Planet cools for digital dinosaurs

Digital banking has gone from the banking of tomorrow to the banking of today in one cataclysmic event.

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All those debates around the phased roll out of digital strategies, legacy system replacement, the shift away from physical assets - like cash and branches - are now phased in.

"Behind this meteor impact on financial services’ Jurassic period, there are two key forces in the accelerated digital transformation.”

McKinsey & Co gave that a global context: “Recent data show that we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.”

“Banks have transitioned to remote sales and service teams and launched digital outreach to customers to make flexible payment arrangements for loans and mortgages. Grocery stores have shifted to online ordering and delivery as their primary business. Schools in many locales have pivoted to 100 per cent online learning and digital classrooms. Doctors have begun delivering telemedicine, aided by more flexible regulation. Manufacturers are actively developing plans for ‘lights out’ factories and supply chains. The list goes on.”

As ANZ’s Head of Technology Gerard Florian wrote on bluenotes, this forced march to digital has been driven by operational demand but also customers: “Our customers have a very different appetite for technology and with that comes higher expectations and greater opportunity to innovate.”

Behind this meteor impact on financial services’ Jurassic period, there are two key forces in the accelerated digital transformation: the first is bringing forward planned activities; the second is capturing and institutionalising those practices - driven by panic, necessity, force, whatever - which have proved to be extremely valuable.

As Florian said: “The pace and degree of change has not only been radical but has shown us what is possible - including much we would’ve considered wishful thinking just a few months ago. And so much of that emergency response includes attitudes and ways of working we should keep, whenever and however the pandemic ends.”

Radical reshaping

Central banks also recognise this. Even as they struggle with economies on life support, they are recognising they too, and their regulation, will have to be a bit more radical.

In its latest annual report, the global banking regulator, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), devoted a chapter to digital central banking and digital currencies.

“Digital innovation is radically reshaping the provision of payment services,” the BIS noted. “Central banks are embracing this innovation.”

Moreover, “central banks, as critical as ever in the digital era, can themselves innovate. In particular, central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) can foster competition among private sector intermediaries, set high standards for safety and risk management, and serve as a basis for sound innovation in payments”.

This accelerated revolution is taking place while the debate remains ongoing as to exactly what digital banking is.

Very basically, it means fewer physical assets and manual processes and greater and more strategic use of data and technology.

But it is not just doing the same things more cheaply or with fewer mistakes, desirable as that remains. Digital banking - and this is something neobanks and fintechs have very clearly recognised - is about starting with the customer.

Greater control

Centuries of banking history have evolved institutions which focused on security across the core functions of borrowing, lending, payments and money creation. But that led to very fixed ways of doing business and too often had ossified into “this is what we offer, take it or leave it” rather than “what are you trying to achieve and we can help”.

There’s a greater recognition that not only do banks flourish when economies flourish but the only sustainable strategy is to grow profits on the back of customers building their wealth.

Digital banking is essential to that strategy because it gives customers more control - for example through open data - but also gives financial institutions the opportunity to use data to better understand what will help customers, over the long term.

The practice of banking will change. According to McKinsey, “retail banking distribution will experience up to three years of digital preference acceleration in 2020”.

“In some markets, this may translate to 25 per cent fewer branches, with those remaining performing a different set of activities with more flexible job configurations. Call centres may be transformed to remove up to 30 per cent of less customer-centric and lower value-added activities. Digital sales and servicing will accelerate markedly and the remote advisory channel should finally come of age, potentially handling 35 per cent of complex needs remotely.”

Of course that’s an aggregate forecast, based more on European and North American data and experience, but the general trends will be global.

In Europe, “although COVID-19 has accelerated the decline in branch preference (10 to 25 per cent of customers in Western European markets intend to visit less frequently going forward), 30 to 50 per cent still prefer this channel for assistance with complex products and issues,” according to McKinsey’s Financial Decision Maker Pulse Survey.

“Branches will increasingly feature self-service (including intelligent ATMs and in-branch kiosks), with limited cash availability at counters given dramatic recent usage declines. In the next normal, the percentage of basic banking needs handled in-branch could be as low as 5 per cent.”

But McKinsey also notes the future of branches is not certain. Indeed, new roles for branches have emerged in the crisis. Undoubtedly though configurations and roles will be different.

Consumer preferences, be that in retail or business banking, will inform strategies in financial services.

ANZ Chief Executive Shayne Elliott reflected on the customer shift on bluenotes: “Throughout the pandemic around 25 per cent of our retail customers interacted with ANZ via a digital channel, compared with 5 per cent pre-COVID-19. We will see what the future brings but early indications tell us that shift to digital will endure.

International digital banking expert Chris Skinner recently worked with Deloitte and the global banking industry association the Institute for International Finance (IIF) on a series of reports around the digital future.

The work summarised four fundamental shifts brought on by COVID-19:

  • Forced adoption of online, mobile and call centres
  • Overnight virtualisation of workforce and ways of working
  • Tipping point for digital and contactless payments
  • Evolution of underlying market structure and economics

Deloitte and the IIF gathered insights from more than 80 executives and transformation leaders, from across banks, insurers, regulators and supervisors, and policy makers around the world to inform the work.

Five themes emerged from those discussions around what was necessary to survive the aftermath of the meteor and avoid the fate of the dinosaurs:

  • Customer-centricity
  • Organisational foundations
  • Talent and culture for an innovation mindset
  • Successful transformation strategy and execution capabilities
  • External collaboration and proactive engagement

Necessary. But easier said than done in a time of constant change and huge demands on existing infrastructure and resources. In a recession.

Andrew Cornell is managing editor of bluenotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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