Bold Leadership Required: Innovating From the Outside In


In this video, Thomas Jankovich, a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, outlines four aspects of a successful approach to innovation, including bold leaders who can make the decisions required to transform the bank and shepherd the organization through the process. He also explains the key mistake that institutions too often make.

Banks Face the Imperative to Innovate


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I’ve seen enough to believe there are no barriers to innovation in banking. Certainly, there are speed bumps, gate crossings and rumble strips that banks will encounter on the road to innovation, but nothing that flat out prevents them from getting there. Indeed, there are a growing number of banks, including community banks, that have made important achievements that serve as good examples of innovation. (For a great list, see the Best of FinXTech Award Winners announced at Nasdaq this week.) Some innovation projects have been quite ambitious, others more modest, but they all spring from the same source—a recognition that banks need to begin simplifying and speeding up various aspects of their businesses to keep pace with (or at least, not fall too far behind) where the customer is heading.

Where is the pressure to innovate coming from? The popular boogeymen are fintech companies that compete with banks in payments, lending and personal financial management. But companies in that space are simply reacting to a much deeper trend, which is the profound way that technology is changing our lives. Banks must do the same, and a growing number of them seem to realize it.

On April 26, Bank Director hosted the FinXTech Annual Summit at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York. The event brought together 200-plus bank executives, directors and fintech executives to explore how technology is changing the industry. Underlying themes were innovation, the opportunities for partnership between banks and fintech companies, and how banks can move forward.

I believe that most bankers understand the imperative to innovate around key aspects of their business, whether it’s payments, mobile in all its many permutations, lending, new account onboarding or data. What many of them lack is a roadmap for how to innovate. Actually, a “roadmap” is probably the wrong metaphor to describe what they need because innovation is really a process rather than a destination—something you do rather than a place that you go. So maybe bankers need something like a yoga chant (Om!) to help focus their energy as they stretch to innovate.

There are several issues that need to be dealt with, starting with a vision of what projects to undertake. They can’t change everything at once, so where should they start? Here are a couple of questions they should ask. What are the greatest friction points within their most important businesses? Where are they seeing the greatest competition, and how would digitalization tilt the competitive balance more in their favor? What has the greatest potential to positively impact their profitability?

Innovation costs money, so they will have to budget for it. Based on my conversations with bankers that have begun to automate key parts of their operations, they should expect their innovation projects to cost more and take longer than originally estimated. Innovation can be messy, so perseverance and patience are important. They also have to make sure that their bank’s culture will embrace change. When I say “culture,” I really mean people. Banks must ensure that their employees are open to new ways of doing things, because innovation will change job descriptions, processes and work habits, and many of their staff will feel threatened by this. It’s not enough that executive management teams and boards commit to a large project like a new automated underwriting platform for small business lending and allocate the necessary resources to make that happen. They will also have to sell this change to people in their organization whose buy-in is critical.

For most banks—and particularly community banks with a finite amount of money to spend—innovation isn’t something they can do by themselves, so banks will have to work in partnership with fintech companies that can help achieve their objectives. This is more complicated than it sounds, because banks and fintech companies have very different perspectives when it comes to how they do business. Banking is a highly regulated industry, so they need a partner who knows how to work within a prescriptive environment that has lots of rules. Fintech companies that have experience working with banks understand this and have learned how to manage change in an ecosystem that tends to discourage it.

The innovation imperative is real, and banks must act upon it. Their world is changing faster than they realize, and the longer they wait to embrace that change, the further behind they will fall.

Buying Bank Technology: If Not Now, When?


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FoMO, or the Fear of Missing Out, isn’t just a pop culture buzzword created to describe our obsession with social media. It’s an actual, scientifically proven phenomenon described in scientific literature as “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out—that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.”

That feeling probably sounds very familiar to bankers these days. In the press, in blogs, on podcasts, and at every industry conference, bankers are hearing that the time is now to make big technology changes in their organizations. Everyone seems to be busy innovating, and many bankers are left wondering if they’re the ones being left behind.

In this case, the answer may be “Yes.”

We are facing a set of once-in-a-generation circumstances that will determine the winners and losers in banking for the coming decades. And this separation of the “haves” from the “didn’t act fast enough to be among the haves” is already in motion.

Here are the four big trends that have converged to create the opportunity—or threat—of a lifetime for banks.

1) Tech Spending Neglected
A great deal has been written about how antiquated much of the banking infrastructure has become. Some concerns about legacy systems are overblown, but there is undoubtedly a marked difference between the digital experience customers have with their banks and what they encounter in most other parts of their lives. Banks still handle debits and credits as well as ever, but when compared to the Amazon, Netflix or Gmail experience, the gap is widening. Banks cut all spending following the financial crisis, and have been slow to replace those vacated technology budgets in the face of new regulations and shrinking margins. The result is wide swaths of banking technology that haven’t been upgraded in 10-plus years.

2) Expected “windfalls” from regulatory and tax reform
In our interactions with banks, there has been a sudden change in mood. Bankers have shifted quickly from the glass being half empty to half full, in large part because of the outcome of the November elections. Banks now see the potential for big windfalls, in the form of tax relief and regulatory reform, with a recent Goldman Sachs piece suggesting that industry earnings in 2018 could increase by 28 percent over current estimates if the chips fall just right.

3) Interest rates (and margins) are rising
In addition to those windfalls, banks are also getting a long-awaited earnings boost from rising interest rates. The Federal Reserve has increased overnight rates by 0.75 percent, and long-term rates have followed suit, with 10-year Treasury yields up more than 1 percent from their 2016 lows. Deposits rates have been slow to follow along, resulting in margins that are finally improving after years of painful compression.

4) Game changing technology is plentiful and accessible
Finally, in the decade since most banks have been actively in the market, the number and quality of technology solutions has exploded. Computing power, high quality data sets and cheap storage are contributing to a renaissance in enterprise software, and banks now have multiple possible solutions for just about any conceivable business need. You are no longer beholden to your core provider to sell you everything, as the new generation of tools are better at integrating, easier to deploy and easier to use. On top of all that, most of them are also incredibly cheap for the value they are providing, making them accessible to banks of all sizes and shapes.

When you combine these four factors, you see why there is so much hoopla around innovation and fintech. Many bankers are viewing the next few years as their one big chance to completely revamp the critical pillars of their business. Due to the long gap in meaningful technology investment, they are starting with a blank slate, and because of the recent improvement in profitability trends, they have sufficient budgets to make substantial changes. They are approaching the market and finding plentiful options and are excited by the opportunity.

Some will choose wisely and win big. Others will choose poorly and will not fare as well. But FoMO is real: If you simply stand on the sidelines and do nothing, that is also a choice. Your competitors will leave you behind, and soon your customers might just do the same.

If you’re not willing to make some changes in this environment, when will you be?