Innovation Lessons from the Biggest Global Banks

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There’s cause for celebration in the global banking industry – it’s more profitable and much more resilient than ever after the financial crisis. However, facing the next stage of growth, everyone from startups and established banks are at an inflection point. What they do now is going to determine how they capture the next generation of clients.

A key driver of that growth must be digital innovation. The banking industry is constantly changing. Regulations shift, customer demands change and the global economy ebbs and flows, creating the need for banks to be able to adopt quickly in order to stay competitive.

The banking industry, for the most part, understands this. Accenture [estimates that banks]/ globally are investing $1 trillion to improve their technology.

However, the risky nature of transformation means that technology hasn’t been distributed equally among financial organizations. Larger institutions like Bank of America and JP Morgan, for example, have been able to outpace competitors in technology investment – a UBS report declares that these sorts of institutions “view innovation as core to digital banking efforts.” This kind of investment is correlated with accelerated bank relationships both in 2017 and 2018.

The benefits from investing in digital transformation is clear. But even if organizations don’t have the budget of a JP Morgan, I’ve seen in my work with global financial services that there are still lessons all organizations can learn from, and how these institutions are investing in technology to future proof their organizations.

1. Transform all lines of business

While there has been much attention on AI, blockchain and other new technologies for customer-facing applications – and rightfully so, as each iteration promises even more advanced personalized service and insight – banks must ensure that even their most basic systems and processes are charted towards the path of digital transformation.

This goes beyond core modernization. Many banks still budget significant technology spend on IT maintenance, seeing any wider modernization as expensive and vulnerable to failure. But, when transforming everything from security to pricing, the potential long-term benefit around better compliance and operational streamlining is well worth any potential risk. This is on top of the risk of not addressing simple processes – loss of competitive edge and the security vulnerabilities driven by legacy technology.

That being said, technology cannot exist in isolation. Relying on small, siloed projects across the enterprise can lead to security and management woes as these projects scale. These individual projects together can also lead to runaway costs.

Successful enterprises start from the top: modernization and any consideration of new technology must be organization-wide and impact every aspect of business, not just core or client-facing applications. This is especially the case given that enterprise-wide strategy will future proof the bank, and allow the organization to be prepared for rapidly changing technology to stay ahead of the competition.

2. Technology must align with business teams

Getting alignment across an enterprise is easier said than done. In fact, one McKinsey report found that only 30% of change programs succeed – how can a bank build a road for successful digital transformation?

The most successful integrations and transformations I’ve seen are those that can minimize the impact of potential change, where innovation is not a complete rip-and-replace. Organizations instead chose technology that can tailor to their existing processes and leverage industry best practices. This not only reduces the change management necessary across the organization, but allows a seamless transformation and paves the way for future growth and innovation.

The other substantial benefit of aligning with the business team is the ability for digital transformation to address systemic problem, rather than patch specific symptoms.

Celent found that even with substantial IT budgets, 73% ended up flowing towards existing solutions, budgeted to mitigate error rates and adjustments. This absolutely stifles innovation. The problem I see is that banks are often choosing solutions that address one aspect of an operation or another, but often doesn’t take a strategic view on how a bank does business.

If a solution doesn’t align with how a bank does business, it misses the processes, potential data sources, and potential application that gives the bank value and drives change within an organization. The consequences are substantial; without this insight and good industry knowledge, solutions end up being a step backwards from the human expertise and intuition that drives good bank processes and relationships.

Disruption within technology communities is too often automatically paired with good. For the largest organizations looking to empower their teams and drive growth, any disruption must be a combination of strong purpose and good strategic implementation. This can be as simple as having the technology meet teams where they are and making sure that the technology partner has the industry know-how to ensure systemic issues are addressed.

3. Technology must align with business growth strategy

Finally, successful technology integration not only considers what can be done to streamline their business, but how the technology itself can be leveraged for revenue growth.

For example, any technology implementation opens up the potential for an increased amount of data capture. While this seems straightforward, having any one piece of data in isolation runs into the same silo and operational issues any technology project might have.

A top-down strategy across the enterprise needs to integrate the potential value this data might provide that could successfully transform data into intelligence – these are the insights that will drive further operational streamlining and better service across all business lines. The next step takes transformative to another level – from being able to maintain competitive edge by deriving patterns and analyzing where there might be gaps in the market to then developing industry-impacting programs and services.

These actions are going to be increasingly important for banks of all scales to consider. Executives can no longer afford to operate independent from their technology. For those organizations committed to innovation, it’s not just an IT department’s responsibility – every executive and business decision-maker is now compelled to be a technology leader. Your clients and services can no longer afford to wait.