is seen as a trusted partner. “Our role is to enable the business to deliver change,” McCarthy says.
McCarthy has been reviewing programmes and introducing a target operating model (TOM).”I have to make sure that we are future proofing the IT organisation,” McCarthy says.
It was Holscher that instigated a review of the infrastructure EBRD was operating once the bank moved from sunset to sunrise.
“The review of infrastructure was when I decided that we needed someone to help us move forward,” she says of recruiting McCarthy earlier this year. “We shared a vision which is aligned to the businesses needs and we are in a good position,” Holscher says of their dynamic.
“If you look into my job description at the moment it is about managing the culture change of the whole bank, covering HR, procurement, travel and IT; all of these areas suffered from the sunset design. I started with HR as people are everything, then the IT, because that is working in parallel with the administration and transforming the way of working,” Holscher says.
The close working relationship between McCarthy as transformation leader and Holscher as Vice President brings all elements of the organisation together to discuss the change process. Both talk of the liaison they do and how they approach it.
“My job is to convince EBRD people that it is not a criticism, but the way we do things is changing,” Holscher says.
McCarthy advocates and provides the bank with cost transparency: “so we can show the benefits. We have to convince them that we are on the right path. The best way to do that is to take the horse to the water. So we take examples to the meetings.
“It is no one’s fault, it was never meant to be anything other than that,” McCarthy says of how the sunset model and waterfall she inherited. “Now there is a programme of investment in the people, so we are changing the IT culture. It is selling the investment then we can grow the business.
“When people have worked here for 25 years then they get used to things as they are, but more and more of our colleagues get it,” McCarthy says with pride of the rapid pace of change by her team since she joined in April.
McCarthy is adopting Hadoop for managing the large sets of structured and unstructured data within a global financial services provider and she is busy consolidating the number of applications EBRD use. “By the end of this year we will have separated the run and change teams.”
Holscher, as Vice President for Human Resources, Corporate Services and Chief Administration Officer and McCarthy as Director of IT Transformation form a formidable team and what is clear from spending time with them is that all the elements of operating, modernising and improving an organisation are covered by their roles and therefore by their joint way of working. People, administration and technology are the central load bearing arms that hold an organisation up. These are also the load bearing arms that can deliver significant transformation with digital methods. Perhaps it is the position EBRD found itself in, facing a sunset yet deciding on a sun rise that has led to this dynamic, but it was evident that this is a team leading reconstruction and development.