Can banking CIOs handle the heat?


Pressure-cooker expectations on banking CIOs to deliver instant results may be the reason Westpac’s technology team has been a revolving door since CTO Jeff Jacobs resigned in 2013, according to financial services analyst firm East & Partners.

Westpac’s latest casualty is interim CIO Paul Spiteri, who resigned last week after taking on the role temporarily following Clive Whincup’s departure.  “The role of CIO as a position at an Australian bank, especially a Big Four bank, has rapidly escalated in prominence and importance and requires a significant amount of vision combined with the ability to execute reliable, cost effective strategic direction in a very limited amount of time,” said Martin Smith, Senior Markets Analyst at East & Partners.

Smith described the environment as a “balancing act” due to the immense pressure placed on a bank’s CIO to deliver results instantly, despite many initiatives requiring an extended period of time to implement.

Brian Hartzer, Westpac’s Chief Executive, Australian Financial Services hinted at the increased expectations now placed on banking CIOs’ shoulders in a keynote speech at CEDA Melbourne last week, where he warned that banks need to disrupt themselves or face dropping the ball as they did when early disrupter PayPal succeeded in capturing the online payments market.

Hartzer warned that banks could not afford to make the same mistake twice, saying “we expect this trend towards not just digital but mobile banking to continue – and accelerate. As a consequence, our services are changing – rapidly.”

Meanwhile, a Westpac spokesperson confirmed Spiteri’s exit and said that the search for a permanent replacement continues. The spokesperson said: “Over the past few months a global search for a new Group CIO has been underway. The search is progressing well. We will make an announcement about the position in due course.”

While Westpac’s  spokesperson affirmed that  Spiteri “has done a tremendous job in progressing our technology roadmap and providing stability and leadership, ” his short-lived interim role hadn’t bedded down enough to gauge outcomes according to Smith. “Less than six months’ time in the role is very difficult to measure success or failure.”

However, Smith continued: “Six months in banking technology could easily be translated as several years in another division. The idea that internally-driven innovation is difficult, that the bank can keep up with the accelerating pace of technology innovation across payments and e-banking without an external voice is clearly being felt,” he said.

One thing is certain – the technology leadership shake up across the Big Four continues unabated.