Dare to let go to grow

Your company has its own app and you want to add new functionality, but that would take months on end because of the existing architecture. It is indeed full of codes and you do not know exactly what they all stand for. This is a familiar situation for many companies. Online bank Knab was also confronted with this situation. The solution? Throw everything in the bin and start again.

Nowadays, banking is often done with a mobile device. Add to that the fact that Knab is an online bank, and you will understand why having their own app is of great importance. For an online store an app is ‘only’ a distribution channel, for Knab the app is their most important product. If your business largely relies on an app, you need to know that it is functioning exactly the way you want. “There have been big changes in mobile technology since we founded Knab in 2012. As a company, you obviously want to remain innovative”, Marcel Kalse, the bank’s co-founder, explains. “But we noticed that further development of the app was demanding more and more time and energy. That was largely because of the architecture.”

As Kalse puts it, you carry on building an app until you get to the stage where you cannot oversee the process. “The first line of code you enter is already legacy. You get to a point where the programmers start programming around full pieces of code because they no longer dare touch it. What if we take out a piece of code and the whole app suddenly stops working? So, we had two choices: carry on building the app we already have, or start again from scratch. Carrying on, in the same way, became enormously complex. So it was time to start again.”

Easier said than done

This is obviously easier said than done. Try building a completely new app, with the same functionality as the app your customer is already used to. “We dismantled everything, started building again, and that did indeed require an investment. But we have in fact invested in a more flexible product. We now have an app with the same functionality, but we can also quickly add new features to the product. For example, users can easily enter an account number, log in with a fingerprint, or personalise their account overview”, Kalse says.

How do you prevent a major investment such as dismantling and rebuilding your app is all in vain after a few years? “We are very careful with our architecture, but I obviously can’t be 100 percent sure if this plan is future-proof. This initiative allows us to quickly respond to the customer’s demand by quickly adding new features. Implementations used to take months; now it’s just a few weeks. We got rid of the old codes, and the intention is to continue in a more agile way. We don’t only want to hold on to the speed; we also want to continuously improve ourselves. The ultimate goal is to bring features to the market more quickly. We could only achieve this by building the whole app from scratch. Many banks find themselves with a gigantically complex application landscape with many legacy systems. To be honest, I think that every CIO has had the dream of throwing away all the old stuff and starting with a clean slate.”

Knabinised

This clean slate is built on BankingRight, a standardised product from software company Virtual Affairs. “We do a lot of work together with external suppliers at Knab. We practically always outsource our software development, although outsourcing doesn’t seem like the correct word in my opinion”, explains Kalse. “If I look at the people from Virtual Affairs who work at our office: they are so ‘Knabinised’ that I just see them as my colleagues. They are here at the office every day. We even go to Sofia (Bulgaria, red.) on a regular basis, where a significant piece of the software is developed.”

“Knab’s mobile scrum team is a good example of this,” says Kalse. The team is the product owner, and the scrum master also works for Knab, but Virtual Affairs contracts the architect and various developers. The testers are also on Knab’s payroll. “And our mobile scrum team comes up with some fantastic things. It doesn’t matter to us whether Virtual Affairs or Knab is on the pay slip at the end of the month. This is not noticeable during working hours. There is no question of a customer/supplier relationship.”

Ease of use

The new app from Knab and Virtual Affairs must boost the ease of use. “Our customer satisfaction is already extremely high - we have the most satisfied customers of all banks in the Netherlands by far. Online banks are often perceived as impersonal and remote because you can’t simply visit the office. Everyone is indeed welcome to pay us a visit, but we are indeed not a bank with traditional offices. We are actually a large IT company; half of our 160 employees are directly or indirectly involved with IT. But that doesn’t make Knab impersonal. Service is very much in our genes. Of course I understand that every company focuses on the customer; or at least wants to. With large organisations you often see they have their headquarters and various local offices, and this is no different with banks. The distance between headquarters and the customer is enormous.”

With Knab there is a direct line, Kalse resolutely believes. “This is confirmed by our customer satisfaction numbers. We have been operating for five years now, and after a bumpy start, we have been enjoying healthy growth for several years. Today we have approximately 125,000 customers. We want to continue to grow, also by making sure our app is able to make banking by mobile phone easier.” 

This article was published (in Dutch) in CIO magazine, May 2017