Fintech banks understand digitalisation and operate in a microservices structure. Teams of designers, coders, developers and techies are integrated with product and service people, customer-focused people and business people. They are empowered to solve user and customer problems, debating and developing in real-time.

And they are prepared for the future.

But as I prepare to speak at Financial Services Basecamp, I’ve been considering the impact of 'digital transformation fatigue' on the events audience, and the overuse of the word 'disruption'. For many ‘disruption’ has been repeated so often that it’s lost meaning, and both are causing traditional financial services organisations to dismiss changes that are happening in the market now and which require their attention.

Leading indicators point to a definite shift, but the 'frozen middle' – middle management who’ve heard it all before – isn't adapting and proactively preparing.

Those in business operations still can’t align their needs with the people delivering technology in the organisation. The CIO is still sitting outside the business, watching and responding to requests that are prioritised and delivered in sequence, sometimes over a very long time. The business people are frustrated that the technology people don’t deliver exactly what’s needed, and argue about reprioritisation.

Banks that don’t yet truly understand digitalisation – the need for it, the reasons behind that and the optimal ways to achieve it – still operate on 20th century technology development models. They take years, involve hundreds or even thousands of developers, and are eventually delivered by a large consulting firm and external technology team – but without solving the core challenges or working correctly for the bank.

This immovability is not all down to a lack of belief in whether change is coming or whether it will impact business – according to an MIT Sloan Survey, 90% of CEOs across all industries do believe digital transformation is likely to impact their industry. But only 15% of those CEOs say they are actually executing a digital strategy.

In the UK, mobile-only bank Monzo is seen as a minor competitor to the traditional players – it doesn’t have market share as consumers’ ‘main bank’. What it does have – alongside the ability to operate as a fintech – is the discretionary spending data of millions of customers. 

Australia is now on the cusp of open banking and new entrants such as Volt are set to challenge banks in a similar fashion – not yet as a ‘main bank’, but as a convenient and data-rich complement. Those who are winning see the open data economy not as compliance task but as an opportunity to get a more rounded awareness of their customers – a true 360-degree view.

And the competitors aren't all local. Alipay, Tencent, Facebook-owned Libra, Square and more will challenge the traditional bricks-and-mortar banks, starting by processing payments, building brand awareness and trust, and diversifying and scaling from there. 

The people and organisations preparing for the future of financial services prioritise data and customers. And employee experience and customer experience are closely linked, so that means empowering customer-focused and user-focused teams to do the same – to use data to gain actionable insights into customers, and to deliver on those insights. 
 



The future of financial services is data

 

Data was the new oil long ago. But this is even more true now as AI becomes central to operations across functions – the core of AI is good data for customer intelligence, not just in marketing but for all interactions including sales and service. Without clean, enterprise-wide data structures, financial institutions won’t be able to compete with those fintechs that have great customer data intimacy.

Many financial institutions are using data and AI purely for regulation and risk management. These are very important, but the future will be using customer data in the way Amazon, Google and Alibaba do. Can you compete with those internet giants? If you cannot, and if you do not have the data structure to compete with them, then you have a problem – because those giants that haven’t already launched financial services could very easily.

This is the essence of why data management, assets, leverage and intelligence are so core to banking. This is why some believe blockchains could replace banks, as they offer automated and distributed ledgers with no intermediary involved – this is unlikely in the short term, as some form of trusted oversight is needed, but the possibility of this and the likelihood of data-enabled customer-centric organisations offering financial services is why banks need to be digital at their core, and why they need to act as technology giants, not just financial giants.
 

Customers are central

 

A key factor of the fintechs and digital banks I talk to that are digitalising well is that the customer is their primary focus. Not the shareholder, the investor, the quarterly bonus, the dividend yield or the cost-income ratio – just the customer.

I’ve found it quite rare to hear a passion for retail customers, their experiences and services – the bulk of retail customers are considered relatively unimportant. But recently, a digital bank’s CFO was recounting to me how important the customer is. It’s a rare claim for a CFO, so I questioned her reasons; she told me that shareholder value is reliant entirely on customer value.

If you are customer and user-experience focused, then the profits flow and the shareholders get their return. – she pointed to a direct correlation between customer value using digital services and shareholder value that flows in return. Customers that use the bank’s services digitally more than half of the time are twice as profitable as other customers, and twice as satisfied.

I see this play out in the digital banks I am talking with – the relentless pursuit of the best digital CX creates a team that is customer-obsessed and empowered to deliver that CX.

To find out more about how open banking will help finservs create compelling and personalised consumer interactions, download the Accenture and Salesforce ebook Beyond compliance: Winning with open banking.