5 October 2010
As I am Europe visiting banks, I find that they have much stronger and centralized IT functions, that allow for systems that are optimized for the bank rather than for the line of business. In the US, IT is typically a cost center, and an order taker from the line of business. The org chart follows the lines of business. The IT organization is a reflection of the LOB org chart that it serves. The IT architecture is a reflection of the IT organization. La Mano Dura means the firm hand in Spanish and is an excellent way to describe how Santander approaches IT. The bank has heavily centralized and standardized IT on platforms such as the core banking suite Parthenon and process layer Alhambra. They cut their cost income (efficiency) ratio to 39% over the most recent period, which is far superior to the efficiency ratio of Bank of America, JPMC, Wells Fargo, or Citi. These banks have efficiency ratios of 55%, 66%, 53%, and 53%, respectively. Note that Sovereign Bank, which is owned by Santander, but not yet converted to the Santander IT has an efficiency ratio of 58%. It has not yet experienced the firm hand. Is it worthwhile for other banks to think about giving more power to the IT department? An IT department can introduce off-the-shelf software that isn't necessarily best of breed, but might well be good enough. As off-the-shelf software matures, it closes this gap. In an era of reduced revenue, it might be worth another look.