Leading a Core Banking Transformation – required skills defined


I’ve seen a lot of good and bad leadership styles while working on large scale banking transformations. Thankfully over the course of my career I have worked and learned from almost as many great leaders, as I have bad . In all cases I’d like to think that I was able to learn something from all of the experiences with these leaders and that I have been able to take these lessons to heart in the progressive elaboration of my own style.   I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve both my hard technical skills and more importantly, for the type of work I do, the soft skills that help move a core banking transformation forward to a successful conclusion.

More and more I have moved into a mentor type role with my clients who are looking for advice and guidance while also developing core banking transformation skill within their own teams. As this role has developed overtime  I am constantly aware of the types of lessons my clients are learning from both my words and actions. I’d like to provide a model of the most important leadership skills that I feel are required for the development of a core banking transformation leader.

25% Politician

Winning friends and influencing people within the bank is extremely important. Being able to assess the influence of various stakeholders and balance the needs of your core banking transformation against the constant demands and aversion to change from the run the bank silos should not be understated. Maintaining the trust of executives and controlling the spin, both internal and external, about your program will decide how hard your life is going to be while leading the initiative. In short a full quarter of your day has got to be given over to kissing babies, assuaging fears, making friends and promoting your point of view within the organization.

25% Benevolent Dictator

Within the day-to-day running of your project a politician will only add costs and create more ambiguity. A team made up of subject matter experts, managers from various lines of business, software vendors, and system integrators needs to be led with a firm but understanding hand. Hopefully your style will lean more to the benevolent side than the dictatorial side however when clear direction is required you will need to be less prescriptive and more descriptive in your direction. Listen to all points of view but make decisions quickly and make sure the direction is understood.

There is a great movie about General Patton and his exploits during the second world war. There is one scene in that movie that stands out for me; Patton’s army is being held up on a bridge by a cart with a stubborn donkey. Patton assesses the situation kills the donkey and has his men push the cart off the bridge. Sometimes you will have to shoot the figurative donkey to keep your project going. Doing something quickly in my opinion and moving your team along is always better then extended analysis. At least a quarter of your day should be spent removing road blocks, clarifying ambiguity, and accelerating the delivery of your project by dictating direction and stopping your team from spinning. Identifying those issues that you should become involved in, listening, make everyone feel like they are heard and valued, while making hard decisions that are locked into the program and understood is probably, for me, the most important skill to develop.

20% Business Architect

Being able to make sound decisions quickly will require an understanding of the existing and envisioned future state business architecture. Understanding and maintaining  the business process vision while understanding the degree of change for the organization will help you make decisions along the way related to business process. 20% of your time should be spent gaining this understanding and managing scope through the constant re-telling of the process vision to the extended team. If you do not have a clear vision of the future process you will not be able to control scope adequately and by default will not be able to control your project. In the majority of instances you will have to have the last word on process re-design and you need to be up to speed and a little a head of the curve.

10% Solution Architect

Knowing just enough about your solution to be dangerous is a good thing. It keeps your vendor, developers, and legacy system resources on their tows. You don’t need to know how to program or configure the solution you just need to have a conceptual understanding of functionality, objects, and interactions. Your knowledge will grow overtime but you should put the effort in to get up to speed as soon as the solution is identified. Your ability to engage in solution discussions and to conceptualize solution designs will allow you to provide better direction to your team, maintain scope, and push the project forward.

10% Geek

You don’t need to join a Star Trek fan club or be able to complex mathematics in your head but you should be up to speed on advances in technology that are relevant to you project. You should take a keen interest in the forward planning related to your vendor’s solution. You should understand that becoming the biggest fan of your solution is required to quiet your team, and the enterprise. Taking steps to make your vendor’s market position stronger will only make your solution and your bank stronger. When it comes to your solution let your inner geek out.

10% Brawler

Along the way your political skills will fail. You’ll take a hit to the chin from a line of business, your executive sponsor, the board of directors, or any number of other stakeholders. Knowing when to take the gloves and when to back down on any particular issue is an important skill. When, however, a line in the sand has been drawn you need to be willing to do what it takes to get the enterprise back to your way of thinking. Fighting for your team, your scope, your project is essential to ensure a successful project and building loyalty within your team and trust within the enterprise.

110% Driven

I know all of this adds up to 210% and that’s the kind of effort that will have to be put forth day in and day out. A determination to deliver is essential. These projects or programs are hard and long. Your ability to address constant challenges and issues, overcoming enterprise change resistance, and managing scope while constantly delivering quality and earning the right to do more within the enterprise requires  a natural drive to succeed and belief in your own abilities.


9 Responses to Leading a Core Banking Transformation – required skills defined

  1. Dear George,

    Thank you for sharing this. I must say that it is a good note and provides opportunity to learn for people who may never have worked on Core Banking Projects, provided they have the inclination to learn.

    Thanks once again.

    Best regards,

  2. Hi,
    I read your article on CB- Required skills and found it to be very appropriate & that is clear terms, its not an easy road to CB transformation. I also found that internal selling (ie: within the orgns business) of a new concept or a technology solution is a greater challenge than selling the same to external clients. It is also a challenge to be seen as a “Politician” since the ‘spin’ and ‘turn’ is not in yr hands always in large orgns. I would go with making friends and promoting your point of view, seek individual buy-ins and cascade agreement to a larger team. Earning the trust & confidence in smaller groups and translating it to a larger audience, often helps in Winning. …yet not be seen as ‘political’. Another true challenge is in vendor system selection…must be a true & fair process…with a strategic edge to business benefits…and is also an area difficult to convince all buss streams. This is where the stakeholder engagement plays a greater role..
    Over 23 yrs, I have managed complex implementations and diverse segments of buss leaders, process models and integration challenges. A CB transformation will change the technology solution landscape & hence tread with care.
    I sure enjoy and can help contribute more, if required.
    Do let me know if you come across any suitable roles in CB transformation. Glad to participate.


  3. Those breakdowns are actually a really accurate description of how someone’s leadership skills should be applied. In reality though, how much of people’s time ends up being admin?

    Ben Winegarden

  4. Hi,

    Read your article…i can very closely relate to what you have written as i have worked on multiple core banking projects…the 110% is one of the most important factor for the success of a core banking transformation…the intent and the drive to ensure that we move forward is one of the most important things as many projects will stop because this drive is not there…also the return that is immediately expected by the cut over or the transformation must be pragmatic as many a times what happens is that for the want of the most fanciest objectives a lot of programs goes into the drain half way through…but all in a good article…enjoyed reading it…cheers.

  5. Super stuff… few more skills based on my experience:
    – Emotinal Stability: As programs goes through extreme turbulence & team goes through demotivation cycle, the leader has to be mentally stable. As these programs consumer almost one years profit for most of the banks, the pressure from board can almost trip a program manager.

    – Ability to manage diversity: Most of the core banking programs need extensive management of teams across multiple countries. Program manager should be able to manage team members from different nationalities / culture.

    – Insanely focus on processes / framework: All programs start with jazzy Presentations. Program mananger has to construct everything framework to processes to ensure that team moves in tandem towards goal. Any deviation from processes / incorrect processes can bring the program to its knees.

  6. Hi,

    I’m in core banking transformation project now and it was very useful for me.Thanks

  7. Truth, Truth Truth along with the points added by Sameer. I felt I am too late to come on the forum.

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