In the current economic environment, banks and other financial services firms recognise the need to embrace digital transformation to get maximum value from their technology investments and do more with less. Leveraging technology also helps businesses to navigate emerging risks while driving sustainable and responsible business outcomes internally and with their customers. But how are they approaching these challenges? Last week I attended Sibos 2022 in Amsterdam, where business leaders, policy makers and technologists came together for deep dive debates and big picture outlooks on the future of the corporate banking market, including lending, trade and treasury solutions, and the related capital markets instruments. The energy and excitement on the pace of innovation was clear and I saw many themes that resonate with where we aim to lead the market in our Microsoft UK Financial Services business.
Geopolitical tensions, the economic environment, evolving cyber threats, the race to Net Zero, the competitive landscape and ongoing reimagination of business models, modernising policy and regulation, and the continuous innovation of what is possible with people, process and digital technology are driving rapid change in the industry. When managed correctly, this change can unlock new opportunity.
The industry is leading in many areas of technology, product and operating-model innovation, but a responsible business purpose and sustainable societal outcomes are now firmly embedded as objectives that banks are expected to deliver. “We should not seek innovation for innovation’s sake,” noted HM Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in the opening plenary. “With each new technology, we must always ask ‘What problems are we trying to solve?’” At the same time, we need to ensure any innovation is done securely and collaboratively while being additive to interoperability of data and platforms. The IMF predicts technological fragmentation can cut a country’s GDP by five percent; the benefit of collaborative industry approaches and ecosystem business models is clear.
Through all the customer, partner, and colleague conversations at Sibos 2022, and while contributing and learning as much as we could about new ideas and technologies, the Microsoft UK Financial Services team took away four main action points:
1. Transform securely
One of the key things that was highlighted by industry leaders was the importance of getting cyber security basics right to enable secure transformation. “The human firewall is the first line of defence,” said Nicolas Trimbour, Head of Fraud Prevention and Chief Data Officer for Cash Management at BNP Paribas. It’s important to educate employees and customers to recognise phishing, scams and ransomware attempts especially while the attach surface grows with increased digitisation and growing ecosystem business models.
AI/ML solutions can work at high performance across large amounts of data to spot fraud or suspicious activity in transactions and endpoints. An industry-specific cloud solution that uses a completely private data model, while offering full data portability can help organisations as they shift from on-premise to hybrid or cloud-native architectures. At the same time, organisations can benefit from built-in security and compliance offerings that infuse healthy cyber hygiene.
Our security experts have pulled together resources, training and more to help your teams empower and educate your employees and customers to be cyber aware. This is the right time to focus on this with October being Cyber Security Month. Check out our Cyber Security Awareness Month resources.
2. Build a talent and collaboration model that supports your digital ambitions
Banks need access to the right engineering and digital skills at scale to drive industry digitisation and innovation. This is not just about attracting the talent, but re-skilling and up-skilling current resources and creating an empathetic, flexible culture. I’ve often heard it said that the number one headwind on many banks’ ability to execute on their digital transformation strategies is access to the right talent and skills. “We need to make sure we invest in our people and support them in their growth,” says Erika Irish Brown, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer and Global Head of Talent at Citi.
At Microsoft, we’re helping financial services institutions give their employees the digital skills they need. Whether that’s showing how decentralised teams can work collaboratively while working remotely, using tools to securely automate processes and workflows, or empowering pro dev, citizen dev and fusion dev teams to develop new apps, processes and reporting to make their work simpler in their domains. With 53 percent of employees more likely to prioritise health and wellbeing over work, leaders must take an empathetic approach to building a hybrid workplace. A culture that embraces flexibility and prioritises wellbeing will build a thriving organisation and drive long-term sustainable growth. This webinar with my colleague Craig Wellman goes into the importance of planning, leadership and culture in transforming financial services.
3. Align your ESG objectives to your business value
The banking industry has a societal obligation to direct funding, capital, investment and lending to businesses in the real economy that will move the needle positively on ESG measures and on carbon reduction. And not only do customers, stakeholders, investors, regulators and governments expect it, but it’s also good for business. “$97 trillion needs to be invested to get to net zero. That’s a massive opportunity. It’s the most strategic and important thing we can do as an industry,” says Marisa Drew, CSO at Standard Chartered.
The best way to start building effective ESG strategies is to tie it into your business value. Some institutions are already including their sustainability results in their financial statements. However, the industry faces challenges. A lack of global standard around climate reporting, mixed with slow manual processes and siloed data can affect how quickly you can build an effective strategy. “We don’t have perfect data, but we have actionable data,” says Gill Lofts, Global Financial Services Sustainable Finance Leader at EY.
A unified and resilient cloud infrastructure like Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability can help you gain visibility across your data, drive efficiency, track and minimise your environmental impact and create sustainable value chains. We also need to drive more cross-industry collaboration.
“This is a planet-scale problem that needs planet-scale innovation and collaboration,” says Bill Borden, Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Financial Services at Microsoft.
When we made our sustainability commitment in 2020, we also decided to share our learnings, results and practices, and increase our focus on supporting our customers drive their own ESG agendas.
4. Lead on innovation that can open new sources of value
Recent innovations are increasingly moving from POC to production adoption across digital assets such as Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT).
While AI has been leveraged in organisations for a long time to reduce risk and streamline operations, organisations need to take a novel approach to AI to create new avenues of growth. “People don’t think of AI as a way to get to a new digital business,” says Sameena Shah Managing Director, AI Research Executive, and Chief Transformation Officer for Client Onboarding at JP Morgan Chase. “You need to bring people with a business mindset together with people with AI knowledge.” These groups, known as fusion teams, can help organisations deploy solutions up to two and a half times faster than siloed teams.
“Cash as a form of payment has been declining, but cash in circulation is growing. We have also seen over the past 10 years the rise of digital assets, including cryptocurrencies and CBDCs,” says Marion Laboure, Senior Economist at Deutsche Bank.
One thing digitisation can do is help with financial inclusion. The 1.7 billion people who don’t have access to financial services can potentially use CBDC to start using financial services without a bank account.
NFTs are currently used to tie ownership to a digital asset. However, as they evolve, it could allow the construction of the end asset to be more sophisticated. “That’s when it becomes more interesting to us in Finance. We can look at a new type of securitised asset, a new type of yield profile that may or may not be totally uncorrelated with traditional markets and assets,” said John Egan, CEO of L’Atelier at BNP Paribas. In fact, the US Securities and Exchange Commission are already looking into NFTs as a security. With no intermediaries, Decentralised Finance (DeFi) is less complex and more agile than the traditional central counterparty model. However, it is probably riskier. Experts suggest a hybrid model for DeFi, with the right regulatory guiderails to manage AML, fraud, conduct risk, and cybercrime.
“Web3 and blockchain technologies are unique because they create a different, efficient way of executing processes. They can be best served to decrease complexity, increase security and transparency,” says Willayna Banner, Microsoft’s Head of Web3/Blockchain in Financial Services. Learn how organisations are using blockchain to transform functions such as trade finance and commercial specialty insurance.
Collaborating for industry growth and responsible innovation
As we shared these thoughts and ideas on the future of banking at Sibos 2022, a recurring theme was industry collaboration across the widest perimeter of stakeholders. To drive growth while being resilient, secure and compliant in our changing industry, our key priorities must be removing friction, increasing interoperability and improving the service experience for our customers, empowering our teams, and driving inclusive, sustainable innovation.
Find out more
Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services
Microsoft Dynamics Customer Service Webinar for Financial Services: The changing role of the Digital Contact Centre
Rethinking the Customer Experience | Microsoft
About the author
Niall is responsible for defining and leading Microsoft’s strategy for Financial Services in the UK. His focus is on helping Microsoft’s customers’ address industry-wide challenges, adapt to new regulatory frameworks and achieve business transformation through the adoption of Microsoft technology and partner solutions. He works to deliver on the cost, growth, risk and regulatory agenda front-to-back through the enterprise.
Niall has experience in consulting, partner ecosystems, and large programme delivery in Financial Services. Niall has focused on operating model transformation and technology solutions for business challenges in Banking and Capital Markets, often in the regulatory change context. He has worked mostly with international banking groups and has lived in Hong Kong and London.