Bristol-based firm Hargreaves Lansdown was founded in 1981 and has grown into a major financial services firm over the past 34 years, controlling assets of almost £50bn on behalf of some 675,000 clients across the world.
As IT director, David Davies is the man charged with keeping everything up and running, and ensuring that the company embraces and reacts to the digital challenges and opportunities, which he has been doing since starting at the firm in 2008.
Davies originally joined as network and security manager, having moved into the role from the same job at Red Bee Media. He rose through the ranks to establish himself as IT director within four years.
During this time Davies has set about growing the IT operation of the company with gusto, keen to ensure that it is well placed to meet digital requirements to benefit customers and stay ahead of the competition.
This work has centred mainly around enlarging the IT team, which Davies acknowledges as going against the wider trend in IT to outsource some requirements to third parties.
“Since I started we have doubled the team and we are now a lot stronger. I’ve now committed to further growing the IT team by a third so we will be at around 175 or above in the summer,” he explained.
“We feel we are bucking the trend in the financial industry and IT in general with this strategy to keep as much as what we can do internal and managing ourselves. This sets us aside from our competitors and helps us attract and retain talent, rather than relying on agencies.”
Problems with a lack of skilled workers in the market is often seen as a major challenge for the future, but Davies said that this is not something he has encountered, in part because the firm is not based in London.
“We have the usual challenges recruiting people, but we are a big financial brand and being outside London is a big attraction for a lot of people," he said.
"We have a diverse team too with people from across the UK - we just hired someone from the north of England - and foreign workers too.
“Also, in Bristol we have access to two fantastic universities [University of the West of England and Bristol University] and we have had some fantastic graduates over the years.”
Furthermore, Davies said that he has been able to dispel the “myth” that financial services firms can only hire people who have experience in the sector, citing his own career as proof that this is not true. In fact it can be an asset.
“I think it is a distinct advantage as I am surrounded by people who have worked in financial services for a long time, but when I started I wasn’t thinking in a way a financial services person would and that has helped me to think differently to the challenges we face,” he said.
With so many new hires the company is embarking on numerous projects around mobile apps, HTML5 and security defences to help the company keep pace with all areas of digital development.
Putting all your eggs in someone else's basket
However, one area of development where Hargreaves Lansdown is not focused is the cloud. Davies explained that he is not convinced that the cloud is the panacea for IT problems that it is often presented as.
“Cloud computing is one of those things that I feel is misused and touted as an answer for everything," he said.
In particular, he believes that the nature of the market in which Hargreaves Lansdown operates makes cloud a no-go area.
"Working in financial services means we control a lot of individual investments for clients and we are accountable for keeping the lights on and keeping data secure,” he said.
“I don’t think cloud computing gives us this. You’re putting all your eggs in one basket, and it’s not even your basket. So that’s a hell of a lot of trust in other people, especially as you won’t have an individual relationship with them.”
In fact Davies said that too many CIOs are hung up on how technologies such as cloud or BYOD need to be tackled, rather than adopting a forward-thinking mentality about how they can use technology to the benefit of the specific business in which they work.
"I see what we do as providing IT as a service for our clients and individuals so, as Hargreaves Lansdown grows, I want to make sure the IT teams are staffed for the present day and the next round of developments,” he said.
“This means that when the business wants to move we are ready to move, and because we are in complete control of our IT developments when we sit down to talk with the board we can tell them exactly what is happening, what is going on and what we need to do next."
A seat at the table
This also raises the issue of making sure the CIO has organisational input and is respected and listened to by his peers, something Davies believes is a must.
“I would say that a great business has a great CIO, but a CIO can’t be great unless they are sat around that boardroom table. The further down the food chain [the CIO is] the less effective that business will be in the technology age,” he said.
“I would question the success of organisations that are reliant on technology if the CIO does not sit at the board.”
Davies explained that this is especially beneficial for Hargreaves Lansdown because of its focus on an in-house IT team, rather than outsourcing.
“Because we are in complete control of IT when we sit down with groups of developers and directors and other business staff and discuss what projects are on horizon, we can all contribute because we know what’s going on, what’s going well and what do we need to learn from," he said.
Clearly this is an approach the management sees as beneficial by allowing Davies to grow his IT team over the past few years, and the aforementioned expansion plans for the year ahead.
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