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Navigating the technology landscape through the eyes of a CIO

Michel André is CIO of Banking Circle – the technically leading payment bank. Banking Circle’s technology enables payment companies and banks of all sizes to capitalize on opportunities in the emerging economy by providing financial infrastructure such as cross-border payments. Here André talks about the role of a CIO and the qualities that the CIO of the future must bring with him.

How would you describe the current role of a CIO and has it changed compared to five years ago?

To be a CIO, you need to be curious and make an effort to learn new things about both the technology and the business you work for. This has always been a requirement for the role, but as the world becomes increasingly dominated by technology, it can be difficult to keep track of things.

Much has changed in the last five years. Just take the pandemic as an example – it has undoubtedly accelerated digital transformation and permanently changed the way we interact in business and society. From running a business to keeping in touch with friends and family, we’ve all been forced to adopt digital tools – and they’re going nowhere.

The digital transformation is flourishing in payment transactions in particular. Consumers today have high expectations for real-time payments (especially cross-border) as well as a range of services, from lending to foreign exchange. FinTechs and financial institutions have to rise or risk being left behind. The same goes for CIOs. The latest ‘New Normal’ is just around the corner; You need to be open to learning about it so that you can adopt the latest technology and use it to empower your business.

What business / IT challenges did you face in your role and how did you master them?

Despite the incredible acceleration of digital transformation in financial services, transferring funds between countries remains a slow, expensive, and tedious process, with transactions taking anywhere from two to five days. Cross-border payments are a core part of the Banking Circle offering and we are always working to make payments as fast and inexpensive as possible for our customers.

As part of this, we recently switched our entire infrastructure to Microsoft Azure. Although our technology always ensured compliance and reduced the manual processing of transactions, our core banking systems were previously supported by a managed service, which was a bottleneck for development. Moving to the cloud was the answer; With our entire cloud-based infrastructure, we can quickly evolve the architecture to respond to the ever-changing demands of the industry.

During this project, one of the biggest challenges for my team was learning to work with a cloud mindset and figuring out how to scale up and down with that. You say knowledge is power and the project required significant training. We worked this through by making sure internal communications were prioritized and worked closely with the provider.

In your opinion, which leadership qualities are essential for leading a successful team and how do you convey them in the workplace?

There are a wide range of skills required as a CIO. First and foremost, you need technical competence and an understanding of the technology landscape. The next step is to apply technology to business challenges. This combination of business acumen and technical skills is critical to success.

You also need to be a strong leader. Your team is looking for answers from you. Therefore, having strong leadership skills and the ability to work strategically and tactically means being an effective mentor. To achieve this, good communication skills coupled with integrity and independence are essential. You can inspire these traits in the workforce by leading by example. For example, encourage newcomers to ask questions and encourage middle-level leaders to lead the way.

How do you ensure you get results that support Banking Circle’s business goals?

We put the customer at the center of everything we do. In return, our customers are loyal, which helps us to grow and enables us to invest time and money directly back into innovations for them. That’s why we migrated to the cloud – it offers so much flexibility and scalability that our customers can be agile in the face of constantly changing requirements. We also offer open APIs that allow easy integration between the functions of the platform and customer workflows so that these payment services can easily integrate into their own infrastructure.

This customer-centric approach is absolutely crucial and has resulted in us doubling our customer base since 2020. We now work with over 170 financial institutions including Stripe, Alibaba, Shopify, and Paysafe.

How do you see the role of the CIO evolving over the next 12 months? What qualities must the CIO of the future have?

Technology is constantly evolving, which includes the role of the CIO. In fact, there are a whole host of new technologies to learn. In financial services, for example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have the power to completely transform the industry. We are already making great strides, especially in the fight against money laundering and fraud – with AI dramatically increasing control accuracy and highlighting patterns that the naked human eye could not see. It is the job of the CIO to develop new trends and always be one step ahead.

The inclusion of emerging technologies is one piece of the puzzle, another relates to the permanent shift to hybrid working. Since teams are at least partially geographically separated, soft skills such as communication, mentoring and leadership are even more important than before. Soft skills not only help lead a team effectively, but also create a high level of trust throughout the organization, from board level to interns. This is critical because, as the CIO, you need to make decisions that keep the company going and reassure people that you are making the right decisions.

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