From bank to digital powerhouse

At PostFinance, no stone is left uncovered. Following the core banking transformation with the simultaneous CRM upgrade, the number 1 in Swiss payment traffic is already planning other customer-centered projects. Markus Fuhrer, Head IT and Operations at PostFinance, shares his interesting ideas regarding how the financial institution intends to come closer to its ambitious goal of becoming Switzerland’s leading digital bank.

Head IT and Operations at PostFinance

Five years ago, you assumed the helm of the “Core Banking Transformation” program involving the upgrading of the banking software – one of the largest IT projects in Switzerland. What motivation/ vision did you have when you started the project?

It was a new challenge, because the project was set up as a company within a company: employees from various departments were to be teamed together towards a common goal. It is important that the employees see themselves as part of the solution, because it was not a plan or the technology that led to the success of the Core Banking Transformation, but the team spirit. We learned about interdisciplinary working as a company – an important skill for successful teamwork when it comes to our goal of becoming Switzerland’s leading digital bank.

What obstacles had to be overcome?

The Core Banking Transformation was initially viewed internally as purely an IT project. We had to first convince the company that this migration affected the entire bank and that it was in their interest to get involved. As we got into defining the requirements, it became clear to us that we would have to integrate the new ISO 20022-based payment formats into the project. While this cost us enormous amounts of personnel resources and brought PostFinance to its limits, the experience gathered in the process of integrating and tackling two such projects boosted our self-confidence.

“BSI addresses customer requests and knows our processes and our culture.”

Markus FuhrerHead IT and Operations at PostFinance

What were you able to free yourself from – and how?

Although our old system was very stable and high-performance, it was a monolith. With two releases per year, we were not very flexible. What’s more, interface management was growing ever more complicated, and we were having increasing difficulty finding IT specialists who could work with the ADA programming language. We cleaned up our system landscape before upgrading the core banking system. With the Core Banking Transformation, we have now furthered the functional and technical decoupling of the IT architecture. For example, we can now further develop the payments or cards business independently of the core system. We now no longer have any legacy solutions in use and have replaced various essential components.

You were ready by Easter – the new system went live as a Big Bang. Your summary?

The system ran stably and was performant right from the start. We had only a brief disruption on the first morning, because more than twice as many users wanted to access the system than usual. Nevertheless, not everything went smoothly: Numerous errors cropped up in the first weeks, yet nothing all too serious. Most problems arose in the area of notifications. We practiced the go-live four times, three times in real-time windows. In four days, we accomplished more than 3,000 tasks in the right order. This experience enabled us to start the go-live with optimism. We can be very satisfied with the stability after implementing a project of this size.

IT is considered to be a strategic element for digitization at PostFinance. What plans do you have for PostFinance for the future?

Everyone talks about agile methods, procedures and tools in order to gain flexibility and speed for further development. However, this will only function if investment is made, especially in the technical decoupling of the IT landscapes, keyword: microservices. We seek to drive this decoupling forward where necessary. We are also deploying DevOps within the company within the scope of the transformation of PostFinance to a digital powerhouse. We intend to become Switzerland’s leading digital bank by 2020. Therefore, the IT department is also a strategic partner in the implementation of new business models with technologies including machine learning, analytics and robotics.

“It is important that the employees see themselves as part of the solution.”

Markus FuhrerHead IT and Operations at PostFinance

As an external, strategic partner for the past 20 years, BSI was involved in various projects, including the CRM system for advisors and customer service staff, the V-MaX counter application in post offices, and the onboarding application back office. Why did you choose BSI?

BSI addresses customer requests and knows our processes and our culture. We have established a cooperative partnership with BSI. The presence of BSI’s qualified staff at PostFinance is very useful for complex projects. This makes it easier to work together.

After the successful core banking migration, is there an interesting follow-up project that you are looking forward to?

With the implementation of the digital powerhouse vision, we have set for ourselves the ambitious goal of becoming Switzerland’s leading digital bank. We seek to show our customers how easy digital banking is on a mobile device. Towards this end, we seek to simplify the digital onboarding of our customers, to further drive forward the transformation of our core business and to enter the market with new business models.