Andy became chair of Thought Machine in September 2020. He is also chair of global banking at Boston Consulting Group and was previously group chief operating officer at HSBC. He has a degree in maths and engineering from Trinity College Dublin.
What drew you to Thought Machine?
I love the plumbing and wiring of banking. I always have. It's been my life for 30-something years. Professionally speaking, I'm a pretty focussed guy. If you drew a Venn diagram of my interests all the circles would be tightly overlapping! When I first met Paul Taylor, Will Montgomery and the rest of the crew we had a really forthright conversation. I know a lot about the insides of big banks and felt I was able to share a lot of my experience. And I think the board wanted someone who is credible in the City.
Thought Machine helps banks re-build their ancient “spaghetti systems”. Is this a fair description of how banks are currently constructed?
Maybe, on average. Like any average, it's a caricature. Some banks would love to be running on technology that's only 20 years old! Some core banking systems were written in the late sixties in assembler. If you get beyond the caricature you'll find banks run a mix of technology. Some of it was written yesterday, some last year, and some rather older. At HSBC we ran approximately 50 core banking systems to serve 38 million customers in 68 actual countries, and doing business in more than 100. We ran more than 7,000 applications. Is that spaghetti? In fact, I was a big fan of our engineering. Even slimming down, HSBC needed at least four or five thousand applications.
What is the main strength of Vault Core in your opinion?
Banks are complex. You've got branches, mobile channels, internet banking, contact centres, KYC, onboarding, HR, data analytics, product creation, and everything around fraud detection and financial crime. If your core banking system is modern and beautiful, and has all the technology Vault Core has, it's so much easier to do all of those things. In my old job as COO of HSBC the reason I'd want Vault Core is to make everything a bank does simpler, better and faster. It unlocks a world of possibilities.
Who is Thought Machine's ideal client?
Where we shine is serving incumbent banks with the most demanding needs. It's where Thought Machine is clearly different from our rivals. The new generation of core banking providers tend to focus on small banks and neobanks, so in the long run they won't be competing with us. Others deliver their products in kit form, which get built on the bank's premises. Again, Thought Machine is different. Vault Core is a properly engineered, grown-up core for retail and commercial banks, who can migrate in a relatively short amount of time. Naturally, we also serve neobanks extremely well. But incumbent banks push our product to become stronger all the time. If you want a genuinely special product able to change the world you need to deal with incumbent banks such as Lloyds. So right now in this space there is no competitor to Thought Machine.
What do you think of our CEO Paul Taylor?
Super, super driven and high energy. He's a classic founder CEO. I love working with people who've got a strong point of view and drive like Paul. He's got the ability to create a strategy and then drive it hard with persistence. Decisiveness really matters. It means even if we are a degree or two off we'll ultimately get to where we need to go. A CEO who dithers and rethinks every week will never get anywhere. With Paul we know we are going to hit our target.
What do you make of the working culture at Thought Machine?
I love the fact that people are able to have authentic conversations where everyone gets stuck into the ideas that matter. There's very little bureaucracy. Maybe it gets hidden from the chairman! Honestly, I've seen very little politics at all. It's a flat organisation. People are not afraid of admitting mistakes, which is an important quality at any company. The engineering quality is first rate. But, and I say this as an engineer, a superior product is not enough. You need to excel in other disciplines, which Thought Machine does. Our client services are exceptional. We provide amazing support in finance and legal, HR and technical support. Thought Machine culture is about trying to get the whole package to work, rather than just one thing.
What do you do away from work?
I absolutely love being in the kitchen. If I can put it humbly, I'm a restaurant-quality home cook. My wife keeps threatening to enter me for Masterchef, but that might be a bit of a stretch. I had the chance to cook in professional kitchens, very briefly, and survived without setting the kitchen on fire or ruining anything. I make French, Italian, Chinese, and Indian. Last night I made Char Siu with snow peas, and a mushroom side with cucumber and Shaoxing wine. I live in a rural area where you can't get Uber Eats so at times I'm just happy to make homemade high quality junk food.
Fantastic. Thanks Andy!