Access Interview: Vasyl Melnychuk, Head of Technology Department at AccessHolding
By Ivana Mitrovic
Vasyl has twenty nine years of professional IT experience, of which twenty four are in the banking industry. In 1998, he joined a team launching the ING subsidiary bank in Ukraine, then devoted three years to the greenfield bank establishment – a project of ING in Afghanistan. For the following six years, he was in the role of the COO of the Ukrainian subsidiary of the Austrian financial group Volksbank.
He joined Access Group in 2015 as the CIO of AccessBank Azerbaijan, and after three years he took the responsibility for the IT Strategy implementation in AccessHolding.
Having two degrees in IT and Financial Management, Vasyl has broad experience in IT, information security, banking operations, procurement, cost- and facility management.
I truly believe, if we adopt a start-up mentality, we have a chance to survive in this ever-changing world. We must constantly think of how our decisions today going to shape our future.
Vasyl, how would you describe the Head of Technology department role at AccessHolding and additionally, how would you describe the main responsibilities of your department in a network so diverse as AccessGroup?
My role is two-fold. On one hand, I manage the Berlin Technology team, which provides services to the Holding and the Network Institutions, and on the other hand, I represent the Holding in IT Steering Committee meetings of Network Banks and together with my peer colleagues ensure the best group synergy effect. We also act as a prime partner for the banks when they face challenges with their technology solutions or infrastructure. Our team works in the hybrid mode – helping banks and Berlin colleagues simultaneously. We have also set up a Level 2 support desk – an emergency support team, available round the clock 7 days a week.
Our mission eventually is not to sit idle and repair if anything is broken. We are in constant motion in this fast-changing world. We are researching, learning new toolkits, infrastructure stacks, and frameworks, we are getting acquainted with cutting-edge technologies and are keeping ourselves “technically fit and trained” – to address any business idea at the shortest time with the lowest cost possible. We believe that banks, perceived by their partners and customers as the most accessible and technologically advanced, will unavoidably gain the market share. They have everything – good name, trust of customers, market experience, local presence. The only missing component – is a digital highway to their doorstep and enhanced traffic and safety rules.
You have joined the Berlin team almost three years ago; looking back now, what were the biggest challenges you have faced, and what were your biggest victories as a leader? How do they defer from the challenges and successes of the Technology department as a whole?
It was a very challenging period – a cross-cultural environment, team working on waterfall project methodology, regular meetings with stressful deadlines, everyone was getting burned out, being overstretched, demotivated, and constantly multitasking. Backlog was enormous, people could not afford to make a single mistake, as it instantly led to delays with already overdue deliverables. In such an environment it was hard to align maintenance support and project activities, as the same people were assigned to all these tasks, and priorities were moving as well. Source codebases were kept on-premise, making an external reinforcement a “mission impossible”. Cloud-computing and cloud-based collaboration tools were perceived as “insecure” or “non-compliant”.
I had to fix it all immediately, and a staff turnover was the best indicator to measure if I am implementing the right changes. The most challenging was to gain the trust of the team. As soon as the trust level was going up, the team started getting engaged more and more – we have moved codebases to the cloud environment, got a reinforcement, established transparent processes, adopted Agile development philosophy and Scrum methodology, and finally cleaned up the backlog.
The bar for the team was set quite high, but I was lucky to have bright and talented people on my side – they were adjusting with every sprint run, enjoying, and interacting in a new, more productive way.
There was, however, another area, where improvements were required for a while – banks strived to upgrade their legacy processes and infrastructure, and their staff was hungry for the new solutions and services. Our key role was not to become just a reliable service provider but to become a sample of how to transform and improve performance in a record time. We use our lessons learned to coach IT teams in banks to address challenges proactively. Now we can observe banks taking more and more ownership and leadership of their projects, for example, Madagascar, Nigeria, Zambia, or Rwanda. In January 2020, with the valued support of our People Partnership colleagues, we have also launched a new program, called a “gig pool” – to bridge a capacity gap by onboarding talented IT freelancers from around the globe. We would endorse, train, and consult freelancers while the banks employ and manage them directly – and this initiative has shown incredible results!
If defining core IT services was a goal for 2018, become agile a goal for 2019, get flexible a goal for 2020, what are the goals your team will try to reach this year and in the near future?
There is a former definition of a “home bank” – it is a bank, where a paycheck arrives. Now, this title is carried by the bank, which knows you and helps you pay your monthly bills best of all. The next step for us is to help network banks raise their brand awareness and integrate their services with partners – utility service providers, schools, and other companies. Banks should maintain a reasonable volume of non-interest income to handle turbulent times.
In the last few years, Berlin has become one of the world’s biggest Fin-tech centres. Can you tell us if AccessHolding as a company, and especially the Technology Department, has been influenced by this market change? If there is something we should learn from those disruptors, what would that be? Did we maybe, already adopt some of their best practices you would like to tell us more about?
We shall become the disruptor! When we (IT) transitioned from on-premises mailboxes to the cloud-based team collaboration environment, there was so much prejudice about its security and safety, when we relocated to the new office, there were concerns about the traditional attributes of a workplace: a dedicated desk and a fixed phone. When the COVID-19 imposed a new reality, how did it impact our ability to remain productive? Apart from broken social connections, not at all!
I truly believe, if we adopt a start-up mentality, we have a chance to survive in this ever-changing world. We must constantly think of how our decisions today going to shape our future. Every lesson learned from an experiment will put another brick into our fundament – and the earlier, the better! We must make a research performance our daily routine – failing fast and failing forward will make us fit and prepared for the challenges. Our ideas need to be shared with customers, and those, which become the most voted, are worth developing further! Setting flat cross-departmental teams with sufficient authority levels will ensure quick decision making and thus – will improve the speed of product delivery.
For the very end, what were the most important personal and professional learnings since you have joined us? What recommendations would you give to others who might be involved in future projects of a similar type?
I have learned for years, that being a leader has its price. With you looking cool, energetic, and confident in public, after the meetings or presentations, you remain a vulnerable human. You get judged or stressed as anybody else, you run circles in your sleepless nights, trying to solve resource or budget constraints, recalling if you did not commit any mistake, mentally rephasing what you should have told or what you have forgotten to tell your colleagues to convince them to follow you. Any conflict during the transformation leaves a sensitive scar in your memories, you just learn with time not to show it.
My only advice to anybody would be to be as sincere and open with people, as you took responsibility for them. Sometimes messages you pass are not pleasant, but you must be fair. Certainly, there are some corporate secrets you may be bound not to disclose for a while, but as a leader you must push your team towards the model, guaranteeing them a better future.