Hargreaves Lansdown CIO David Davies is leading a strategy of constant digital development at the FTSE 100 financial services company that will extend into opening a new technology lab in Poland in mid-2017.
The investment management and pension products provider currently administers more than £70 billion of client assets and employs employ more than 1,000 people at its Bristol base. Davies expects to eventually add around 50 staff members at the Warsaw hub, who will focus on expanding the company's software development capabilities.
"A core strategy of mine is to continue to evolve our internal team and ultimately to evolve our own systems with our own people," says Davies.
He has been increasing the size of his IT team 20% year-on-year to achieve this, but the task that has become increasingly challenging as the talent pool in Bristol has inevitably shrunk. He began to expand his search for staff around one year ago to the outskirts of Bristol, and then outwards across the UK. The digital skills shortage recurred throughout the country, forcing Davies to adopt a different approach.
Hargreaves Lansdown engaged with a specialist third party in order to conduct a search from Ireland to India to identify the best location for finding new tech talent. They narrowed it down, country-by-country, until they finally reached Poland. The technical talent pool there and the specific expertise in key areas of IT for the company convinced Davies to investigate further.
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His team then explored Poland's four largest cities, talking to the people there and the local governments. It was Warsaw that stood out as the best choice for international expansion.
"The exceptional amount of technicians within the talent pool was the first point, and the fact that that's topped up every year," says Davies. "Ten to twelve thousand IT graduates per year coming into that talent pool is an exceptional rate, so that was a key thing for me. But also the amount of investment.
"For me, Warsaw now looks like what Canary Wharf did maybe 20 years ago. It's full of cranes, there's now the building which we're looking to go into which is the second tallest building in Poland. It's an exceptionally exciting, almost sexy looking building which towers in the skyline and is filled by some of the world's most exceptional companies, and they're growing tech as part of that growth.
"Putting Hargreaves Lansdown in the same realm as these organisations for me is an exciting opportunity to grow internal IT, but for us as an organisation I think it really puts us into that top tier of fintech organisations in the globe."
The staff in Hargreaves Lansdown's office in the Warsaw skyscraper will primarily work on the company's Java technology, but also on a plethora of other technologies within the company's development areas.
Board support for innovation
The backing of Hargreaves Lansdown executives has been key to making the developments led by Davies a success, and having his own position on the board has helped communicate his strategy.
"Chris Hills, our incoming CEO backs it so much that he actually joined us on a trip out there not so long ago," says Davies.
"We're now looking to extend the trip to other execs so they can firmly understand exactly what it looks like, what it's going to feel like. It's really enthused a hell of a lot of people within the organisation from the exec down."
The challenge of legacy architecture is prevalent throughout the financial sector, and Hargreaves Lansdown is no exception. Davies makes a concerted effort to tackle it proactively rather than wait for it to become a major issue requiring an urgent reaction. The expansion to Poland is another element of his attempt to constantly evolve the company infrastructure at a pace that prevents it being restrained by ageing technology.
"We're an organisation that is very internally-driven," he says. "We are not bound by third parties in the delivery of our core platform, which is a hugely unique situation.
"It's almost the USP in our market because a lot of our competitors are using third parties; they're almost bound to their roadmaps, whereas our roadmap we build ourselves."
That roadmap has stopped at innovations such as a recently-launched new mobile app for live client trading, and an industry-first project cash savings product bridging investments and savings on one platform due for release later this year.
Davies has developed a reputation among his colleagues for his constant emphasis on evolution at the company.
"The people around me, they describe me sometimes as having 'evolution Tourette's', in that it's always a case that everything that we do is about how we can evolve, how we can push forward, how we can maintain the exciting technology proposition that we've got and how we do that with our own people," he says.
That evolution continues in the company's Bristol base and at its new Warsaw hub, a reflection of Davies' ambition to secure the Hargreaves Lansdown name in financial services both in the UK and beyond.