An Interview with Tony Clasquin, Chief Executive IT, HBOS Australia


JACKSON: Tony, it’s approaching six months since you joined HBOS Australia as Chief Executive IT (having previously been CIO at Colonial First State and Wealth Management at CBA); what have been the key priorities and objectives of this initial period of your tenure?

CLASQUIN: My first priority was to not interrupt any work in progress or momentum whilst trying to understand the current state of the organisation. I wanted to use the time I had to undertake this ‘phase of discovery’ as efficiently as possible by actively seeking views and observations from the executives and IT team as to where to best spend my time initially. At the same time I wanted to initiate many small improvements that collectively changed the direction and pace of the IT organisation so that it not only matched today’s need, but conditioned itself for the clear growth that is ahead of HBOS Australia. My first significant objective was to ensure that we have a first class IT team that had clarity of roles and common goals. It is important to me to have a team that works well together.

JACKSON: HBOS Australia comprises four diverse financial services companies – BankWest, Capital Finance, St Andrew’s and BOS International – each with its own unique requirements. How do you organise your team of approximately 400 to effectively deliver the solutions and services to support these different businesses?

CLASQUIN: Our organisation is essentially a centralised manufacturer with a federated experience for the diverse businesses. Each business has a dedicated CIO and support structure that ensures that strategic issues have attention as well as ensuring that the day to day imperatives of projects and operations are efficiently and effectively executed. I think that the way IT organises itself in a federated organisation has been hotly debated over the past few years and we may see a lot more opinions, research and articles before we get some industry consensus – if we ever do! I think it is less about the structure you choose than your commitment to that structure and building understanding and trust in order to make that structure work.

JACKSON: BankWest has had a unique, long-term partnership with Unisys through the Unisys West joint venture. Can you provide an insight into the nature of that relationship, and the benefits it has brought to HBOS Australia as an organisation?

CLASQUIN: Unisys West is a Perth-based IT services provider that is a joint venture between Bank West and Unisys and over the past few years this partnership has worked well. For strategic reasons we have shifted the mix of services over the past year and we now do more internally. This better matches the risk and the growth profile of HBOSA. We have realised really good returns on our investment and partnership with Unisys West and will continue to work with Unisys as we review our investment and partnership.

JACKSON: The BankWest arm of HBOS Australia is expanding aggressively beyond its traditional heartland of Western Australia, with plans to open 160 new retail and business branches in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia over the next three to four years. What are the implications of this rapid expansion for the organisation’s IT function as a whole, and how are you approaching such a challenge?

CLASQUIN: Our expansion plans have been in the pipeline for sometime now and we have developed a solid IT strategy that is well equipped to deal with the expansion. We’ve had our Common Processing System (CPS) in place now for a number of years and this will ensure our back-end systems are able to cope with the increased demand. We have significantly strengthened the support structure to ensure that we can seamlessly support the additional times zones and extended trading hours.

JACKSON: In addition to the organic growth of BankWest, HBOS Australia has been building its market presence through strategic acquisitions such as RACV Financial Services and Queensland-based financial planners, Whittaker Macnaught. What do you consider to be the three critical factors for ensuring an IT integration project is completed on-time, and meets cost savings targets?

CLASQUIN: Whilst you ask the question in context of what we are doing here, the answer is probably appropriate for any project or program. The first critical factor is that everyone is very clear on what the actual outcome is. Often there are too many targets or the targets are too ambitious. You can only get absolute clarity if you ensure that you have quality conversations at all levels and that the target is truly a shared vision – and achievable. This is sometimes hard to do as senior managers often just want to get started. The old adage, ‘measure twice, cut once’ is a useful mantra. The second one is to ensure that the ‘who’ and ‘how’ is crystal clear. I try and get all project stakeholders and players in a room at the start of a major project and walk painstakingly through the allocation of the roles (and the execution of the roles) before we talk about the governance and forums. The third factor is all about the support and sponsorship of the project. The selection of the sponsor and the support that the most senior leadership team publicly give the project is directly related to its’ success. This can often make or break a project.

JACKSON: A recent KPMG survey found that operating profit after tax for regional banks is set to slow as the impact of the subprime fallout begins to have an impact. As a result, KPMG predicts cost control and non-interest income will become more significant priorities for regional banks in fiscal year 2008 as pressure on margins increases. Do KPMG’s assertions align with what you’re seeing in the market, and what would be the likely implications of such a shift in focus for IT investment in the sector?

CLASQUIN: It’s not just regional banks that are seeing the impact of the subprime fallout but the entire banking and finance sector in Australia. Margin pressures are increasing, however, HBOS Australia and BankWest have a very clear vision that involves significant investment in our IT infrastructure and this won’t change.

JACKSON: With your extensive experience in managing large IT teams, what have you found to be the most effective means by which to identify, nurture, and retain talent?

CLASQUIN: There’s two questions in here, the first being how to get great staff on board. This is always tough, as you are often hiring ‘blind’ and one or two interviews only prove that the candidates are good at interviewing. But you can get a lot out of the discussions about the individual’s culture and values. This is important to me. To get a real sense of the experience and ability of the candidate you need to rely on solid reference checking. Talented people can already be in the organisation and simply need to be noticed and cultivated. I try and give potential talented people the chance to gain great experiences by taking risks from time to time. I am rarely let down. Keeping talented colleagues is the second part of the question and this is also tough. People need to be respected and treated