MeDirect Bank: Thinking ahead for a seamless transition to the cloud

By Laura Ventura

MeDirect Bank is a Malta-based bank and financial services company that provides services ranging from deposit accounts to mutual funds to wealth management. The company has evolved from its regional roots to become the third largest bank in Malta, with an additional location in the United Kingdom, a fully licensed entity in Belgium, and customers all over the world. It’s done so by evolving with its customers’ needs; providing accessible, transparent services wherever customers are — physically or digitally.

Every financial services organization has had to manage the transition to digital banking, and data is at the heart of that transition. Whether being used for customer research, business development, or product development, data is quickly becoming one of the most valuable assets banks have.

The team at MeDirect could see that data was critical to their business. But becoming a data-driven business doesn’t happen by accident; you have to create the infrastructure first. That’s why data warehousing was a crucial step in their digital transformation — MeDirect needed to think about how data would continue to be securely stored and made accessible as quickly as it was required.

Time to move to the cloud

MeDirect’s legacy data platform was an on-premises Postgres platform. Kurt Zahra, MeDirect’s data architect, says, “There was quite a bit of administrative overhead to maintain the on-prem setup…the data engineers were wasting about 30% of their time just to upkeep the platform.” He also notes that the on-prem platform didn’t scale very well and was costly to maintain. Given these issues, explains Kurt, “Moving to the cloud gave us that ability to first be able to run concurrent loads without facing performance issues and also the ability to quickly scale up, scale down, and scale out.”

Snowflake was selected as MeDirect’s cloud platform due to its ability to instantaneously auto-scale resources as needed and scale back without service disruptions, as well as the capability of running concurrent data loads through virtual warehouses.

Russell Camilleri, the senior manager of MeDirect’s engineering team, says, “It isn’t easy to make the transition to the cloud, especially for a bank. But our management was quite appreciative of the benefits of the cloud. Snowflake is one of the biggest cloud data warehouses in the world, so it was a very easy decision.”

“A seamless transition to the cloud”

Once the new data platform was identified, the data had to be replicated from the on-prem platform to Snowflake. To do this, MeDirect turned to Talend. “We already had a significant investment in Talend,” says Kurt. “All of our processes both from the data loading and integration point of view were developed in Talend. We felt that the best way in which we could ensure a seamless transition to the cloud would be to continue leveraging that investment, retain our existing jobs, and enhance them in such a way that enables us to load data to the new data platform.”

And, Kurt notes, it was relatively straightforward to enhance the Talend jobs to get them to work with the new system. “In order to ensure a seamless transition — because we had to load data into the legacy and into the new platform — we made use of the context variables in Talend which determine which outputs to set. And once we were comfortable with the data loaded into the new data platform, we disabled the job for the legacy platform. That gave us quite a bit of flexibility and control.”

Another benefit of using Talend is that Kurt and his team could trust that the data was replicated accurately in the new platform after the migration. Kurt reveals that one of the reasons his team had invested in Talend in the first place was because of its ability to handle numerous data sources with ease. “We have 40 to 50 data sources that we integrate with Talend; some are internal and some are external.” Because using Talend for the migration was so straightforward — despite the number of systems involved — Kurt was confident that the data in the new system was accurate.

A better experience for internal and external customers

The benefits of the new platform have had a big impact on MeDirect’s business. From their customers’ perspective, the digital products’ performance is better than ever. All the things the customer never sees but have tangible effects on how the bank app works, for example, are gone. Kurt says, “The data platform runs queries that just execute faster — they don't have this problem of queuing. It can handle concurrency much better, so it doesn’t have data availability issues.”

In addition, Kurt is delighted that his team now has more time to work on innovative solutions rather than maintaining the data platform. “My team now has 30% of their time back because there isn't this massive overhead to maintain the system. We can let go of that burden, and we can focus more on what I think really matters — building data products and giving value to the business.”

Russell is pleased about being able to get data faster to his internal clients who need it — namely the business intelligence and regulatory compliance teams. “BI can definitely extract reports much faster now, and the feedback has been very positive.” Plus, he notes, his team can simply deliver projects faster than before. “In the past, we needed to do a lot more planning, maybe adding more resources physically. But now, there are less complications, so it’s much easier. We can invest those time and resources into other ventures.”

Ultimately, MeDirect has completed a difficult but necessary step in creating a modern, scalable data platform that can accommodate just about any change thrown at it. Russell is confident that the new data infrastructure can grow with MeDirect. “Now that we have our infrastructure, it’s about improving the data model so we can better serve the consumers with polished, more accurate, and real-time data. It is so important to have a scalable, future-proof system — and this new setup definitely helps us facilitate in this direction.”

Next steps toward MeDirect’s data journey

Following the infrastructure transformation, the Data Engineering team at MeDirect is focusing on improving the data quality. This is achieved through the implementation of a transformational data model, which can be consumed by multiple stakeholders through self-service tools. Furthermore, the convergence of data transformation and real-time data consumption will allow MeDirect to exploit data science techniques to improve its service offerings, which are paramount to customer retention and onboarding.