How to negotiate uncertainty in banking: aligning growth with efficiency

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In challenging times, it’s tempting for banks to prioritise operational efficiency at the expense of driving long-term growth through digital transformation. Digital adoption, which accelerated during the pandemic, has shown signs of slowing in recent months, causing tremors in the fintech space. This uncertainty has given banks an additional reason to be cautious not only about lending, but also investing in new technology.

But what if we’re making a false assumption about the trade-off between growth and efficiency? This very question was raised at a stimulating discussion I took part in at the Financial Times Global Banking Summit in London back in December. We were talking about ‘Sustaining a growth mindset: Innovating for consumer needs’, and I was joined by fellow guests Claire Calmejane, Chief Innovation Officer at Societe Generale; Rishi Khosla, CEO and Co-founder of OakNorth Bank; and Andy Ellis, who is CEO of Mettle and Head of Digital Assets at NatWest Group. The event was moderated by Liz Lumley, Deputy Director of The Banker.

How can banks continue digital transformation in a downturn?

Liz Lumley launched the session by providing helpful context. Rising interest rates and inflation are a challenge to both fintech startups and consumers as the cost-of-living crisis looms and funding is constrained. Businesses are more focused on the shorter term, while consumer purchasing decisions are in a state of flux. Nevertheless, the world’s leading lenders continue to invest in technology, data and hyper-personalisation of services. These are seen as necessary steps to retain customer loyalty and improve risk management during uncertain times.

But, we asked ourselves, is digital transformation really delivering revenue growth and profitability fast enough for shareholders? The vulnerability of many fintech businesses at the current time would suggest otherwise.

Data insights that deepen customer relationships

All the participants agreed that data was going to play a central role in the future of banking, not least by providing an accurate and complete view of the customer. In essence, rich data enables banks to make better lending decisions by anticipating changes in businesses’ financial situations. Modern analytics also provide insights that customers want to know about, which gives banks opportunities to deepen client relationships and nurture their loyalty.

Artificial intelligence, sentiment analysis and omnichannel customer engagement are also on the agenda right across the sector. The advent of these technologies has led many established banks to partner with fintechs to improve the developer experience and add to their stock of digital skills.

Integrating with fintechs for better all-round customer value

Delivering more tailored banking services and real-time customer experiences is, no doubt, an attractive proposition. However, despite the temptation to snap up smaller businesses that can deliver these, Andy Ellis of NatWest Group believes fintechs should only be considered for acquisition if they align with a bank’s strategic mission and deliver a specific capability for a defined sector. While there may be no single formula for a successful partnership, effective integration is fundamental. Fortunately, banks are getting better at preserving the agile culture of startups, where so much value lies.

Meanwhile, banking-as-a-service (BaaS) offers significantly more growth potential than traditional banking, in the view of both Andy Ellis and Claire Calmejane. Looking further ahead, Claire also saw potential in greater collaboration around open data. But progress in this area will require an international framework around data standards, secure data exchange and certification.

Advocating industry evolution, not revolution

At Microsoft, we partner with banks to help them deepen and extend their relationships with clients. A key aim is to bolster customer trust through increased responsiveness and security, while anchoring digital transformation initiatives in improved customer experience. In other words, we need ongoing work to build the foundations for innovation rather than a wholesale digital revolution.

Digital transformation is a long-term process, as are the relationships that bankers seek to foster with their clients. Microsoft’s partner network, industry specialisations and technical expertise – as demonstrated by the Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services – play a key role in enabling this to happen, as well as helping businesses become more sustainable.

Looking ahead: agile banking operations that accelerate growth

One critical insight this debate revealed was the need for banks to create an efficient digital operating environment that can add products and services quickly while helping to mitigate factors like climate risk. Digital transformation can also help make lending smarter as well as faster, while growing the quantity of lending as well. As Rishi Khosla neatly put it, “The trade-off between operational efficiency and growth isn’t actually a trade-off if you’ve got a good operational environment.”

Find out more

Lead new opportunities and advancements in financial services

Scale to revenue: How to leverage fintech solutions to drive growth

4 ways to deliver a personalized banking experience

Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services: Create new value with deeper customer connections

About the author

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As Client Director for Microsoft, Janet is responsible for leading the strategic partnership between Microsoft and one of the UK’s leading banks. She focuses on supporting its transformation, anchored on business outcomes and drawing on Microsoft technology and partner solutions to deliver innovation and strategic change. Prior to this, Janet led Industry Strategy for Financial Services, helping customers address industry-wide challenges and innovate for the future of the industry.

Janet has a background in Corporate and Commercial Banking, having joined Microsoft in 2018 from Lloyds Banking Group and previously held roles at Barclays and NatWest. She has a personal interest in cultural transformation and has also played an active role in supporting the inclusion and diversity agenda during her career.