Tech

Meet the tech company that could put a stop to the banks’ IT failures

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IT meltdowns are becoming dangerously common among the big banks. According to Which, at least one British bank suffered an IT failure every day during the last nine months of 2018.

TSBs outage last year, which left 1.9m customers locked out of their accounts and cost the bank £330m, demonstrates how catastrophic these IT issues can be to both businesses and consumers.

The problem, of course, is that many banks use outdated legacy technology, which often buckles under the weight of modern-day demands.

Patching up the problem only delays the inevitable collapse, and many banks are now accepting the need to take bold action.

“Legacy software isnt getting any better, and the gap between the old and the new is increasing, while customer expectations are also changing,” says Paul Taylor, founder of Thought Machine, a fintech firm which is building retail banking platforms in the cloud.

Launched in 2014, the startup has already partnered with Lloyds in an £11m investment deal, as well as Atom Bank. Im also told that more announcements are expected this year.

“Its a fresh start for the banks – freedom for the legacy,” Taylor says.

Head in the cloud

From where Im sitting, Taylor seems way ahead of his time. He completed a PhD in machine learning years before everyone was talking about artificial intelligence, and he lectured on speech technology at Cambridge University as far back as 2000.

A self-professed geek (he had a BBC Micro computer as a kid), its funny to hear him say that writing software was considered a specialist hobby back in the eighties.

“I used to write video games and play in a band, and my parents said I might make money out of music, but that I would never make money out of playing with my computer,” he laughs.

Now, of course, its hard to imagine our world without software – its had a huge knock-on effect on every aspect of our lives, including the way we manage our money.

Many banking customers will probably be grateful that Taylor stuck with the software.

Banking on change

Even for a man who is responsible for the text-to-speech technology used on Android phones, Taylor admits that revolutionising retail banks is not easy. “Everyone in the industry said that the idea was nuts – they said it was too complicated,” he remembers.

When youre dealing with millions of banking customers, there are no small sums of money at stake. But the mass and wealth of customers isnt the only issue. The existing IT infrastructure – which is often clunky and complex – poses its own problems.

“We visited a bank recently with a legacy system, and they had no idea what everything did, because the people who wrote the software have all left the company. If they wanted to turn it off, they wouldnt know how.”

A brave new world

While Thought Machine is part of the fintech movement, the company is not focused on providing additional services to banks (as many fintechs are), but completely replatforming the financial institutions.

I ask whether Taylor thinks that some fintechs might have underestimated how complex these banking systems are. While that might have been true, he says that the dynamic is changing. “In recent years, the relationship between fintechs and banks has matured – everyone realises that scalability, resilience, and security have to be taken very seriously. Theres definitely a meeting of minds.”

But in many ways, those operating in the big banks and fintechs are from different worlds, and Taylor admits that he doesnt have much direct knowledge of the traditional banking systems. “One of the senior guys at Lloyds asked me to compare and contrast the new and the old, but I only really understand the new. They tell us all their problems, and we explain our solutions.”

Thought Machine isnt just helping the conventional, established banks – evident with its Atom Bank partnership. Taylor tells me that challengers have been disappointed by the lack of options around banking software.

“Building software themselves was possible, but it takes a long time and is very expensive. And there is also no point starting a new bank with old technology.”

The day after tomorrow

So how does Taylor make sure that his company isnt getting left behind in this fast-paced tRead More – Source