After a decade of focusing on compliance with regulatory mandates, Banks are back at fixating on technology innovation. The reason is obvious – over the last five years, Silicon Valley majors and FinTechs have begun to rapidly encroach on the highest profit areas of the banking business. The race is on to create next-generation financial services ecosystems in a variety of areas ranging from Retail Banking, Capital Markets, and Wealth Management. The common thread to all these is massive volumes of Data & Advanced analytics on the data. Given that almost every large and small bank has a Big Data & AI strategy in place, it makes sense for us to highlight six key areas where they should all first direct and then benchmark their efforts from an innovation standpoint.
Global Banking in 2016-17…
As 2017 draws to a close, the days of growth and sky-high stock market valuations seem to be largely back. McKinsey Research posits that while the global banking industry appears quite healthy outwardly, profits are at best flat or even falling across geographies. For the seventh year in a row, the industry’s ROE (Return on Equity) was between 8-10%. For 2016, the industry’s ROE was down a full percentage point from 2015, raising concerns about profitability across the board. There are however innovators that are doing well due to their strong focus on execution.
Banks have overall been very slow to respond to the onslaught of the digital business led by Amazon, Google/Alphabet, PayPal and the horde of FinTechs. What all of these disruptors do better than Banks is to harness customer data to drive offerings that appeal to neglected banking consumers who are already used to using these services every waking hour in their lives.
As technology continues to advance and data becomes more available, the twin forces of competition & regulation, are driving overall innovation in across banking. Capital Markets players are using AI in a range of areas from optimising trading execution, contract pricing, strategy backtesting to risk & compliance.
In the staider Retail Banking & Asset Management areas, profitable areas such as customer lending, consumer payments & wealth management are slowly being disrupted at the cost of established banks. What also lies behind this disruption is the FinTech’s ability to pick and choose the (profitable) areas they want to compete in, their minimal overhead as opposed to & an advanced ability to work with data generated constantly by customer interactions by deploying algorithms that mine historical data & combine it in ways that reveal new insights.
I posit that there are six strategic questions that Banking institutions of all stripes need to glean from their Big Data (& AI) projects. This with a view to attaining sustainable growth for the foreseeable future –
- How do we know more about our customers?
- How do we manage regulation and turn it into a source of lasting competitive advantage?
- How can we increase our digital quotient in a way that enables us to enter new businesses?
- How can this deluge of information drive business insight?
- How can we drive Business transformation both within the Bank and disarm competition?
- How can this information drive agility in customer responsiveness?
Question #1 How much do we know about our customers..really?
Financial institutions, including retail banks, capital markets, payment networks etc process large amounts of customer information daily. However, they have been sorely lacking in their capability to understand their customer profiles as one whole and to interpret this in a form that is meaningful to their business. The ability to do this can result in an understanding of not just the risks posed by this relationship (from a credit risk/AML standpoint) but also an ability to increase the returns per client relationship. This is an area Big Data and AI can influence in a huge way.
Question #2 How do we manage the Regulatory Onslaught and Turn it into Competitive Advantage?
There exist two primary reasons for Enterprises such as Banks, Insurers, Payment Providers and FinTechs to pursue best in class Risk Management Processes and Platforms. The first need in Capital Markets is compliance driven by various regulatory reporting mandates such as the Basel Reporting Requirements, the FRTB, the Dodd‐Frank Act, Solvency II, CCAR and CAT/MiFID II in the United States & the EU. The second reason (common to all kinds of Banking) is the need to drive top-line sales growth for both individual and institutional clients.
We have long advocated for the implementation of Big Data across both the areas. The common thread across virtually every business processes across the front, mid and back office is risk management. Processes ranging from risk data aggregation/reporting, customer onboarding, loan approvals, financial crimes compliance (AML, KYC, CRS & FATCA), enterprise financial reporting & Cyber Security etc can benefit from universal access to accurate, cleansed and well-governed cross-organization data from a range of Book Of Record systems. Further, applying techniques for data processing such as in-memory processing, the process of scenario analysis, computing, & reporting on this data (reg reports/risk scorecards/dashboards etc) can be vastly enhanced. They can be made more real time in response to data about using market movements to understand granular risk concentrations. Finally, model management techniques can be clearly defined and standardized across a large organization. RegTechs or startups focused on the risk and compliance space are already leveraging these techniques across a host of areas identified above.
Question #3 Increase your Digital Quotient…
For decades, Banks have had a monopoly on the financial business. The last few years have seen both FinTechs and other players such as Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook etc enter lucrative areas in banking. These areas include Consumer lending, financial advisory etc. The keyword in all of this is ‘Digital Disintermediation’ and regulators have also begun to take note. In the EU and the UK, regulators are at the forefront of pushing mandates such as SEPA (Single European Payments Area), Open Banking Standard, and PSD-2. All of these regulations will ensure that Banks are forced to unlock their customer data in a way that encourages consumer choice. The hope is that agile players can then use this data to exploit inefficiencies in the banks business model using technology. Services such as account aggregation, consumer loans, credit scoring services, personal financial management tools, and other financial advisory become easy to provide via Open APIs.
If incumbent Banks don’t respond, they will lose their monopoly on being their customers primary front end. As new players take over areas such as mortgage loans (an area where they’re much faster than banks in granting loans), Banks that cannot change their distribution and product models will be commodified. The challenges start with reworking inflexible core banking systems. These maintain customer demographics, balances, product information and other BORT (Book Of Record Transaction) data that store a range of loan, payment and risk information. These architectures will slowly need to transition from their current (largely) monolithic architectures to compose-able units. There are various strategies that Banks can follow to ‘modernize the core’ but adopting Big Data native mindset is. Banks will also seek to work with FinTechs to create islands of cooperation where they can learn from the new players.
Question #4 Drive Business Insight…
There are two primary areas where business insights need to be driven out of. The first is internal operations and the second is customer service. This category encompasses a wide range of strategic choices that drive an operating model – product ideation, creation, distribution strategies across channels/geographies etc. Whatever be the right product and strategy focus, the ability to play in select areas of the value chain depends upon feedback received from day to day operations. Much like in a manufacturing company, this data needs to be harnessed, analyzed with a view to ultimately monetizing it.
Question #5 Business Transformation…
There is no question that FinTechs are able to take ideas from nothing to delivery in a matter of months. This is the key reason banks need to transform their business. This is critical in key areas such as sales, wealth management, and origination. There is surely a lot of confusion around how to drive such initiatives but no one questions the need for centralizing data assets.
In my mind, the first and most important reason to move to a unified strategy is to evolve standalone Digital capabilities into a coherent Platform. Different lines of business can use these capabilities to develop an ecosystem of applications that can be offered as a SaaS (Software as a Service). The end state of Digital Platforms is to operate business systems at massive scale in terms of customers, partners, and employees.
Question #6 Enhance Customer Service…
Customer Service is clearly an area of differentiation for nimbler players as compared to Banks. Banks are still largely dealing with ensuring that consistent views of customer accounts & balances can be maintained across channels. On the other hand, FinTechs have moved onto Chatbots and Robo-advisors all built around Big Data & AI. A Chatbot is a virtual assistant that helps clients perform simple transactions using mediums such as text or voice. They’re based on Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning and are being deployed in simple scenarios such as balance checks and other simpler customer service processes. However, as time goes by they will inevitably get more sophisticated and will eventually supplant human service for the vast majority of the service lifecycle.
Surely, areas such as automated customer service and investment management are still in early stages of maturity. However, they are unmistakably the next big trend in the financial industry and one that players should begin developing capabilities around.
Increasingly, a Bank’s technology platform(s) centered around Big Data represents a significant competitive differentiator that can generate substantial revenues from existing customers and help acquire new ones. Given the strategic importance and revenue potential of this resource, the C-suite must integrate Big Data & AI into their strategic planning in 2018.
 McKinsey – “Remaking the Bank for an Ecosystem World” – https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/financial-services/our-insights/remaking-the-bank-for-an-ecosystem-world