Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most financial institutions (FIs) had recognized the importance of digital transformation for their survival and growth in the increasingly digitized world.
A PwC report of 2016 had already predicted that more than 20% of the Financial Services (FS) business will be at risk to Fintechs by 2020.
The current pandemic has brought to the fore the frictions due to product silos in the FI organizational structure. It is proving to be a barrier for leveraging data to provide an enhanced customer experience. Majority of the consumers trust utility providers like Amazon, Google, etc. with their data. This situation has forced a major rethink of the current ways of doing business. The notion of “Why take the risk when we can be First Followers” - has been tested to the core. And now, FIs need to move beyond that to remain relevant.
Development of IT in financial institutions
Traditionally, the FI industry handled its information technology (IT) needs in-house under the same management structure. As the FIs scaled up, more specialized business units/product verticals responsible for their suite of products and the corresponding wallet share came into existence. With many processes being common, it made sense to have shared services that would serve similar needs across the organization. These services gradually evolved into captive IT centres, dedicated to bringing cost efficiencies and pooling the needed IT skills. Some of the FIs who felt IT was not their core competence or who were large and needed hedging set up contracts with independent software vendors (ISVs) to leverage their skills as well as the benefits of labor arbitrage.
FIs are dealing with multiple challenges in the competitive landscape:
- Fintechs are steadily unbundling financial services and introducing superior customer experience by leveraging emerging technologies like AI, Cloud, etc. One of the largest money market funds in the financial world is from a fintech called Ant Financials “Yu’e Bao” (leftover treasure).
- TechFins are leading technological companies (like Google, Amazon, Apple, etc.). With their huge customer base, they are entering the financial industry. Since their scale is bigger than most of the leading FIs, once they intrude, it will only be a matter of time before they snatch the business at a fraction of the cost.
- Open banking is accentuating the shift to plug-and-play IT building blocks with APIs and microservices. Open banking is already mandatory in the EU and Australia while being market-driven in the US and China. Many others like India and SE Asia are also exploring open banking for financial inclusion. FIs will have to rapidly modernize their legacy technologies as they are already behind the eight ball to keep up the pace.
Impact of the new normal trends on FIs
The aforementioned challenges besides increased technology literacy, and migration to cashless society profoundly impact the priorities of the FIs who want to remain viable.
- An improved customer experience that the agile tech players can provide is imperative to retain a customer. Simply focusing on the cost of operational efficiency for immediate ROI will not help gain customer loyalty.
- The friction that comes with trying to work with physical products (cards), constraints (wet signatures, etc.) is old school as today’s customer is looking for banking as a utility in real-time. For example: offering a credit card instead of credit that the customer can get easily and in real-time from new age providers like Amazon.
- Hurdles slowing down the pace of digital transformation are expected to have mainstream solutions in the near term. Regulations will have solutions from Regtech players, with regulators also dabbling in machine executable regulation. Cloud providers with increasingly reliable and almost fort-like security will be able to alleviate data security concerns while computing at scale to a large extent. Onboarding will become purely digital with either third party solutions or enhanced in-house solutions.
The way forward
The customer demographic shift to millennials (and Gen Z) who have grown up in the digital world necessitates an increasing need to have a technologist workforce that can learn banking, than the other way around. This change needs to start from the top with technologists being represented in the executive leadership team at the board level.
Since the key competence is technology, FIs will need to integrate technologists with business teams and create a start-up culture to attract the best talent. This may also mean that some of the shared service captives will need to move some areas of competitive advantage in-house as the organizational boundaries become blurred between business units.
However, the commodity services, as well as work on the emerging technologies, may move to ISVs who can bring in efficiencies of scale and learnings from other customer journeys (and similar events like the GFC of 2008/09). There could also be an acceleration of partnerships between FIs and ISVs, who will acquire the overheads of shared service captives in the form of multi-year sourcing contracts to help monetize these assets for the FIs.
In short, the construct of shared service captives and their effectiveness is set to be revisited. Large FIs like UBS, Deutsche Bank, Dun & Bradstreet (whose spinoff is a Fortune 500 company), etc. to name a few, have already done it successfully in the past. The FI organization design is all set to witness some consolidation and the emergence of new leaders, who are willing to focus on the first principles thinking, which will be quite different from how we know it today.