Data-driven evolution: transforming building societies in the digital era

Diana Parades, CEO & Co-Founder, Suade (Chair)

Viren Patel, Strategic Advisor – Financial Services, WorkDay

Mark Mahers, Head of Finance Systems and Data, Coventry Building Society

Rita Bullivant, Director of IT & Change, Melton Building Society

Diana Parades, Suade, opened the session by asking Rita (Melton BS) and Mark (Coventry BS) to outline the journeys their respective societies went on to achieve change.

Rita, Director of IT & Change at The Melton, spoke about her brief to modernise the Society, which had received no meaningful investment in IT for about 15 years. The approach was to break down the transformation into bite-sized pieces, beginning with the mortgage origination process. Part of the change was to get culturally ready and this included an overhaul of the head office and working environment. 

Mark, Head of Finance Systems and Data at Coventry Building Society, talked about the need to change the approach and principles when it came to adopting technology. The technology piece itself was fairly straightforward, the bigger challenge was bringing people along on the journey. Mark also stressed how important it is to realise that launch day is not the end point, there is continued evolution.

Viren Patel, Strategic Advisor at WorkDay, spoke about the challenges of replacing legacy systems and convincing legacy mindsets. He outlined what he sees as the key pillars of transformation: Skills, people and regulation.

The panel was asked what were the most significant changes they had seen, when  moving from a manual to digital approach. 

Rita highlighted how change had provided opportunities to tackle knowledge and skills and this in turn provided opportunities for people to contribute to the process, to move into roles that didn’t exist prior to the change, roles that had been learnt about during the process. 

Viren also spoke about people and skills – how there is a challenge for HR teams to unearth the skills that your people already have and aren’t utilising – do not be afraid to move the skills around.

How can data be used more effectively.  

Viren outlined how building societies can be more efficient with their data – a lot of effort is often put into the front end – operational and customer facing – and what is missing is the integration between front and back, the full journey to really drive product development.

Mark said how data change can be difficult but getting the foundation data in a format you can use is really important, as is joining the dots between systems, processes and data. Key is to work out what you are looking for out of the data.  


When asked about the opportunities that developments in AI can provide to building societies, Rita first pointed out how the sector is unique and whilst competition exists within it, there is a very strong community focus and less competition with the big banks. Any digital journey will have elements of AI written in to it, sometimes the tech is already there. Mark highlighted how AI provides lots of opportunities to help improve the customer journey, the key is to utilise the data properly. He sees the challenge more on the ethical side and questioned whether we are ready.

Viren recommended looking at the customer facing side first – predicting customer behavior and then applying across the organisation. He also highlighted efficiency, and speeding up the compliance and risk function tasks.

The panelists also spoke about the need for courage to overcome the obstacles on the journey – regulation, compliance and legacy systems can all be a burden – make the decision to change and then make sure you have the right people in the right roles to go on that journey with you.