What do banks need to be thinking about in the face of new realities? Oliver Bussmann and Antony Jenkins look at the options and opportunities.

It’s hardly a secret that the winds of change have been howling through the financial services industry. From post-crisis regulation to the fintech revolution, to the emergence of disruptive technologies such as blockchain, there’s probably no subject more hotly debated in the industry than its future.

It’s good that banks are taking these changes – and their attendant threats – seriously. They are researching, considering and examining what to do. Yet, while we see a focus on innovation, there seems to be a marked reluctance from some bank executives to recognise the degree of transformation required.

To some extent, this is understandable. There is an unfathomable amount of change happening at the moment, especially on the technology front, making it difficult to keep up. The degree of change that’s being talked about – not just adjustments but profound re-thinkings – can seem daunting too, making it hard to know how to react. The prospect of the consequences can be intimidating. Banks are complex, often mature institutions that have already made significant investments in expensive technologies and processes. It can be difficult to accept the thought of abandoning them, as well as certain businesses, for the unknown.

We can sympathise. Both Antony, as the former CEO of Barclays, and myself, as the former Group CIO of UBS, know very well what it means to be on the inside of a global bank facing the gale force winds of transformation. Having both now left these institutions for the front lines of this new, emerging world – Antony (as CEO of 10x Future Technologies) and me (as founder and managing partner of Bussmann Advisory) – we think we have a good perspective on what’s in store. That’s why we’re concerned that our old banking colleagues may not have the right sense of urgency.

Let’s make no mistake: for banks, the time for research and deliberation is over. As the financial services sector grapples with its Uber moment, so banks may soon face their Kodak moment – a rapid diminution in the relevance of banks to their customers as technology provides the means for others to offer a radically superior experience. The time to act is now.

In this short post, we try to explain why. We summarise the situation facing banks today, examine its causes, and suggest what we think needs to be done – bringing the perspectives we have gained with our experiences on both sides.

New banking models

We are convinced that the banking business model will be greatly disrupted over the next five to ten years as the result of a complete re-architecting of the underlying market infrastructure. We’re already seeing the end of the first stage of this process, in which apps and contactless technology have led to enormous changes in how we use bank branches and cash. This is nothing, however, compared to what’s coming. We believe we will soon see a new, unprecedented wave of change influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • Broad-based platforms driven by standards and interoperability. The continued development and increased use of standards, along with ever greater technological interoperability, means that it will be increasingly feasible to build more broad-based platforms and ecosystems with other companies and fintechs. As these systems are built, it will drive the creation of new business models.
  • Open platforms driven by regulation. Banks and other financial services institutions are preparing for the implementation of the revised EU payment services directive, PSD2, in 2018. This directive will force banks to open their customer accounts to third-party service providers; we can expect similar developments in other jurisdictions. This will lead to the creation of open banking platforms, allowing third parties – either as partners with banks or competitors – to create more exciting customer experiences than are available today, as well as provide increased transparency on performance and fee structures.
  • First-mover blockchain use cases. Blockchain has been tipped as a major disrupter of financial services for a while now, but only this year have we started to see blockchain-based platforms moving from proof of concept into production. The first movers have focused on areas such as global payments, trade finance, automated compliance, post-trade processing and cryptocurrencies. That makes sense. It has been estimated that blockchain technology could drive efficiency savings of between USD 80-110bn – a powerful incentive. And as the low-hanging fruit is successfully picked, it will only add to blockchain’s momentum.
  • An intensified war for talent. As the underlying market infrastructure changes, so too will the skills needed to build and run it. In financial services, these new skills will be in areas such as artificial intelligence (in particular, robotics and machine learning), as well as big data, distributed ledger technology and cybersecurity. We can expect a war for talent in these and related disciplines, as banks and fintechs battle for the people with the right skills as well as the right domain and technical expertise.
  • Crumbling legacy architecture. To bring in the new, what to do with the old? Incumbents have long been dealing with the pressures of their high-cost, highly vulnerable legacy systems. These pressures will continue to grow.
  • Growth of fintech challengers. As banks deal with their legacy systems, the door will open for more innovative, less encumbered fintech providers. This will continue their push to ever greater market share.

Open for new partners

The opening of the financial services industry will present a completely new world for banks. For one, this will mean getting used to different kinds of partnerships. Banks have traditionally been closed shops, designing, building and maintaining their systems themselves. While this worked in the past, it doesn’t work in an age of highly complex, interconnected and rapidly changing technology.

In place of the standalone approaches of the past, banks will need to function as parts of larger ecosystems, joining networks of partnerships with fintechs and other providers in various areas of their business. While challenging on the one hand, these partnerships can also help banks assemble best-in-class capabilities to create innovation and transformation at the speed and scale they will need, helping them stay competitive.

These open ecosystems will also create a new world for consumers. We will see this perhaps most dramatically with customer data, which will increasingly come under the control of customers themselves. With more say over how their data is used and which institutions they share it with, customer relationships will be far less sticky than they are today. The new freedoms customers enjoy with their data will enable them to seek more personalised advice and services from a wider set of providers. It could even conceivably be a source of income: in a world where personal data is a valuable commodity, customers may be able to request payment for its use.

In a world where personal data is a valuable commodity, customers may be able to request payment for… Click To Tweet

Storm clouds of the 21st century

As financial services are disrupted, there will be no shortage of issues to overcome. Consider, for instance, the changes being wrought by PSD2. Here, banks will face significant hurdles in areas such as cybersecurity, enabling the integration and then onboarding of third parties, testing and training. We can expect similar challenges in other areas of the banking business as the market transforms.

While this may seem like a lot of storm clouds on the horizon, banks should focus on the many silver linings. To return to the PSD2 example, banks that focus simply on doing what’s necessary from a compliance perspective risk missing new opportunities. Those that take a broader view have a real chance to build a better customer experience, and with it new opportunities for revenues.

Banks should also be careful not to let the gathering storm clouds obscure their vision. Looking inward, they must be wary of an excessively risk-averse culture, which can lead them to move too cautiously. Looking outward, banks will want to be sure they don’t overlook where the real competition is coming from, and get blindsided.

To get an idea of the form such competition might take, consider what happens on our smartphones. Based on our behaviour, location and other factors, platforms such as Google are already able to predict the next apps or services we may want to use, or information we may want to have. In the future, these platforms will be able to look at our financial preferences, consolidating our account balances, spending patterns and other information to provide us with highly personalised recommendations to help us manage our money and work towards achieving our life goals.

In other words, the financial adviser of the future doesn’t have to be a bank. It can be a machine, and not necessarily one that’s owned by a financial institution.

Facing new realities

So what do today’s banks need to be thinking about in the face of these new realities? For one, banks will need to innovate beyond banking to reimagine the customer experience. This means taking a radical approach to reinvention. The current incremental approach to change and innovation will not be enough to survive in the future, let alone thrive. Nothing short of transformation is required. For this level of transformation to work, banks need to think beyond solving today’s problems. Instead, they must anticipate the needs and problems of tomorrow and actively help to shape a future that meets them.

In the real-time, connected world that will be enabled by such technologies as the Internet of Things and smart contracts, financial services will be increasingly embedded in the value chains of other industries. Banks need to understand what that means for them. They will also need a better understanding of the data in their possession, as data will be the oxygen that will feed the transformation and reinvention of financial services. The good news is that banks already have a wealth of data about their customer’s needs, preferences and behaviours. The bad news is that it resides in fragmented, closed and ageing systems, which prohibits them from aggregating and optimising it to offer better banking experiences. Those banks that can bridge their internal data silos will have a significant competitive advantage.

In the future banking marketplace, trust will become a key differentiator. We believe the definition of trust itself will change due to profound shifts brought about by the disintermediation of financial services and the adoption of distributed ledger technologies. If, as we maintain, customers will in future own and manage their own accounts and data, then the old question of whom I can trust with my money will be replaced by the new question of whom I can trust with my data. Those banks that can win trust will win business, though they should keep in mind that once trust is given, customers will expect significant value in return.

In the future banking marketplace, trust will become a key differentiator Click To Tweet

That means banks will need to lead with the right values, particularly in the sometimes fraught worlds of digital data, privacy and cybersecurity. In these areas, customers will settle for nothing less than the highest standards.

Banking’s big moment

So what should banks be doing? For one, banks will have to accelerate their innovation efforts while at the same time considering how to create transformation. That means breaking out of a ‘reactionary’ approach and mindset, breaking free from the burden of legacy infrastructures, and pursuing continuous instead of incremental innovation – among other things by learning from the dynamic, rapid culture of today’s new digital companies.

Doing so will most likely mean partnering with startups, fintechs and other ecommerce players to accelerate change, grow new revenue opportunities and so achieve competitive advantage. This means adopting a ‘Business Development 2.0’ approach and embracing the fintech ecosystem with an end-to-end orchestration – from setting the agenda to ideation, to proofs of concept, to go-live. 10x Future Technologies is a platform designed to enable such transformation, and can serve as an example. In a sector plagued by legacy technology, which prevents incumbents from reacting nimbly to technological threats, we believe the best platforms can only be designed from the bottom up, with the bank’s precise requirements and future-proof adaptability baked in from the outset. In doing so, banks can build significantly improved customer experiences at dramatically lower operating costs and with full transparency for bank management.

Last, but certainly not least, banks should be aware of the new perspectives all this change will bring. We think it’s perfectly possible for banks to seize the opportunity presented by the Uber moment they’re experiencing today, while avoiding the massive destruction of shareholder value that would result from a series of Kodak moments.

While it will require leadership and courage to provide the requisite focus on transformation, we believe there has never been a more exciting moment in banking for those prepared to be bold.

There has never been a more exciting moment in banking for those prepared to be bold Click To Tweet

READ NEXT: ClearBank – the biggest thing in fintech?

– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Image by rydall30, Shutterstock.com

About the author

Oliver Bussmann

Oliver Bussmann has a reputation as a technology thought leader and driver of large-scale transformation at global organisations in the financial services and hi-tech industries. As group chief information officer of UBS, he successfully led a major IT transformation effort, instituted a new IT innovation framework, and established UBS as a pioneer in the development of blockchain for use in financial services. Prior to this, Oliver was global chief information officer at SAP for four years, and was CIO for North America & Mexico at Allianz. Previous roles include executive positions at Deutsche Bank and IBM.

Leave a Comment