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StanChart Tech Boss Heeds Bank’s Post-Wuhan Stress Lessons: Q&A

(Bloomberg) — From sourcing 2,000 laptops for computer-less staff to boosting remote working capacity 20-fold, Michael Gorriz spent the year at the center of a global bank’s scramble to cope with an office-emptying pandemic.

Standard Chartered Plc’s chief information officer had a ringside seat for the start of the crisis. While his bank is headquartered in London, the German-born Gorriz works from Singapore — a five-hour flight to Wuhan, the Chinese epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. StanChart’s branch in Wuhan was locked down, giving an early inkling of what life under Covid-19 might be like.



a man wearing a suit and tie: Michael Gorriz


© via Bloomberg
Michael Gorriz

Michael Gorriz

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Courtesy of Standard Chartered

The pandemic drove thousands of older customers online for the first time, stress-testing technology for a company that’s bet heavily on digital banking. The Wuhan outbreak also gave Gorriz a unique perspective on enabling working from home at a time when the crisis still seemed remote in global banks’ western bases.

“My management team and I speculated this might not be the end, so we just kept on pushing,” said Gorriz, who spearheaded a drive to increase the number of remote login channels for employees from 5,000 at the start of the year to more than 100,000 six weeks after the first Chinese lockdown.

With the worst of the pandemic seemingly over in StanChart’s Asian markets, Gorriz, who has been in his role in 2015, is turning his attention to the lessons he learned as the chief technologist.

His comments have been edited and condensed.

How has banking changed?

The pandemic was a good proving point for digital capabilities, both our internal operations and also in our customer interactions. In institutional banking, where there was still a high willingness to see customers physically, obviously all the customers were concerned and scared about contracting the virus. They were accepting our relationship managers and specialists coming to meet them digitally, and this worked.

Is your budget increasing?

Five years ago, we spent roughly $650 million a year on new tech investments, out of which more than 90% was defensive — compliance, regulatory, all these kinds of things. Starting in 2016, we have been more than doubling this amount. We are currently annually spending $1.6 billion on technology. More than 50% of this money is dedicated to real strategic and digital enhancements.

Where are you investing?

We are heavily investing in our front end, both on the retail as well as the wholesale side. We invest a lot in payment systems. We also invest in the harmonization of our core banking system. Our strategic spend is now as big as total spending in 2015.

How has customer behavior changed?

We saw solid double-digit increases in the usage of mobile and digital. We had planned for a slower ramp-up. In Singapore, the age group over 55 saw an increase of 50%. Even the elderly, who have been more reluctant to use these channels, adjusted to it. It was their only chance to move their money.

And