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The Future of Banking: Providing for All Customers

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Hans Tesselaar, Executive Director, BIAN

 

In recent months, a number of well-known banks have announced closures of their high-street branches. Lloyds Banking Group announced in May it was closing an additional 28 bank branches. This is on top of its plans to shut 60 high-street branches, including 24 Lloyds Bank branches, 19 Bank of Scotland branches and 17 from the Halifax brand, bringing the total number of closures to 150 since June 2021.

As digital banking grows, this move from one of the UK’s largest banking groups is a prime example of how the industry is adapting to consumer trends and the shift to online banking. In 2007, around one-third of consumers utilised online banking for managing their finances. Now, more than 90% of UK consumers use online banking.

It is clear that the future of the financial services industry is digital, and shifting behaviours have forced a seismic divide between those who prefer to bank online and those who don’t. It has also raised many questions about how prepared our high-street banks are when it comes to supporting this divide, while future-proofing their services for the continued digital transformation happening within the industry.

 

Banking for Every Customer

Some banks are incorporating services to support those who are unable to access digital services. Hands-on support at branches for example, has helped to improve accessibility and improve education around digital initiatives. It has also encouraged increasingly more people to embrace digital change. However not all consumers are ready or capable to make the change, which means there is still work to be done. As banks continue to accelerate digital transformation projects, the closure of more high-street bank branches is inevitable. This unfortunately means that those who prefer to bank in person could be left in the dark when it comes to managing their finances.

Banks must ensure they continue to innovate while considering the needs of every customer. This means providing offline support, such as the recent move for banks to share services to support the local community and the future of cash. As part of this pilot agreement, large banks across the UK will assess local needs every time a branch closes. This assessment could recommend a shared branch opens, an ATM installed, or a Post Office is upgraded. Banks will commit to delivering whatever recommended to support those customers who prefer to bank in person.

In addition, regulators are making moves to further protect those who don’t have access to online banking. The Financial Conduct Authority will have the power to ensure local communities across the UK have access to cash. Banks who don’t comply could face fines. This will ensure that in those areas where digital adoption is not common, access to physical services will remain a priority for banks.

These initiatives are promising, but the industry and government must do all it can to ensure these initiatives are widespread. The industry must also continue to innovate, and develop additional initiatives aimed at those unwilling or resistant to embrace the digital future.

 

Encouraging Innovation

There is an opportunity to future-proof services and improve the customer’s experience from this shift in consumer behaviour. However, banks must also remember the need to support those directly impacted by the branch closures.

There are also some select players who provide differential services by focusing on keeping their branches, and advertising this. In the United States, for instance, community banks unique selling points are their branches and knowing their – local – customers by name.

The speed at which established institutions can bring new services to life is often slow and outdated however, due to the extensive use of legacy technology within banks. This challenge is also complicated by a lack of industry standards, meaning banks continue to be restricted by having to choose partners based on their language and the way they would work. This is instead of their functionality and the services they offer which has the potential to way transform the bank and its capabilities.

To truly digitise banks, there is a need to overcome these obstacles surrounding interoperability with a coreless banking model. This approach to transformation empowers banks to select the software vendors needed to obtain the best-of-breed for each application area without worrying about interoperability. Banks will also not be constrained to those service providers that operate within their own technical language or messaging model.

By translating each proprietary message into one standard message model, communication between different organisations is, therefore, significantly enhanced. This ensures that each solution can seamlessly connect and exchange data, from fintech’s, to traditional banks to technology providers

 

Working Together

Banks must form an ecosystem alongside fintech’s, service providers, and aggregators, in addition to taking a coreless approach to banking. This will help banks when it comes to the how fast and efficiently they can introduce new products.

With an effective ecosystem strategy, banks will become more relevant to their customers, providing an opportunity to drive better relationships and bigger wallet shares by delivering the speed, scale and differentiated products that make the most of the opportunity presented by the significant shift to digital banking. There is a risk if banks fail to take this approach: they will struggle to survive as consumers continue to demand new, digital services aligned to their needs. Which is why, working together is key for the future of the industry.

 

A Future Driven by the Customer

It’s likely that we will continue to see more and more branch closures across the UK.  This is an opportunity however, for the industry continue to adapt by embracing new initiatives and encouraging innovations based on the needs of every single customer – no matter their demands. Failing to do so only means that customers will leave for a nimbler competitor who understands the customer both now and in the future.

This shouldn’t be seen as a hard weight to bear.  By taking a core banking approach to transformation, supported by an effective ecosystem – banks will benefit immensely. The industry is at a cross-roads, and its success will continue to rely on a balance that provides for each and every customer, through maintaining previous methods of banking and developing new and innovative services for the future customer.

Banking

Resilient technology is the most important factor for successful online banking services

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By James McCarthy, Director of Solutions Engineering, NS1

 

More than 90 percent of people in the UK use online banking, according to Statista and of these, over a quarter have opened an account with a digital-only bank. It makes sense. Digital services, along with security, are critical features that consumers now expect from their banks as a way to support their busy on-the-go lifestyles.

The frequency of cash transactions is dropping as contactless and card payments rise and the key to this is convenience. It is faster and easier for customers to use digitally-enabled services than traditional over-the-counter facilities, cheques, and cash. The Covid pandemic, which encouraged people to abandon cash, only accelerated a trend that was already picking up speed in the UK.

But as bank branches close—4865 by April of 2022 and a further 226 scheduled to close by the end of the year, Which research found—banks are under pressure to ensure their online and mobile services are always available. Not only does this keep customers satisfied and loyal, but it is also vital for compliance and regulatory purposes.

James McCarthy

Unfortunately, their ability to keep services online is often compromised. In June and July of this year alone, major banks including Barclays, Halifax, Lloyds, TSB, Nationwide, Santander, Nationwide, and Monzo, at various times, locked customers out of their accounts due to outages, leaving them unable to access their mobile banking apps, transfer funds, or view their balances. According to The Mirror, Downdetector,  a website which tracks outages, showed over 1500 service failures were reported in one day as a result of problems at NatWest.

These incidents do not go unnoticed. Customers are quick to amplify their criticism on social media, drawing negative attention for the bank involved, and eroding not just consumer trust, but the trust of other stakeholders in the business. Trading banks leave themselves open to significant losses in transactions if their systems go down due to an outage, even for a few seconds.

There are a multitude of reasons for banking services to fail. The majority of internet-based banking outages occur because the bank’s own internal systems fail. This can be as a result of transferring customer data from legacy platforms which might involve switching off parts of the network. It can also be because they rely on cloud providers to deliver their services and the provider experiences an outage. The Bank of England has said that a quarter of major banks and a third of payment activity is hosted on the public cloud.

There are, however, steps that banks and other financial institutions can take to prevent outages and ensure as close to 100% uptime as possible for banking services.

Building resiliency strategies

If we assume that outages are inevitable, which all banks should, the best solution to managing risk is to embrace infrastructure resiliency strategies. One method is to adopt a multi-cloud and multi-CDN (content delivery platform) approach, which means utilising services from a variety of providers. This will ensure that if one fails, another one can be deployed, eliminating the single point-of-failure that renders systems and services out of action. If the financial institution uses a secondary provider—such as when international banking services are being provided across multiple locations—the agreement must include an assurance that the bank’s applications will operate if the primary provider goes down.

This process of building resiliency in layers, is further strengthened if banks have observability of application delivery performance, and it is beneficial for them to invest in tools that allow them to quickly transfer from one cloud service provider or CDN if it fails to perform against expectations.

Automating against human error

Banks that are further down the digital transformation route should consider the impact of human error on outage incidents and opt for network automation. This will enable systems to communicate seamlessly, giving banks operational agility and stability across the entire IT environment. They can start with a single network source of truth, which allows automation tools to gather all the data they need to optimise resource usage and puts banks in full control of their networks. In addition it will signal to regulators that the bank is taking its provisioning of infrastructure very seriously.

Dynamic steering 

Despite evidence to the contrary, downtime in banking should never be acceptable, and IT teams can make use of specialist tools that allow them to dynamically steer their online traffic more easily. It is not unusual for a DNS failure (domain name system) to be the root cause of an outage, given its importance in the tech stack, so putting in place a secondary DNS network, or multiple DNS systems with separate infrastructures will allow for rerouting of traffic. Teams will then have the power to establish steering policies and change capacity thresholds, so that an influx of activity, or a resource failure, will not affect the smooth-running of their online services. If they utilise monitoring and observability features, they will have the data they need to make decisions based on the real time experiences of end users and identify repeated issues that can be rectified.

Banks are some way into their transformation journeys, and building reputations based on the digital services that they offer. It is essential that they deploy resilient technology that allows them to scale and deliver, regardless of whether the cloud providers they use experience outages, or an internal human error is made, or the online demands of customers suddenly and simultaneously peak. Modern technology will not only speed up the services they provide, but it will also arm them with the resilience they need to compare favourably in the competition stakes.

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Banking

Digital Banking – a hedge against uncertainty?

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Ankit Shah, Head of Digital Banking, Apex Group

 

The story of the 2020’s thus far is one of crisis. First the world was plunged into a global pandemic which saw the locking down of people and economies across the world. Now we deal with the inevitable economic consequences as currencies devalue and inflation bites. This has been compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent energy politics.

And the outlook remains uncertain. Tensions continue to build between China and Taiwan and inflationary conditions are forecast to continue well into 2023. This uncertainty is impacting everyone, and every sector. And finance is no exception with effects being felt everywhere from commodity and FX markets to global supply chains.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Rollercoaster markets and an ever-evolving geopolitical situation have made 2022 a tricky year far, but, despite the challenges, digital banking has proven resilient. In fact, the adoption of digital banking services has continued to grow over the last few years, and is predicted to continue.

So, what are the forces driving this resilience?

In an increasingly digital world and economy, digital banking comes with some advantages baked in, which have seen the sector continue to succeed despite the tumult in the wider world. In fact, the crises which have shaped the decade so far may even have been to the advantage of digital banking. Just as during the pandemic, technologies which could facilitate remote working saw a huge uptick in users, so to digital banking is well suited to a world where both people, and institutions demand the convenience that online banking services offer.

And while uptake of digital banking services is widespread amongst retail consumers, a trend likely to continue as digital first generations like Gen Z become an ever-greater proportion of the consumer market, uptake amongst corporate and institutional customers has been slower. This is largely down to a lack of fintech businesses serving the more complex needs of the institutional market, but, in a post-Covid world of hybrid working business, corporate clients are looking for the same ease of use and geographic freedom in their banking that is enjoyed by retail consumers.

This is not just a pipe dream – with the recent roll out of Apex Group’s Digital Banking services, institutions can enjoy the kind of multi-currency, cloud-based banking solutions, with 24/7 account access that many of us take for granted when it comes to our personal banking.

Staying compliant

One significant difference between retail and business accounts however, for banking service providers, is the relative levels of compliance which are needed. While compliance is crucial in the delivery of all financial services, running compliance on multi-million pound transactions between international businesses brings with it a level of complexity that an individual buying goods and services online doesn’t.

For digital banking services providers, this situation is further compounded by guidance earlier this year from HM Treasury – against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict- requiring enhanced levels of compliance and due diligence when it comes to doing business with “a high-risk third country or in relation to any relevant transaction where either of the parties to the transaction is established in a high-risk third country or with a sanctioned individual.”

So, can digital banks meet these standards while also providing institutions with the kind of easily accessible, mobile service which retail customers enjoy?

The answer is yes and again, once initial hurdles are overcome, digital banking brings with it features which give it the edge over traditional banking services. Paperless processes, for example, mean greater transparency and allow for better and more efficient use of data. This means AI can be employed to search documents, as well as provide verification. It also means compliance processes, often notoriously complicated, become easier to track. Indeed, digitising time intensive manual process means the risk of human error in the compliance process is reduced.

Digital banking can also better integrate transaction monitoring tools, helping businesses identify fraud and irregularity more quickly. This can be hugely important, especially in the times of heightened risk we find ourselves in, where falling foul of a sanctions regime could have significant legal, financial and reputational consequences.

Cross-border business

Our world is increasingly globalised, and so is business. For corporate and institutional banking customers, being able to operate seamlessly across borders is key to the operation of their business.

This brings with it challenges, which are again compounded by difficult geopolitical and economic circumstances. In recent weeks for example, we’ve seen significant flux on FX markets which can have real consequences for businesses or institutional investors who are buying and selling assets in multiple currencies and jurisdictions. The ability to move quickly then, and transact in a currency of choice, is vital. Advanced digital banking platforms can help – offering automated money market fund sweeps in multiple core currencies to help their clients optimise their investment returns and effectively manage liquidity.

Control admin uncertainty

In times of uncertainty, digital banking can provide additional comfort via customisable multi-level payment approvals to enhance control of what is being paid out of business accounts, with custom limits available for different users or members of a team. Transparency and accountability are also essential, with corporate clients requiring fully integrated digital reporting and statements and instant visibility with transaction cost and  balances updated in real-time.

Outlook

For some, the perception remains that digital banking is the upstart industry trying to offer the services that the traditional banking industry has built itself upon. Increasingly however, the reality is that the pressure is on traditional banks to try and stake a claim to some of the territory being taken by digital first financial services.

With a whole range of features built in which make them well suited to business in a digital world, digital banking is on a growth trajectory. Until now, much of the focus has been upon the roll-out of services to retail consumers, but with features such as automated compliance, effortless international transactions and powerful AI coming as standard for many digital banks, the digital offering to the corporate world looks increasingly attractive.

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