How to effectively run payment transformation programmes with banks in a fully remote environment

blog· 6min

January 11, 2021

Deploying digital transformation for banks in 2021

Following my last blog, more than half a year ago (and fully remote at home), I am pleased to say that the human element of project management is alive and kicking through Zoom, Teams and Google hangout!

This time, I can give you some more perspective and observations from beyond the foothills of a substantial payments transformation project with a Form3 customer. Working closely with our customer to establish the scope and commercial aspects of the project, and subsequently to commence the implementation of a market-leading payments transformation programme has been challenging and exciting, but above all a great learning experience.

The importance of partnership:

The most reassuring aspect, and probably the foundation of the success of the programme so far, has been the strong sense of partnership that we have established with our customer. From the top of both organisations, we have established close, collaborative working towards the achievement of joint goals, with trust and open communication as important (if not more so) than the obvious necessities of a clear contractual framework and meeting agreed project milestones on time.

An important part of establishing this deep partnership culture has been the recognition (by both parties) of the other organisation’s identity, culture and ways of working. For Form3, “walking a mile in the other person’s shoes” in this case means really understanding the bank’s commitments to its customers and society, its regulatory environment, organisational structure and strict adherence to deeply engrained security protocols. This understanding has allowed us to work together in an agile and pragmatic, but also empathetic and patient way.

We recognise the multiple challenges all banks face when replacing or transforming their payments architecture, and at times lean just as heavily on our own prior experience in these environments as we do on our cloud-native technology and market-leading payments technology as a Service offering. All of this happens in the context of processing and scaling in safe, tested environments where our customers, the Regulator and Form3 are all comfortable with the approach to risk mitigation.

Security and critical infrastructure:

Helping our customers retain their security-first, no fail culture with respect to their own customers and the Regulator, whilst delivering transformational change at speed creates highly complex and demanding projects where transparency and openness is critical, as is strong programme management. Given the complexity and speed, these projects are highly collaborative by necessity. 

The complexity and wide range of functions involved within a bank in such a programme makes it necessary for the programme leadership and teams to work across the two organisations in an open, agile and joined up way. Most importantly, it is key that the project leadership (within both organisations) are clear about the vision and overall objectives, whilst helping specific functional teams reach their respective objectives and desired levels of comfort within their areas. These complex and critical areas span across Compliance, Security, Legal and Regulatory, Technology, Operations, Service and Incident management, to name a few but are some of the most important.

The importance of agile and adaptive Governance:

Although defining detailed governance, assurance and reporting processes upfront is inherently attractive, we (and our customers/partners) have learnt that being agile and adaptive in these areas is just as critical. After all, given the complex and transformative nature of introducing cloud-native payment processing into traditional banking infrastructure, a detailed view of the post-implementation workings can only be had over time rather than in advance.  

This is where we have found that the partnership culture developed with our customers is so highly beneficial for both parties. We have taken the approach of agreeing standards of governance, assurance and reporting early on, acknowledging that the detail can by necessity only be defined and agreed over time in an agile manner. Clearly, this approach also means that owning up to problems early and openly is critical.

The current Covid environment, including all the stress it has brought and the lack of much needed real human interaction, has reminded us of the importance of awareness, flexibility, tolerance and positivity. Though our remote first working culture (established when we started 4 years ago) has stood us in good stead during the pandemic, we continue to be reminded of the importance of relationships and that when things get difficult, we focus on the problem or challenge, not the person or people involved.  

Reflections and practical insights:

I would summarise the learnings from a complex payment transformation project, executed in a fully remote environment as follows:

  • Deep partnerships are critical for complex payments transformation projects, including spending the required time and attention to maintain personal relationships of trust.
  • Delivering these projects effectively at speed requires leading with a macro view by both parties, thus guiding the critical areas of specialist work.
  • Given the complexity, speed and degree of transformation involved, an agile approach combining agreed high standards with joint learning over time takes precedence over detailed end-to-end planning upfront.
  • The personal stress for all of us due to Covid should remind us all of the importance of tolerance, empathy and positivity.
by Thomas Vogt-Skard Enterprise Director at Form3