The saga of Suncorp’s ailing Oracle-based core banking system replacement has taken another twist, with the executive who branded the stalled build a “hostage” scenario, Steve Johnston, confirmed as the institution’s permanent new group chief executive.
Johnston had been acting as interim CEO for Suncorp group after the sudden departure of Michael Cameron in May 2019, who hailed group’s much-vaunted API-led marketplace strategy and digital transformation a success as he resigned.
With leadership succession secured after a global search, board attention is now expected to return quickly to the ultimate fate of the $300 million Oracle system that has still not progressed past the test phase, with Suncorp publicly demanding it be shown to successfully work in another bank of scale.
The appointment of an internal candidate suggests the board is acutely aware of the need for any leader to possess internal knowledge of Suncorp’s complex multi-brand strategy and array of systems to claw back costs and right, or write-off, listing projects.
Having already moved to restructure technology operations at Suncorp, notably the creation of a new dedicated Customer and Digital function headed by Lisa Harrison after the departure marketplace CEO Pip Marlow, Johnston’s succession will allow to bank to progress housecleaning of legacy problems in earnest.
Marlow wasted no time pulling the rip cord on Suncorp, deftly jumping ship to run Salesforce’s Australian operations, with her appointment as vendor’s local head announced just days after Cameron was revealed to be exiting Suncorp.
The troubled transactions and deposit platform, dubbed “Project Ignite” and based on Oracle Flexcube, was supposed to be up and running in 2016 to replace Suncorp’s ageing Hogan system
It is understood that with most of the API work now bedded down, the potential to keep running Hogan for the foreseeable is now on the cards, a scenario that leaves the onus on Oracle.
Cameron had previously bemoaned progress on the Oracle build, however Johnston went one better in August results by putting another shot over the bow of the mega-vendor and questioning the payback of the project.
"To some extent we are a bit of a hostage to someone else doing it, I think that’s a better way for us to consider it," Johnston said in August.
“I don’t think there is any benefit in us being the first mover in deploying a deposit module onto a new core banking system, it’s not within our risk appetite to do that."
On the same August earnings call August, Johnston described Suncorp’s marketplace strategy it as “too ambitious” for the bank’s resources.
With fires now raging across Queensland and Suncorp racing out financial assistance packages to its banking customers, those resources will be more constrained than ever.