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Bank of England launches hunt for a permanent CIO

The Bank of England has begun its hunt for a permanent new Chief Information Officer (CIO) -- arguably one of the most exciting, if uniquely challenging CIO roles recently advertised in the UK and beyond.

The recruitment comes after CIO Robert Elsey left this summer after six years, for a role as Group CTO at the Co-op. (The Bank advertised for an interim CIO under a 9-12-month contract in early July 2021. That role was filled by former BoE Head of Digital Platforms Oliver Tweedie -- previously director of data engineering at Sky.)

Applications close on January 17, 2022 for the uniquely challenging role – which includes responsibility for the resilience of critical national infrastructure systems which settle over £750 billion of transactions every day.

The permanent CIO, leading a team of over 500 staff, will be responsible for the Bank’s technology strategy and adoption of new technologies. They will report to the COO – who is a member of the Bank’s Executive Committee alongside the Governor and four Deputy Governors. The CIO is also an active member of several Executive Committees and a regular attendee at the Audit and Risk Committee of Court (the Bank’s Board).

The new Bank of England CIO’s near-term challenges, an advert posted on December 9 highlighted, will include “the introduction of new, more resilient data centres; supporting the development of a new Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) System; updating the Bank’s internal systems and, with the Executive Director of Data Analytics, [and] modernising the Bank’s data and analytics infrastructure and capabilities…”

They will join amid a push towards the ISO 20022 messaging standard for UK payments led by the bank and major ongoing work on "understanding further how APIs will be used in a wide range of use cases."

The CIO will have responsibility for maintaining the stability and resilience of the Bank’s technology estate… be responsible for ensuring the Bank responds swiftly to incidents, providing strategic leadership to internal teams and external partners as required to minimise any impact on services. The IT estate includes a mixture of in-house system build and maintenance, as well as systems and services outsourced to third party suppliers.

A track record of leading teams and building strategic direction, with the "ability to translate trends in technology to the changing business environment" is vital, the BOE said; as is experience of £50 million+ budgets.

Applicants can see more details and get a CV in here.

Permanent CIO role, Bank of England

With reference to the bank's data and analytics programme noted in the CIO advert, CDO Graham Ramsay is leading a BoE and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)-run joint transformation programme with industry to transform data collection from the UK financial sector – a phase one ‘design and discovery period’ ends in March 2022, with £2 million tentatively earmarked for a pilot. That project aims to answer three questions:

  • "How can we ensure our data collections are worthwhile... for regulators and industry to invest in?
  • "How can industry best understand...our reporting instructions so that high quality data is provided?
  • "How can we remove legacy data, process and technology siloes and streamline the reporting process?

(Industry/regtech specialists who want to get involved on that project can email the BoE here.)

The planned hire again casts a fresh light on work to fundamentally overhaul the RTGS -- the backbone of UK payments through which financial institutions hold their sterling bank accounts, exchange and settle funds.

Plans to rebuild the RTGS’s architecture have been under active discussion since at least 2017. The BOE appointed Accenture in July 2020 in a contract worth up to £150 million to help build and deliver the planned new system, with the aim of boosting resilience, facilitating innovation, and overcoming a reliance on legacy technology that is heavily dependent on batch-processing, with limited real-time data monitoring.

The renewed RTGS service will continue to use SWIFT as the provider of messaging services, but will be designed to be capable of sending and receiving payment messages from multiple sources, the BOE notes in its updates on the project, with plans underway to move to a “Message Network-Agnostic RTGS in the future.”

Some of the challenges the BOE faces. Illustration credit, Victoria Cleland speech, 2020.

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As The Stack reported earlier this year, the rebuilt RTGS will also include “automated real-time tools for accessing RTGS transactional and liquidity data” as market participants push the bank to deliver more APIs. “There will also be some write access APIs, subject to the ability to secure it [sic]” the BOE notes.

Pressure has been mounting on the Bank of England to modernise its systems, which have frustrated many fintechs with their limited windows to open accounts, and restricted operating hours. As Victoria Cleland, the BOE’s Executive Director, Banking, Payments, and Innovation put it in an October 2020 speech: “Operating hours are often cited as a key friction. We are developing near 24/7 technological capability which will have the flexibility to be upgraded to full 24/7 operating hours in line with industry demand.

She added: “This will help to tackle the mismatch of operating hours and increase the overlap of operating schedules to make payments quicker and cheaper… Of course, to fully realise the benefits of extended operating hours other jurisdictions will need to play their respective part, but the Bank can and will lead by example.”

(As consultant Bob Lyddon noted to The Stack’s founder Ed Targett some years back, for the BoE, opening a settlement account “is an IT change that needs to go through a full testing cycle. This policy was introduced after the CHAPS outage in 2014 to ensure that BoE’s systems did not fall over again, these systems being of ‘systemic importance’ to the UK’s financial and economic system. One IT change can be done per week. As there are IT freezes over the summer and over Christmas/New Year, and as there are 13 meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee that might result in a Base Rate change (also an IT change), this leaves only a small number of slots available for new accounts. This indicates a comically antiquated IT infrastructure at the BoE.”)

See also: The Big Interview -- NY Fed CIO Pam Dyson