– What we do is so much more than programming some functionality, says Dirk Frobese. We are right at the heart of our customers’ business and working as their trusted partner in long-term digital transition.
What he experienced in the banking sector ran contrary to Dirk Frobese’s education as an electronics engineer. At university he had been trained to logically structure everything he did, in the same way you would analyse the flow of current when designing a piece of electronics. But when he looked at his customers in the banking and insurance world, he said to himself: “What a mess!”
– You would think that people specializing in numbers and finance would do their job in a very systematic and logical way, but no. It seemed as if their work had grown by itself over many years with nobody ever asking if this was the right way to do things. There were a lot of people working, but they didn’t necessarily know what the others were doing, and some of them were doing the same thing twice. And of course everything was paper based.
Full bandwidth of skills
Gradually Dirk Frobese built a company specializing in analysing and improving workflows and processes in the industry. Because, as he points out, what’s the point in replacing an outdated system with new technology, unless you optimize the workflow you want to digitalize as well?
The Frobese team includes the full bandwidth of skills for that task. You have software developers, you have people with university degrees in economics, and you have people from the banking and insurance world. This diverse skill set ensures that Frobese can deliver on all three of the company’s main business areas: software development, analysis of workflows and processes and management of large-scale transition projects.
– Typically our customers are well-established and mature companies that want to update their infrastructure and offer new services and applications to their customers. Some of them are inspired by the many emerging Fintech companies, that have brought a lot of innovation to the sector regarding automation and delivery of financial services.
According to its founder the strength of Frobese lies in its understanding of both technology and of banking. The Frobese team knows how to talk to upper management, which typically consists of people with a background in finance and banking, and it can talk with the IT people of the bank as well.
– In fact, we are right in the middle between the two. We consider ourselves translators between them because often we find that the top managers have difficulties understanding their own IT people.
– What makes us special is, that we can navigate in both worlds. We can do nice PowerPoint presentations in front of the board of directors, just like business consultants from Deloitte or KPMG. But what sets us apart from them is, that we can actually build what we are showing on those PowerPoint slides.
Software and compliance
Nowadays, when it comes to software development, Frobese is primarily focusing on integration and adding new functionality and developing new APIs for data exchange between different systems. We are a broad team of experts in data warehouse solutions, together with specializing in compliance. The banking and insurance sector is intensely regulated, and Frobese is offering a framework called G2C – governance to compliance – for customers to handle complex compliance issues, for instance regarding identity access management.
Regarding workflows and processes, the Frobese team is looking at how banks are handling different tasks. Based on that workflow knowledge Frobese improves and streamlines them with technology, always acknowledging that digitalization has to start at the beginning of a workflow, not at the end of it.
In recent years the project management leg of Frobese has grown significantly. We are handling large transition projects, many of them with a multi million Euro budget. These projects are “mission critical” to customers and Frobese is providing all necessary management skills, be it change management, project management, or test management and in all shapes, be it agile or traditional, whatever is feasible for the task at hand. As Dirk Frobese puts it:
– It’s like performing heart surgery. The systems are all interconnected in complex structures and it’s difficult to change anything, because it has repercussions throughout the entire system. However, you must do it to move forward.
– On top of that, in this sector transition is difficult and very costly. Just as an example, let’s look at the test management side of a project. When we are building a new system, we are required to build a test system similar to the production system, to be absolutely sure, that on D-day everything works exactly as it’s supposed to. We have to prove that the numbers are and will be correct, end of week, end of month and end of year. It’s very complex and costly to build such a shadow production. It takes a lot of effort, but there is no way around it. If anything goes wrong you can’t just say to the authorities in charge of banking oversight that you have for instance 20 million Euros you can’t account for. It’s in there somewhere, you just can’t find it right now.
Although Dirk Frobese has built up a thriving business as a technology specialist catering to the banking and insurance sector primarily in Northern Germany, he feels that part of the industry is falling behind, being too cautious and conservative.
In his opinion, too many executives still see IT as a cost, instead of a new business opportunity.
Therefore they’re reluctant to invest in the digital transition necessary to secure the long-term success of their business. And thus, you’ll find ancient systems still running out there, or as Dirk Frobese puts it: “A lot of old iron”.
– There is a lot of legacy IT running in basements in some places. We’re talking relational databases, we’re talking Cobol code. But by now, the guys who are able to maintain these old systems may be in their 70s and it is close to impossible finding anybody else wanting to keep the old code running. Good luck to you, if you’re trying to find a young programmer to maintaining your Cobol code.
– I know there are a lot of managers out there ignoring this problem. You still see banks in which upper management doesn’t understand IT, and some banks are big and old fashioned and unwilling to change. But they’ll slowly go out of business if they’re unable to reinvent themselves.
– Banks and insurance companies are IT driven and they can’t exist without it. Luckily more and more companies in the sector are realizing this and I’m glad to see a change, because what the sector needs is digital transition.
Making a VW Golf
According to Dirk Frobese, the banking and insurance sector started out being quite innovative. That was a few decades ago, when large scale and personal computers revolutionized data management and workplaces. Since then, many organisations have failed to keep up with technological development and failed to utilize what technology has to offer.
In his view, banking has to become more like the auto industry, with platforms, standard components and well-defined workflows. Banking executives have to learn how to make a VW Golf, meaning a standardized, high-volume product, efficiently produced. Only when they’ve redesigned their workflows and processes to achieve that, they can begin thinking about a Bentley or a Ferrari. Then they can offer handmade and expensive products and make a profit from them, because they have a solid base with standard components, automatic workflows etc.
– Banks need to become more transparent and open to their customers. One of our customers, a large German savings bank, has realized that and has laid out a nice vision for their future business: They want to enable their customers to do almost everything from their sofa at home. Let’s say you want a loan to buy a house. You can fill in all the numbers at home, anytime it suits you. Only when you get to the point, when the regulations require you to meet with your banker you go to the bank. At that point he already has all the data you’ve submitted and together you make a decision. Then you get the money and you can buy your house. That’s it. You did most of the work yourself and that reduces cost for the bank, as well as being more convenient for you as a customer.
– We’re developing technology and processes to support this kind of lean, fast, and convenient services. The banks, which are successful, know that this is the way forward. The others will slowly vanish, if they don’t make that transition.