FinTech trends? Faster, more efficient – and at lower cost
Marcin Bohdziewicz, head of Warsaw and Mobile Development at HL Tech
Marcin Bohdziewicz, head of Warsaw and Mobile Development at HL Tech, talks to the BPCC’s Michael Dembinski about the challenges of developing one of the UK’s pre-eminent FinTech platforms with cross-cultural teams spanning Warsaw and Bristol – home to Hargreaves Lansdown, Britain’s no. 1 online financial supermarket.
Hargreaves Lansdown conducted a search “from Ireland to India” when seeking a location for its IT hub. What were the factors that decided in favour of Warsaw, and are those factors more or less relevant than they were in 2018 when HL took the decision?
Hargreaves Lansdown has looked at many factors when deciding on the location that would best fit our needs. Poland, and Warsaw specifically, stood out due to the quality of the IT talent available, as well as the size of the talent pool. Other important factors were the availability of suitable office space – which was one of the reasons Warsaw won over the Tri-City area – and the ease of travel between Hargreaves Lansdown main office and the new hub.
The landscape has changed a lot since 2018. While soon there won’t be any direct flights between Warsaw and Bristol, HL has embraced remote working, making the need for physical travel much less critical than it used to be. This switch has also allowed us to hire across all of Poland, instead of just focusing on the Warsaw market. Almost 30% of our staff is now working fully remotely, but this increase in our scope of hiring has been offset by the increased demand from other companies, who have also adopted remote contracts.
Hargreaves Lansdown, with £123 billion of funds administered on behalf of its 1.7m clients, is a household name in the UK, yet with no overseas operations, the brand is unknown in Poland. Is this a problem for you when recruiting? If so, how do you overcome it?
It has been a big challenge for us, especially as we’re hiring under the HL Tech brand and not the main Hargreaves Lansdown one. We try to overcome this through building a reputation as tech experts, and offering great working conditions. We hope to organise more events and promote our talented colleagues. While this won’t make us a household name in Poland, due to the fact we’re mostly hiring people with a specific set of technical skills, this targeted approach hopefully will make us more recognisable amongst the group we would most like to reach.
Looking at tech trends within the financial services sector, are mobile apps taking over from web-based services? Do you need a different skill-set for developing for mobile, or can you migrate solutions from one platform to another? What are the big trends shaping FinTech right now?
Over the last few years the trend of Mobile overtaking Web has continued, and we’ve seen this exact thing happen amongst our clients. The Hargreaves Lansdown iOS and Android applications are now the most common way of our clients interacting with us.
We’ve chosen the approach of maintaining separate native front-end for Web and Mobile apps, but they do use the same underlying systems, as our clients expect to be able to achieve their goals regardless of which channel they prefer to use. While this does make the skillset we need wider, as there’s very little overlap between the Web tech stack and native mobile apps one, we believe it leads to the best client experience.
FinTech is following a broader trend of pushing for ever-increasing efficiency and speed, as well as a growing need to keep down the cost of development. This results in an increased interest in multi-platform solutions, and embedding web content inside Mobile applications. Going forward we’ll often have to balance our desire to provide the best client experience we can, with responding to client demand fast enough.
How many of the solutions deployed by Hargreaves Lansdown were created in Poland compared to those devised in the UK? Or do projects involve close collaboration between teams in both countries? How does this collaboration look in practice? How much autonomy does Warsaw have when taking decisions as to IT solutions used (architecture, platforms, software etc)?
While we started as a completely separate tech hub working on its own solutions, this has changed massively over the last few years. Currently all the people working in Poland work in teams that also include colleagues from the UK. While this makes it difficult to claim complete ownership for our deliverables, it also means we’re engaged in all the core parts of HL’s digital products, such as Trading, Payments, Transfers and Mobile. This has been enabled by the technologies supporting remote working. When everyone is one Teams call away, and even a fully UK-based team often has people dialling in remotely, the physical location of team members is not as important as it used to be. As all the information now has to be available regardless of where someone is working, it’s easier than ever for people connect.
This has allowed us to have a wider impact, and ensured we can respond to any changes in priorities that might arise. This approach lets any colleague, regardless of where they are employed, to propose architecture solutions, software choices etc. Smaller things are up to the team to agree on, larger ones such as onboarding new software need to go through a more robust process that includes presenting before an Architecture Panel which ensures that all the impact on other teams has been considered, the proposed solution follows our Security guidelines, funding has been secured etc.
We still see many benefits of people meeting in person, but our approach has evolved from full team co-location to our current way of having teams meet up for workshops, brainstorming, creative sessions, instead of just doing it to sit together while working on individual tasks.
User experience/user interface (UX/UI) is crucial when developing solutions for consumers. Ease of use is crucial in the fiercely competitive FinTech market. Do you test UX/UI here in Poland? And are there cultural difference between the way UK and Polish consumers navigate around sites?
Not all of our teams work on people facing systems with an actual UI, but the ones that do are indeed responsible for testing it. Most of our UI/UX experts are in the UK, as Hargreaves Lansdown does not operate in the Polish market. Because of this we can’t really compare the behaviour of UK and Polish consumers, but it does allow us to specialise in meeting the UK consumer needs.
Our teams work with User Researches who conduct client testing sessions (and invite team members to participate as observers), UI/UX designers responsible for delivering the designs, and our Quality Assurance colleagues ensure the delivered solutions meet the design requirements.
This may be a bit controversial – what would you say that there are differences in the characteristics of IT specialists from Poland when you compare them to their opposite numbers from the UK? There is a belief that Poles are better at ‘deep work’, while Britons excel at teamwork – how do you see this, working across the two cultures?
I can confidently say our Polish colleagues are more direct, which can also sometimes come off as abrasive. A common occurrence is our UK colleagues making sure everyone in the team feels comfortable and not wanting to directly shoot ideas down, while a Polish colleague responds with “this is a bad idea”. This can save a lot of time which would be spent discussing solutions that are not viable, but it also leads to increased friction between people.
My personal experience is many of our engineers in Poland to like to dive very deep into topics and be proactive at finding potential improvements to our systems, sometimes without considering the wider impact of their changes on other teams. I find often my Polish colleagues are very good at teamwork and getting along with their immediate team members, but not at working across teams and reaching out to people they don’t necessarily work with day to day.
AI is poised to change the world of work. In the field of IT itself, is AI already automating tasks that used to be carried out by human IT specialists? If so, what tasks are next for automation – and how will this affect supply and demand on the IT labour market?
As it was with automation in many areas, not just IT – people are most keen to automate boring and repetitive tasks. We’re seeing growing use of AI-generated code that deals with common problems, following established architectural patterns and even testing.
A less obvious area in which AI use is increasing rapidly is prototyping. It’s easier than ever to get a quick solution that helps to validate an idea, even if it’s not fully fit for live use and long term maintenance. But this allows trying out ideas without a big investment into developing code which might have to be scrapped.
As a result of this I think there’s going to be less need of entry level roles. While in the past people would often enter IT working in positions dealing with those repetitive tasks, when there’s less need for human input to deal with them companies are going to expect more skills even at entry level roles, and the ability to use the new tools efficiently.
Another big impact on our daily work are the translation and transcription improvements. Especially when working in a multinational environment with multiple meetings happening at the same time, AI tools are now allowing us to handle multiple languages and having minutes taken automatically and made available to everyone. I was very surprised the first time someone reached out to me, because they’ve been automatically notified I talked about them in a meeting they were not able to attend.
Cybersecurity is fundamental in the world of FinTech. What proportion of the work carried out by HL Tech in Warsaw is focused on this?
Security is an integral part of all work we do. While we have dedicated experts focused solely on it, as well as systematic company policies ensuring our standards are followed, every engineer has to take it into consideration in their daily work. We’re making sure everyone’s skillset is up to date through both mandatory and optional training, and we’re now launching a dedicated Secure Development Community of Practice to make it easier for people to share insights in this important area of our work.