Scott Findlater - CIO - Anord Mardix

Rebecca Hayes

Chief Information and Technology Officer

Family Building Society

REbecca Hayes- CIO Interview Series

Can you please provide a little introduction about yourself

I joined the Family Building Society (FBS) as its first CITO in March. Our head office is in Epsom, along with our branch. The Family Building Society offer mortgages for customers that need a more personalized approach (for example, innovative mortgage products that allow parents to help their adult children to buy a home with a small deposit and use offset savings to keep the child’s monthly payments down and products that enable people to borrow to much older ages than has been the norm).  Its customer base is spread across the UK, so remote delivery channels like digital are very important.

What has your journey to your position been like? What path have you taken?

I did a degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence which I found really hard because I was awful at coding. I had no idea what I was going to do when I finished until my last year when we did a course on Software Development. We had to work as a team and deliver a small project. I was given the role of Project Manager and I loved it. When I finished my degree I found a job on a help desk and then a junior change analyst, I got a lucky break because the company created a Project Management team whilst I was there and I persuaded the senior PM to give me a trial as a junior PM. I absolutely loved delivering projects, it allowed me to use my technical knowledge, and it taught me how to break down complex problems and deliver solutions. It also taught me how to manage a team. I then went into Programmed management. Another lucky break came when I was working for an insuretech. They needed a delivery model to help them cope with the scale up from start-up to medium sized business. I persuaded my COO to let me build a delivery model and role it out, I learnt a huge amount in that role. Landing my first C level role was not straight-forward because employers wanted C level experience, but I found the perfect CTO role for a small property insurance company that needed help developing its target operating model. Unfortunately, covid hit and just as we were making huge improvements, I was made redundant, along with most of my team. Hands down one of the most stressful times of my life. I reached final stage interview 3 times before I interviewed at FBS, and I made it through 7 interviews before being offered the role. 

Has it always been your vision to reach the position you’re at? Was your current role part of your vision to become a tech leader?

I’ve always aspired to be a leader, probably because I hate being told what to do. When I first started working my idea of a leader was a stoic, glamourous figure who was whisked around in chauffeur driven cars wearing expensive suits (it’s worth mentioning that my first encounter with a CEO was Sir Peter Wood). 

As a Project Manager I realized that being a good leader was dependent on being part of a trusted team. The more senior you become the more important your team is because you are doing less of the actual work yourself, and you have to rely heavily on your team. A large part of my current role is understanding my team and identifying gaps in skills, knowledge, and experience, and making sure everyone has the right training, development, and coaching to enable them to be successful in their roles. Understanding my peers, CEO and Board, and building trust and credibility is also crucial if I want them to buy in to the IT Strategy.

Have you had a role model or mentor that has helped you on your journey?

I don’t think I have ever had a role in which I didn’t learn from those around me. Even when I was 14 and sweeping the floor in a hairdresser on Saturday’s. You can always learn something, even if it’s how not to behave as a leader. When I was younger, I found criticism hard to manage, but now I actively ask for feedback. 

How do you see the role of the technology leader evolving over the next 5 years?

I think the IT Strategy will play a much larger role in the overall Strategy for a lot of businesses. Technology doesn’t just facilitate a business anymore it can drive it. Technology leaders will therefore play a more prominent role in executive leadership teams and on Boards. I think this has the potential to change the shape of tech leaders, but also the level of technical knowledge required by executive teams and Boards. 

What skills do you think leaders of the future will need in order to thrive?

For technology to successfully play a more prominent role in driving the business, tech leaders need to have an excellent understanding of the business. Not only how it operates but the needs of both the internal and external customers. This is particularly challenging if you change the industry you work in regularly; you have a huge learning curve in every new role. Also, the expectations of customers vary massively between industries and businesses, and meeting those expectations will often be heavily dependent on technology.

Good technical communication is a CIO’s bread and butter, but when you talk tech all day with your team, trying to communicate it in a way that everyone in the business not only understands it but gets on board with it is not easy. I have to put a lot of thought into how I communicate, and I still get it wrong sometimes.  

Understanding IT security is fundamental to the CIO role, but the focus on cyber security in particular is changing and requires more focus, time, and money than ever before. I think the increase in cyber security threats will continue to rise and we will have to constantly up our game.

How do you keep current with new skills, technologies and personal development?

I do all the usual stuff; read, join forums, talk to third party experts. I also find it useful talking to other CIO’s. Our experiences are often very similar, especially in the Building Society world. If I need to understand a specific technology then I start by talking to my team, who are all experts in their areas. 

What do you see as the next leap in technology that will impact your business or industry in particular?

In my (limited) Building Society experience the challenges are around how you deliver the technology that customers consider to be the norm on top of a legacy architecture. A lot of Building Societies have been around a long time and have therefore accumulated legacy systems. 

The items at the top of most wish lists are omni-channel digital platforms, a single view of the customer, seamless remote working, good quality data analytics and self-service reporting. None of these require ground-breaking technology, but delivering solutions on top of legacy, whist meeting the expectations of the regulators, that is the challenge.

If you were mentoring a leader of the future, what advice or guidance would you give to help them on their way?

There is a risk here I sound like a self-help book, but I’ll do my best.

If you want to be a successful leader do something that you love. If you are not passionate about your profession, then it’s very hard to inspire and lead others. 

Don’t be afraid to change course. Age 21 I knew that I was never going to make it as a programmer, so I found something else that I was good at. 

Don’t give up, be brave and take chances. My lucky breaks have been 50% luck 50% grit. 

Ask for feedback and listen. Simply didn’t happen when I was in my twenties, I was too arrogant. I’ve improved with age.  

Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Sorry super cheesy but 100% true.

Is there anything in particular that you would still like to achieve in your career or what is the next step on your journey?

In the next 12 months I would like to take on a NED role to further broaden my experience and add value to another business that requires digital expertise. This year we are starting a large digital transformation programmed at FBS, which will keep my team and I busy for the next few years.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I always tell my boys that the most important thing in life is to be kind (usually when they are fighting). If everyone in the world was a bit kinder the world would be a better place.

A big thank you to Rebecca Hayes from Family Building Society for sharing her journey to date.

www.familybuildingsociety.co.uk

If you would like to gain more perspective from Tech Leaders and CIOs you can read some of our other intereviews here.

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