Somewhere between well-funded traditional banks and disruptive fintech startups are challengers like Canada’s EQ Bank, the digital platform of Equitable (EQ) Bank, based in Toronto. Their growth is fueled by Fortune 500 defectors looking for better experiences, so they have to continuously think about what traditional brands are doing and how that can be done better.
When you’re a completely digital entity like EQ Bank, online user experience is the brand. But what if your software delivery structure and methodology aren’t aligned with your business goals? Such was the case at EQ Bank in 2016.
Using a combination of Atlassian cloud products, EQ Bank has doubled its monthly production releases in the last year and is now achieving 500 percent more builds per day with a revised agile methodology and scaling of people and tech. Over the next year, the goal is to further double the number of builds and production releases. Today, Equitable Bank manages $31 billion in assets.
Major transformation required
Banks can’t simply leap from waterfall to agile, DevOps, and CI/CD, because their industry is highly regulated; one simple mistake or oversight could result in regulatory fines and litigation. That’s why most banks tend to cling to traditional processes.
Using a combination of Atlassian cloud products, EQ Bank has doubled its monthly production releases and is achieving 500 percent more builds per day.
EQ Bank recognized that its waterfall processes were too slow to support its goal of delivering value to customers faster. In 2016, their software development was almost completely outsourced to vendors that had their own tools, methodologies, and Jira Software instances. It was impossible to orchestrate all the company’s internal and external software delivery efforts in a coherent way.
Starting with a clean slate
In 2016, VP of Technology Daniel Broten was new to the company and a man on a mission. His first priority was to speed up software delivery so EQ bank could provide customers with ever-better banking experiences while protecting their data.
Broten knew cloud was the best way to scale teams and projects, optimize processes, and facilitate collaboration across internal and external resources. However, bank compliance and security teams often block moves from a company-controlled data center to cloud because they believe cloud is riskier.
“Atlassian security solutions and certifications are all in the public domain, which made it easy to get the compliance and security approvals we needed,” says Broten.
With Atlassian cloud products, EQ’s software delivery, compliance, and security teams all have visibility into software development. That way, if someone needs to know what was changed, when, why, and by whom, they can find answers without disrupting IT. While formal audits are still necessary from time to time, they’re not needed to answer ad hoc questions, and the audit process itself is less disruptive.
Atlassian security solutions and certifications are all in the public domain, which made it easy to get the compliance and security approvals we needed
VP of Technology
Broten says Atlassian cloud’s lower total cost of ownership was also attractive because cost savings could be passed on to customers. Traditional banks separate savings and checking accounts because they want to limit the interest paid to customers and drive at least some revenue through checking account fees. But thanks to the overhead savings, EQ Bank could provide its customers with free combined checking and savings accounts that pay higher interest rates than competitors. At the same time, the bank’s limited IT resources would be spared from tedious infrastructure maintenance tasks.
Process standardization would be critical for enabling DevOps and CI/CD across the IT team and vendors, and would help them ensure they were meeting all functional and nonfunctional requirements in a consistent way. Global professional services firm Deloitte recommended Atlassian Platinum Solution Partner Blended Perspectives, a consulting firm that fully understands process design and tooling (versus just tooling) and can provide the training organizations need to succeed – and the partnership was a perfect match.
“Other banks have such rigorous firewalls [between departments and external partners] that it’s impossible to collaborate,” says Miles Faulkner, co-CEO of Blended Perspectives. “It’s unusual to work with an executive who can lay out a solid vision and still be open-minded [about the best way to execute that vision].”
Making it happen
Broten’s goal was to achieve four times the software delivery output and throughput in just two years, which meant supercharging the bank’s internal capabilities. At the time, EQ Bank used Jira Software on-premises, mainly for defect triage.
Blended Perspectives recommended a combination of Atlassian cloud products to achieve Broten’s goals. As a result, the bank uses Confluence for collaboration, story design, requirements, and release notes and implementation plans. Since everything is tracked in Jira Software, everything touched in Jira Software can be traced back to the release notes and implementation plans in Confluence.
“Jira Software gives us complete traceability, so we can tell at an itemized level what’s being changed in every release, so we now have a streamlined process for reviewing and approving production changes,” says Broten. “If there’s a problem, we’re able to push a fix by the end of the day instead of delaying the fix because we’re on a huge monthly cycle.”
EQ Bank also uses Jira Service Desk to automatically convert incident report tickets into linked issues in Jira Software. That way, IT team members don’t have to do it manually, which saves time and reduces the risk of errors. Broten says he wants to improve incident management further, and plans to supplement Jira Service Desk with Opsgenie monitoring and alerting tools on a portfolio-by-portfolio basis.
Customers often customize their Jira Service Desk implementations with Atlassian Marketplace tools. To round out their already powerful functionality, EQ Bank relies on Draw.io, Easy Agile, Software Plant, Comalatech, and SmartBear.
Dedication to continuous improvement
As Equitable Bank continues to grow, its technology stack and IT structure are becoming more complex. Since 2016, the IT team has grown from 20 to 100. By 2020, the team may reach 150. Meanwhile, 150 – 200 external partners are assisting with execution, and are collaborating via Atlassian cloud.
Broten’s team has achieved robust DevOps and CI/CD processes, and the entire tech stack has been rebuilt for the Public Cloud. “We’re doing things differently because we want to offer something unique to our customers. It’s about brand,” says Broten. “An interesting side effect of our transformation is we’re able to attract sought-after talent. In Toronto, job seekers either want the stability of a traditional bank or the disruptive and innovative culture of a startup. We have both.”
EQ Bank is continuously improving the way it delivers software in ways that benefit customers and the company. For example, the bank’s transition to DevSecOps means customers can enjoy novel – yet safe – banking experiences while the dev team meets compliance and security requirements. And to ensure better app performance, they’ll use Opsgenie to resolve production problems faster. By the end of the year, Opsgenie will be connected to every major system and support team, Broten says.
In today’s dynamic business environment, organizations must adapt to change quickly, or fail trying. The most effective transformations start with a solid vision that can be executed and reimagined as necessary using the right tools – and with Atlassian cloud products, EQ Bank is able to achieve that.
“As a challenger bank, we need to constantly reimagine what’s possible. As an example, we’ll be one of the first banks in North America moving our core banking system to the public cloud,” says Broten. “Atlassian Cloud allows us to take advantage of the latest and greatest features, but our number one priority is to keep our core competency very focused on delivering value, experiences and services for our customers.”