In the past few weeks, I’ve started to go back into the office more frequently. Despite any inconveniences, it’s refreshing and invigorating to see colleagues and clients in person again. It’s clear that most of us are ready for things to go back to normal.
Except, they most likely won’t.
Last year was largely favorable for banks, with industry ETFs outperforming the broader market and rebounding from 2020’s contractions. Larger banks with diversified revenue sources — including mortgage lending and banks with active capital markets or wealth management businesses — did particularly well.
Now, with rising inflation and a rapidly shifting geopolitical landscape, there may be different winners and losers. But after two years of the global pandemic, we have learned what the future of work could look like, and how much the environment will continue to evolve. The recent challenges in Eastern Europe remind us that ongoing change is the only certainty.
In PwC’s latest look at the banking environment, Next In Banking and Capital Markets, we see investors being far more interested in growth than in saving a few dollars. And we see potential for that growth across the banking industry — regardless of size, geography or customer segment. In particular, we see five opportunities for institutions that focus on digital transformation, build trust — with a particular emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, win deals, review and respond to regulation, and adopt cloud technology.
Digital Transformation: My colleagues researched how consumer behavior has changed over the past two years. We found that the pandemic significantly accelerated the trend toward digital banking — and many banks weren’t prepared. The implications go far beyond adding a peer-to-peer payment tool to your consumer app. In fact, nearly every bank should be thinking about developing a growth strategy based on a customer focus that is much sharper than “They live near our branches” or “Businesses need access to capital.” Digital transformation is here to stay; aligning to a disciplined growth strategy can help make technology investments successful.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Frameworks: Community reinvestment, diversity initiatives and strong governance models are not new issues for banks. In fact, the industry has been laser-focused on building stakeholder trust since the 2008 financial crisis. But with a solid baseline of social and governance investments, banks have now shifted their focus to helping define and deliver commitments around the environment, namely climate change. Banking industry leaders are looking for more effective ways to integrate climate risk management throughout their operations. But the data we use to report on ESG issues is very different from typical financial metrics, and most firms struggle to tell their story. Leading firms can help enhance transparency with trustworthy data, while developing strategies to drive their climate agenda.
Deals: The industry experienced historic rates of bank mergers and acquisitions last year — everything from some foreign banks stepping away from the U.S. market, to regional bank consolidation, to banks of all sizes adding specialty businesses. But with valuations at current levels, corporate development teams should get far pickier to make the numbers work. Increasingly, this may require a greater emphasis on creating growth than on finding cost synergies. To do that, banks and their leaders need to have a very clear idea of whom they’re serving, and why.
Regulation: Evolving concerns over the global economy have resulted in a different approach to regulation. While this does not represent a 180° turn from where we had been, it is clear that banks have been attracting new attention from regulators and legislators, especially with respect to consumer protection, cybersecurity, climate risk, taxation and digital assets. Banks should be particularly diligent about control effectiveness, as well as identifying effective ways to collect, analyze and report data. But regulation isn’t just a matter of defense: The more banks understand and manage risk, the more they can take advantage of “new economy” opportunities like mitigating climate change and digital assets.
Cloud: Virtually every bank has moved some of its work to cloud-based systems. But with definitions of “cloud” as imprecise as they are, it is no wonder that many executives have not yet seen the value they had hoped for. If you set out to consolidate data centers by moving some background processing to the cloud, don’t expect major rewards. But emerging cloud capabilities can, for example, help banks improve the customer experience by being more agile when responding to client demands — and this could be a game changer. Today’s cloud technology can help institutions rethink their core business systems to be more efficient. It can even help solve new problems by more efficiently integrating services from a third party. This year, we’re likely to see some banks pull farther ahead of their peers — perhaps, even leapfrogging competitors — by making strategic choices about how to use cloud technology to jump-start digital transformation, rather than just as a way to manage costs.
Last year, I made the case that banks needed to stay agile, given economic uncertainty and the rapid pace of change. This is still the case. But bankers and boards should also keep their eyes on the prize: Whether you are a community bank, a large regional institution or a global powerhouse, you will have plenty of chances to grow this year. The five opportunities described above can offer significant value to banks that adopt them strategically.