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DECISIONING AT SCALE: WHY BANKS NEED TO RADICALLY CHANGE THEIR OPERATING MODELS NOW

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Brian Holden, Global Director, Financial Services at SAS UK & Ireland

 

Twelve years ago, the banking industry suffered deep reputational damage in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. Bankers took the blame – in some cases deservedly – for large-scale economic problems that took a severe toll on many of society’s most vulnerable people. The crisis severely shook banks and financial institutions. Some, like Northern Rock, failed altogether. As a result, public trust in the banking sector has never fully recovered.

In 2020, we find ourselves faced with another global crisis – although this time, there’s no credible scapegoat for politicians or the media to blame. COVID-19 is nobody’s fault, but its impact on both society and the economy will be unprecedented. We will need to take tough decisions. But if banks succeed in supporting their customers through this difficult period, those customers will remember. This may, in fact, be the last and best hope for the banking sector to recover the trust and confidence that it lost in the last decade.

 

Reserves of strength

The good news is that banks are in a much stronger and sounder position today than they were in 2008. Regulations align better with economic reality, the capital provisions are greater, and the Bank of England intervened quickly to suspend all bonuses and dividends as soon as COVID-19 hit the UK. Customers are better protected too. And with the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) effectively guaranteeing all retail deposits up to £85,000 (£170,000 for joint accounts), a bank run of the type that wrecked Northern Rock is very unlikely.

 

The worst is yet to come

However, there are difficult times ahead.  The government’s furlough scheme currently buffers banks. This has helped keep businesses afloat and employees paid. But these funds won’t last forever, and unless there’s an immediate bounceback after the lockdown, the worst of the crisis is surely yet to come. Not so much a “V-shaped recovery” – rather a “long tick.” When the money runs out, banks will have to start making difficult decisions, especially about lending.

What will make these decisions even more difficult is that the crisis has turned a lot of received wisdom about creditworthiness on its head. Who would have thought at the start of this year that airline pilots might be a credit risk, for example? In fact, many professions are likely to see significant reductions in business volumes and income over the coming months. And since many professionals are used to leading relatively credit-hungry lifestyles with large outgoings, the strain will soon start to show.

 

Struggling to scale

This is a problem because many banks currently take a bare-minimum approach to credit risk modelling. Most banks make day-to-day credit decisions using dated processes and data. They base them on a very broad segmentation of the customer base because when times were good, it didn’t seem worth the trouble to drill down to the individual level. Meanwhile, anomalies and unusually complex cases are referred to senior decision makers who use their experience to make the right calls manually, with expert judgment.

This approach simply won’t work in a situation where many more businesses and individuals are skating on thin ice, and a much larger proportion of decisions require sophisticated analysis. There just won’t be enough expertise to go around.

Until now, this hasn’t been an issue – after all, at high tide, most ships can sail serenely. But when the tide goes out, it’s the boats with the deepest draught that are the first to run aground. In the same way, it’s the banks with the most historical baggage that are in the greatest danger. If their legacy systems, siloed processes, organizational structures and change-resistant cultural norms make them unable or unwilling to adapt, they won’t have the agility to respond to the new reality.

In short, the UK’s largest banks need to act now. They need to put the right decisioning processes and infrastructures in place to support their human experts in making more tough decisions, faster and more accurately. And they also need that technology to guide a new generation of less-experienced decision makers, helping them make the right calls to help customers get back on an even keel.

 

Intelligent decisioning

The only option is for banks to level-up and simplify financial decisioning processes by adopting a more powerful, real-time and comprehensive approach to credit decisioning – one that will satisfy regulators and comply with all internal and external audit standards. A decisioning fabric.

At SAS, we’re helping banks around the world do just that. Our approach, which we call “intelligent decisioning,” enables decision makers to assess each individual case on its merits and take the right action to support each customer.

This ability to make responsible decisions and act effectively in real time is vital for banks to support vulnerable customers through the COVID-19 pandemic and to help rebuild “UK plc” in its aftermath. Moreover, in the longer term, intelligent decisioning will help bind banks and their customers closer together and demonstrate that banking is more than just another utility service, like electricity, water or gas. By getting closer to their customers and understanding their lives, needs and desires, banks can shift the perception of the value they offer and assume a role as trusted adviser and business partner. They will become an integral part of the fabric of the networked society.

 

A people business

This is important because one of the clearest lessons of the COVID-19 crisis is that banking is a people business. It isn’t just a matter of impersonal financial transactions; it’s central to people’s lives. There is an emotive power to financial decision making, especially when it can make or break a small business, save someone’s home from repossession, or just tide them over for a few months when money is tight.

That is a great responsibility, and it has serious consequences. Get it right and customers will remember; let them down and they will never forgive you. By empowering decision makers with fine-grained insight into each customer’s unique situation, banks have the potential to rescue cash-strapped businesses and help struggling households find their way back to financial security. By following this path, banks can win back the good reputation they lost in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and play a central role in the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Banking

LEGACY INFRASTRUCTURES MUSTN’T HOLD BACK INNOVATION IN FINANCIAL SERVICES

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By

Ian Perry, Principal Solution Architect at Zscaler

 

We are living in a changed world; one of hybrid home/office work and customers who may never return to bank branches and the services of the high street. According to RFi Group, 73 per cent of UK consumers interact with their main bank via digital banking at least once a week, and only 23 per cent believe nothing can replace what they get in a branch. Meanwhile, institutions including JP Morgan, HSBC and Nationwide have all indicated an intention to retain new higher levels of homeworking.

Now that employees work from a multitude of locations and customers bank and manage their money online the race is on to adapt processes, systems and support structures for safe, secure and productive homeworking and digital access for customers. Inevitably, this calls into question legacy infrastructures in financial services and how they might impact digital progress.

 

New tools, old systems?

The question is, how can banks and other financial institutions securely provide a higher level of remote access to their systems and applications when incumbent infrastructures were developed for an entirely different time?

Of course, the first thing to note is that banks aren’t coming at the problem from a standing start. Oft-cited legacy infrastructures have been added to over time so that many set-ups are now an on-premise/cloud-hosted hybrid. In fact, the finance sector has invested heavily in cloud infrastructures and cloud-based office applications.

The issue is how to harmonise this set-up so that it works for users and organisations as a whole. Here, there is work still to be done. It’s often the case that core banking applications remain in mainframe on-premise networks, whilst other operational tools reside in the cloud. Cloud-based Office 365 is a case in point. It supports digital working, as organisations need it to, but a range of its benefits and functions are at odds with legacy network setups.

Inevitably, when a product or service innovation reaches implementation planning stage, the starting point is the existing network, its systems and processes. The hard part is flipping this approach to assess what the resulting experience will be from the user point of view, but that is exactly what’s needed. It’s an approach that competing market disruptors have been ideally placed to adopt from day one.

However, that needn’t mean that financial institutions must completely overhaul their legacy infrastructure – something that would be expensive and complicated. They can still fully capitalise on the benefits of cloud-based services, among them flexibility, productivity, business continuity and the right customer and user experience.

 

Zero Trust without friction

One way is to take a ‘Zero Trust’ approach. As a result of recognised risks, 72 per cent of companies are prioritising the adoption of such a security model. This resets a data security approach from one that traditionally secured the perimeter to one that protects users, devices and business resources.

It’s a shift in emphasis from securing the network to securing each access and doing so without introducing friction into processes for users. We can think of legacy digital protection methods as a visitor getting a key from reception and being allowed to wander around the building, and compare that to a frictionless cloud experience in which a security guard shows the visitor directly to the room they need.

The Zero Trust model lends itself to high levels of remote access, which is exactly the situation organisations are now in. Employees work from anywhere, from a range of devices, and customers access services previously provided in-person online. Applications are no longer exclusively within the data centre, they are outside the network perimeter meaning that traffic must be enabled to run securely through the internet, rather than through corporate IT. Doing so not only equips organisations for the way things are today, it can also reduce the cost of individual site maintenance and enable the full benefit of cloud-based tools.

The technology now exists to make high levels of security completely invisible and so, with a growing number of security processes now taking place in the cloud, educating customers will be key. The industry must come together to improve user interfaces to signal what’s taking place behind the scenes.

With the right security approach, financial services can deliver on new access priorities to support their workforces and serve customers. Convenience, as well as security, should be the aim along with a strategy that ensures legacy doesn’t hold back innovation. That way, banks and other finance institutions can begin to fully capitalise on the benefits of cloud, adapt to meet customer demands as they evolve and compete in a disrupted market.

 

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Banking

BANKS OF THE FUTURE WILL BE ASSEMBLED, NOT BUILT: HOW BANKS CAN EXPAND AND INNOVATE BY RETHINKING THEIR PARTNERSHIPS

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Author: Kelly Switt, Senior Director, Financial Services Strategy, Ecosystem and Strategic Partnerships, Red Hat

 

The financial services business ecosystem has been radically reshaped in recent years and is arguably more dynamic and ripe for innovation than it has ever been. Banks that take bolder steps to build strategic partnerships have the potential to dramatically transform themselves and the industry. While open banking reforms have encouraged organizations to open up their architectures to each other, there is much potential still to be unlocked: beyond the minimum of meeting regulations by the deadline and exposing the APIs required for aggregation services, there is a vast untapped opportunity for creativity in joint business models. The kind of opportunity that has long since been grasped by web-scale companies and fintech startups.

 

Deutsche Bank, BBVA, and neobank bunq are examples of banks that have understood the value of creating open finance communities. However, the majority of financial organisations are yet to embrace deeper collaborations that truly take advantage of external parties’ ready-built solutions, which would save time and resources and enable inhouse teams to focus on differentiating their business where it really counts. So how can an organisation break free of legacy structures and attitudes to better integrate and engage with partners?

 

Step 1: Adopting a growth mindset

Establishing deeper strategic relationships with partners requires a mindset shift for much of the industry. Traditionally, banks have tended to see third parties as vendors, treating the relationship as a transactional exchange, in the context of legal agreements that set forth the provisions and conditions of the services to be provided. Instead, banks need to adopt a growth mindset that encourages organisations to look beyond their own four walls, and embraces participation in a wider community. By engaging with an ecosystem of partners and treating them as a valuable additional set of experts, banks can accelerate problem-solving and reach their business goals faster.

 

Step 2: Aligning internally as an organisation

Before bringing in a partner to tackle a business problem, an organisation needs to conduct an internal assessment. It’s important for all departments within an organisation (IT, sales, marketing, etc.) to contribute their perspective on unpacking why a problem exists across the organisation: what are compliance and risk issues? What are the technical challenges? In what ways is the business impacted? Once everyone is grounded on why the problem needs fixing, it is a much clearer path to identify both the business and technology capabilities needed to solve the problem – i.e. the tools as well as the people skills. If different departments aren’t set up to engage with each other, it’s time to dismantle barriers and build bridges to ensure everyone is included in this discovery phase.

 

Step 3: Be open with partners

When the business has galvanised around its key objectives and the capabilities it needs to move forward, the organisation can look at engaging partners that have experience and expertise in the right areas. The more information that is shared with a partner about the company’s challenges, opportunities and goals, the more empowered and committed the partner will be to help meet the desired outcomes. Armed with insights, partners can help connect the dots and invite further parties to a project, leading to a network effect that benefits both the organisation and the wider ecosystem. To ensure that everyone continues moving in the same direction every step of the way, it is crucial to have transparent discussions in which ideas can be exchanged freely, and to make decisions in an open and collaborative way. Disagreement and constructive feedback must be encouraged – partners should be empowered to speak up with concerns – as this is an important part of mitigating risk.

 

Step 4: Humanise business relationships

Business relationships are personal relationships. The most successful ones are built on mutual understanding of what makes each other tick, what motivates someone to behave the way they do and what drives their performance. Getting to know people on a more personal level can create deep-seated relationships where everyone feels fully invested in driving the project forward. The banking sector may not be known for encouraging vulnerability, but revealing a bit more of the human in us is a key ingredient for building trusted relationships. The pandemic has added urgency to the need for greater empathy to lead people through difficulties, and has shown how people can come together through shared emotional experiences to better manage adversity.

 

Step 5: Build on a consistent technology platform

The technical foundation for engaging in any new partnership is a strong integration strategy. An organization may need to rethink its system architectures and shift towards open platform models. In the case of using containers to take advantage of cloud scale, establishing a common platform at the base of the technology stack that runs consistently across an organisation can provide more control, security and stability. A common application management layer that is agnostic to the underlying technology and based on open APIs gives internal teams together with partners greater freedom to collaborate, accelerating innovation. It helps avert the risk of ending up with many custom integrations, which can lead to cost overruns, outages or services-related issues for customers.

 

Unleashing future possibilities

Progress is able to happen much faster when people and teams work together. As more and more businesses in banking and adjacent industries wake up to the opportunities inherent in a move towards greater openness, we will start to see unprecedented innovation in financial services, and myriad other areas of our lives, creating better and more inclusive customer experiences for societies globally. Banks of the future will be assembled, not built.

 

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