Interview with Flemming Kirkskov, Santander Consumer Bank.

Good consultants do it

For Santander Consumer Bank Denmark, the vital aspect is not the speed at which a consultant can program. What matters is that the consultant has the professional competence and the business acumen to take the right decisions at the right time.

Flemming Kirkskov is IT Director at Santander Consumer Bank Denmark. He explains that Santander Consumer Bank Denmark has a handful of permanent consultants, who constitute the backbone of the various IT units. These consultants know the history and how the organisation wants to develop in commercial terms.

"But when you grow like we have in recent years, besides recently acquiring GE Money Bank in the Nordic region, some extra hands are needed. So we currently have seven ProData consultants," says Flemming Kirkskov.

Sparring partners

He describes how Santander Consumer Bank Denmark works according to Scrum methods. Since the world can look very different tomorrow, it makes better sense to develop in short iterations, with ongoing adjustment of form and content.

"This method of working makes high demands of the external consultants' independence. In contrast to working by the traditional waterfall method, where in principle no extensive dialogue with the business side is required, since you can work on a project for months before the business guys see it, Scrum requires ongoing communication with the business side. Otherwise, you risk not discovering bugs in time, but also developing on top of the errors, which makes the subsequent rectification even more cumbersome," says Flemming Kirkskov.

"Good consultants are capable of taking on this dialogue with the business side – sometimes without the help of the internal consultants – so that we do not have to devote resources to holding their hands. A good consultant is generally capable of serving as sparring partner to both IT and the business side, and this naturally demands more of a developer than programming alone."

Exercising authority

When Flemming Kirkskov and Santander Consumer Bank Denmark are to hire external consultants, they primarily look for a CV that matches the technical requirements necessary for a concrete assignment. Once this is in place, good chemistry between employer and consultant is vital, and also whether the consultant's personality matches the other consultants on the team.

Once a consultant has been hired for an assignment for Santander Consumer Bank Denmark, Flemming Kirkskov points to two factors in particular that would qualify or disqualify an external consultant from staying in the organisation for a longer period.

"First of all, I expect a consultant to be able to exercise authority. If I ask a consultant to call a business partner to chase them for a solution to an issue, the consultant shouldn't just send a mail and wait politely for an answer. I expect the consultant to call up the partner, and keep calling him, until the issue has been resolved. The consultant needs to forget that there is any difference between internal and external team members, as the problems just need to be solved. The consultants who get this right will go far," says Flemming Kirkskov.

"The opposite also applies, so that a consultant with no personal clout will not get very far, as far as I'm concerned. These are the people who just 'click their heels' when the business side asks them to do something, even if what they're asked for is a bad idea and may even be counterproductive. They need to have their own opinion, and stick up for it, asking themselves: if this was my own money would I do what the business side is asking me to do? If the answer is no, you have a duty to point this out to your employer," says Flemming Kirkskov.

"The mediocre consultants are often not mediocre because they lack professional skills, but because they can spend an awful lot of time on doing the wrong things. In this respect, it's not important whether one consultant is 10% faster than another. This time will be recovered tenfold if the slower consultant can help the organisation to take the right decision, at the right time. This ability is priceless," concludes Flemming Kirkskov.

Tip: Share your knowledge

Flemming Kirkskov has seen examples of external consultants who believe they can generate more work for themselves by "rationing" their expertise and keeping their knowledge a secret. This is a strategy that has quite the opposite effect on Flemming Kirkskov. "I and my organisation cannot be dependent on an external consultant's knowledge or abilities, We cannot have this uncertainty, so a consultant should always share his or her knowledge with the internal team members. This will give a boost to the entire team and also show me how I can use the abilities of the person in question for other assignments."

About Santander Consumer Bank Denmark

Santander Consumer Bank Denmark is part of Spanish Banco Santander, which was founded in 1857. Banco Santander is the largest bank in the Eurozone and among the world's largest banks, with over 185,000 employees globally and more than 110 million customers in over 40 countries. Santander Consumer Bank Denmark was established in 2007 as a branch of Norway and started with one single employee. Today, Santander Consumer Bank Denmark has more than 100 employees.

The IT department of Santander Consumer Bank Denmark is divided into three units, reflecting and supporting the bank's business objectives. One unit handles all IT assignments concerning car loans, which is currently Santander Consumer Bank Denmark's largest business area. Another unit handles everything regarding ordinary loans, including credit cards. The last unit maintains and develops the bank's internal IT systems.