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CTO Interview: Russ Thornton, Chief Technology Officer, Shawbrook Bank

In the dynamic world of financial services IT, Russ Thornton, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Shawbrook Bank, brings a unique symphony of skills acquired from his background as a musical conductor and his deep dive into Silicon Valley’s burgeoning IT sector in the early 1990s.

Originally a conductor orchestrating musical ensembles in San Francisco, Thornton transitioned into the realm of IT to navigate the growing opportunities in Silicon Valley. His journey led him to the UK in 1997, where he has since built a distinguished career over the past 25 years, blending roles in technology at major banks, global consultancies, and successful tech startups.

Thornton draws parallels between his role as a conductor and his position as CTO, emphasizing the importance of bringing together diverse talents. He describes himself as proficient in various technologies rather than excelling in a single one, highlighting his ability to lead and unify teams effectively.

CTO Shawbrook Bank: A Tech-Infused Symphony

Shawbrook Bank, a specialist savings and lending institution, emerged in 2011 through the consolidation of five finance firms. In 2017, recognizing the need for a technological overhaul, the bank embarked on a significant IT transformation, appointing Thornton as its inaugural chief information officer.

Tasked with orchestrating this transformation, Thornton focused on modernizing the IT department, shifting from a traditional approach to a fintech-inspired model. The shift included embracing a cloud-first policy, fortifying cybersecurity, leveraging data analytics, and bringing software development in-house—five pivotal pillars that would lay the foundation for Shawbrook’s technological evolution.

A Strategic Crescendo

Thornton’s strategic approach proved prescient, especially considering the unforeseen disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The early investments in cloud infrastructure, cybersecurity, and productivity tools allowed Shawbrook to seamlessly transition its workforce from office-based to remote within two weeks.

Under Thornton’s guidance, Shawbrook’s IT department transformed, embracing a modern model and establishing an in-house cloud engineering function. The bank appointed a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to enhance cybersecurity and implemented a cloud-based data lake for advanced analytics.

Nurturing the Human-Tech Interface

Recognizing the complexity of the financial services sector, Thornton emphasizes the importance of combining human expertise with cutting-edge technology. Shawbrook’s strategy revolves around providing its staff, specializing in intricate financial markets, with the technology necessary for efficient decision-making.

Maintaining a delicate balance between full-time IT staff and outsourced specialists, Shawbrook operates with a 60:40 ratio. Thornton’s recent oversight of business process software and customer journey automation, using a low-code platform, resulted in significant time savings and laid the groundwork for digitizing processes in the savings business.

As Shawbrook continues to harmonize human expertise with technological innovation, Russ Thornton’s role as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) remains instrumental in steering the bank toward a tech-infused future, where efficiency and customer experience take center stage.

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