Westpac appoints McKinnon lieutenant Whincup CIO


news Top tier bank Westpac has appointed one of Bob McKinnon’s top lieutenants, UK import Clive Whincup (pictured below), to succeed him as chief information officer.

McKinnon, who had led the bank’s technology operations for the past several years, stepped back into an advisory role last week, with his replacement slated to report to Westpac’s new chief operating officer John Arthur, rather than directly to the bank’s chief executive Gail Kelly as McKinnon had done.

Late tonight, Westpac issued a statement noting it had appointed Whincup, formerly the bank’s group general manager of service delivery in its technology division, as McKinnon’s replacement. The executive joined Westpac in May 2009 as part of a rush of key executives appointed as McKinnon’s inner circle. At that stage his title was general manager of service delivery applications, but he was promoted in November 2010. His new position will take effect from today (1 December).

Westpac’s statement noted that before joining Westpac, Whincup had been director of service delivery, group infrastructure and IT operations for Lloyds TSB UK. Before that he was CIO for Lloyds’ UK retail bank. He has 25 years’ experience in the IT and financial services sector, including at other banks such as the Bank of Scotland and the Banca Popolare de Milano in Italy.

“I am delighted to announce the appointment to CIO of such a high calibre member of our team,” said Arthur. “Clive has more than 25 years’ experience across IT and financial services, holding a number of senior roles at several global banks. His international experience and background in transformational change and complex programs of work position him ideally for this critical leadership role, and I very much look forward to working with him.”

At Westpac, Whincup appears to have had a substantial role in remediating the bank’s infrastructure over the past several years to cut down the number of ‘severity one’ incidents; outages for which there is no quick fix and which hamstring the bank’s ability to conduct its basic daily operations.

In a joint interview with McKinnon and a number of other senior Westpac IT executives last year, the executive spoke about the “currency” of Westpac’s IT systems — currency being a measurement of how the bank had continued to upgrade and maintain its IT systems over time. Over the years, Whincup said at the time, Westpac’s ability to introduce change into its business had become weak due to a lack of currency in its systems. One of Whincup’s roles appears to have been simplifying the bank’s underlying infrastructure. “The improvement is certainly noticeable,” he said at the time. “The sentiment in the organisation has dramatically changed in terms of how our systems work generally.”

And why did Whincup join Westpac to start with? Quoting from a Delimiter feature article on Westpac in late-2010:

Whincup says he’s worked in IT in banks for more than 25 years, including in the UK and continental Europe. “I don’t get invited to many parties,” he jokes. He says one of the things he gets asked a lot — even by his kids — is why he’s in Australia, and why with Westpac.

His answer is that he’s been in the middle of banking mergers before — and that from an IT side it was usually a case of “lift and insert” the larger bank’s systems into the smaller bank — destroying much customer value along the way. Westpac’s different, he says. “My belief is, the way the Westpac story is articulated, putting the customer at the centre of everything we do drives a focus on the long-term,” Whincup says.

I liked Whincup when I had an extended lunch briefing session with him and the rest of McKinnon’s senior leadership team a year and a month ago at Westpac HQ in Sydney’s CBD. The executive was clearly someone that McKinnon relied upon and trusted, and during the lunch he interjected at points and spoke with passion about the area (service delivery) which he was responsible for.

I wouldn’t describe Bob McKinnon as cynical, but the executive has a certain weathered feel about him. He’s taken virtually everything that the IT and financial services sectors have to offer and survived with the vast majority of his honour and integrity intact. Right now, he’s the five star general of Australia’s banking IT scene.

In comparison, I would describe Clive Whincup as a colonel; not as seasoned as McKinnon, but with the same core strength about him. Younger, with more passion, more vivacity about him; and perhaps more discipline — but less of McKinnon’s wry humour. While McKinnon’s been overseeing Westpac’s overarching strategy, it’s probably been Colonel Whincup who’s been keeping the troops on the straight and narrow and making sure things increasingly run like clockwork.

For me, two questions hang over Whincup’s immediate future with the bank.

The first is his relationship with Westpac chief technology officer Sarv Girn, who many saw as McKinnon’s defacto second in charge. Girn’s not pure management material like McKinnon and Whincup; he’s a tech-head. At the briefing last year, it was Whincup who was talking about cutting down severity one incidents, but Girn who would discuss specifics of banking IT architecture, cloud computing and core banking systems migrations.

Like many geeks, Girn’s got somewhat of an intriguing, slightly reclusive personality, which set him apart somewhat from the rest of McKinnon’s team. However, McKinnon and Girn appeared to have forged a special relationship which saw them balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’ll be critical for Whincup to develop a similar rapport with Westpac’s whizkid.

Secondly, Whincup will need to focus heavily on Westpac’s rapidly developing IT strategy over the next while. McKinnon’s nailed a lot of things down at the bank over the past several years, but major questions still hang over Westpac, ranging from the future of its core banking platform to how it will evolve its Internet and mobile banking operations to re-enter the mobile payments war emerging at the moment between CommBank (Ka-ching) and ANZ (goMoney).

All this will be going on in the context of the storm that will be continually breaking across his desk over the next several years as Westpac ramps up its IT outsourcing and offshoring initiatives. Those plans have already caused a bit of a ruckus within the bank, from what we’ve heard, and it will take all of Whincup’s skills and experience to keep things on an even keel.

I think the executive is more than capable of handling this side of things, and I have no doubt he can continue to take costs out of Westpac’s IT operation while maintaining a solid level of service delivery. But what worries me more is his ability to create and get buy-in for more visionary endeavours. I’m sure McKinnon’s continuing role at the bank will see him help out in this area, but it’s certainly the area Whincup’s skills will need to develop in.

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Image credit: Winam, Creative Commons, Clive Whincup (LinkedIn)