Nationwide Chief Operating Officer Tony Prestedge says he could not imagine how a C-level technology and operations exec could do their job without being a member of an organisation’s Executive Committee.

The former CIO at the world’s largest building society, who took on the COO role in November 2010 overseeing its multi-billion pound technology transformation, was discussing IT and digital skills at board level with CIO UK after the mutual announced five new external expert advisers to its Board IT Strategy and Resilience Committee.

“I couldn’t imagine doing my job without at least being a member of the Executive Committee,” Prestedge said regarding the importance of technology expertise at the most senior level of an organisation.

“If a CIO is not a member of the full business committee, then you are always disconnected in the strategy from your own thinking. You become more myopic and detached, and less able to offer value.”

Digital expertise in the boardroom

This same month it was revealed that only 2% of FTSE 350 companies have their CIO or CTO on the board and only 36% include a director with some level of digital or technology experience.

“I couldn’t imagine our board without one person who does not have an operations or technology background,” Prestedge said. “You need a contributor in that way.”

Nationwide has announced five new external expert advisers to its Board IT Strategy and Resilience Committee, which COO Prestedge said had been appointed specifically to cover the areas of digital innovation, mobile, payments, data and security.

They are are former GCHQ Director General of Intelligence and Security Conrad Prince, ex-Barclays Chief Data Officer Usama Fayyad, InAuth CEO Lisa Stanton, as well as FinTech and financial services experts Mark Hartley and James Greene.

Prestedge said that even prior to the new panel the board IT committee had been meeting for four years, and chaired by himself had included the CEO of Nationwide, CIO Debra Bailey, CTO Simon Hamilton and three NEDs including Mitchel Lenson, the former CIO of Deutsche Bank and operations chief of UBS. Prestedge said that it was important to have that kind of expertise on the Nationwide board.

“Mitchel is tough and holds me to account,” Prestedge said. “He calls stuff out and has an incredible network which reaches internationally beyond the UK. He brings the counter-balance.”

Prestedge said that having an experienced CIO and COO was as asset in having an added voice when describing the complexity of IT implementations to other board members.

“When it doesn’t go perfectly, there are other members of the board for whom Mitchel helps understand in a different way the risks the organisation faces,” Prestedge explained.

External expertise

Discussing the new panel advising the Nationwide Board and IT Strategy Committee, Lenson said: “For some time the board of Nationwide has been keen to ensure we have world class strength in IT development, resilience and innovation.

“The engagement of these external experts will provide additional insight and challenge to ensure we effectively meet the opportunities of a digital age across our technology, innovation and IT resilience investment. We are looking forward to welcoming the new experts to the team and working to continue to deliver market leading innovations which have a real world benefit to our members.”

Prestedge said that Nationwide had already had its first meeting of the new Board IT Strategy and Resilience Committee and described the contributions of the new experts as “completely invaluable”.

Prestedge said: “As millions of our members embrace the benefits of digital innovations we recognised the need to continue to ensure we have the right talent and leadership in place to meet the rapidly changing challenges and opportunities new technology presents. Bringing external expertise to support the Board IT Committee allows Nationwide to benefit from decades of combined experience at the most senior level, complementing our in-house experts, as we continue our ambitious innovation, technology and IT resilience investment.

“We worked really hard to bring in people who would challenge us and provide insight,” added the COO, who was impressed how quickly the five of them had brought a new perspective to Nationwide that is taking the organisation’s thinking forward.

Nationwide innovation

Having taken the mutual on a multi-billion-pound transformation plan which has seen the building society modernise its core banking systems and infrastructure, Prestedge is excited by the next wave of innovations in the sector.

The COO said that he was seeking inspiration from the tech sector and what organisations like IBM were doing with its Watson supercomputer, as well as the Big Data players, Amazon and credit card businesses. Prestedge was also looking at digital marketing organisations and how they can personalise content, how telcos had completely reinvented their business models to become content providers, as well as innovation and automation in government, open APIs, cognitive learning and deep tech which Nationwide is investigating with its Pivotus innovation lab in Silicon Valley.