Three technologies shaping the banking industry, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic

As we’ve already mentioned on previous occasions, the changes driving the world towards unprecedented levels of digitalisation were with us long before the coronavirus appeared. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t responsible for the rise of online shopping, the popularity of online entertainment platforms or increasing numbers of people working from home. However, what the pandemic has done is to accelerate the incorporation of these things into our daily lives and prove that they’re viable alternatives to the old way of doing things.
The same can be said for the impact on banking and the financial sector. Online banking isn’t exactly a recent invention, but the outbreak of the pandemic and the change in behaviour brought about by confinement measures has allowed a scalability which was practically unthinkable just a year ago. Customers have seen previously limited functions expand and become more accessible. Meanwhile, banks and financial institutions have seen how digital tools can increase their impact, reach and capabilities, allowing them not just to gain more customers and build customer loyalty but also to explore new business channels and expand their presence within existing markets.
This effect is further amplified if we consider unstoppable trends like open banking, which have come out of this scenario even stronger. By encouraging the entry of new competitors and allowing third-party applications access to bank accounts, the digital acceleration caused by the pandemic has boosted innovation in a sector which was already showing signs of tiredness with the traditional model. And like all changes that happen naturally and organically, these will be lasting changes, even if they’re the result of something as abrupt as COVID-19.
None of this is just wild speculation. According to the World Economic Forum website, these observations have been reaffirmed by the 2020 edition of an annual investigation carried out by software consultants Tenemos and the Economist Intelligence Unit. In this global study on the future of banking, researchers drew conclusions based on interviews with more than 300 executives of retail banks, commercial banks and private banks, of which more than half are at C-suite level within their organisations.

The results of the 2020 investigation suggest which trends seem destined to shape the future of the banking industry, and they’re led by the systematic use of new technologies. In fact, two thirds of those surveyed claimed that new technologies will have the greatest impact on banking in the next five years. More important than the figure itself, what is noteworthy is that this represents a 57% increase from last year’s figure. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the possibilities that new technologies can provide for addressing customer demands, shifting external environments and the emergence of external competitors. They have moved from being a problem to being a useful ally.

One technology that leads the way in terms of adoption is Cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS), which has low infrastructure costs that allow banks to quickly create and change products. Almost 17 of every 20 executives believe that the cloud will be transformative in banking, to the extent that more than a quarter of those surveyed claim that it will be a principal focus for them for the next few years. In fact, the Cloud and SaaS have allowed banks to operate in the same way as those who have always been considered their most embattled competitors, fintechs, who are instead increasingly revealing themselves to be strategic partners. “In just three weeks”, claims the study’s authors, “Atlantic Union Bank in the US used a cloud-based SaaS solution to fund over $1.4bn in Government Paycheck Protection Program loans for 6,500 businesses. EQ Bank – Canada’s first digitally-born bank – has used the scalability of Cloud to meet the surge in digital demand and recently reach $3 billion in deposits.”

But no map of new technologies would be complete these days if it didn’t include Artificial Intelligence (AI). If Cloud and SaaS are already safe bets, the decision of whether or not to adopt AI will be the difference between winners and losers. Over three quarters of those surveyed in this research (77%) claim that it will be the biggest game-changer in the banking industry.

This is because banks see a wide range of uses for AI. Many see great potential for improving customer experience through personalisation whilst others see uses for supporting new businesses or strengthening their portfolio management. Finally, since digital transformation is an end-to-end process, those surveyed are looking to implement AI in fraud detection and back-office functions in their future business plans. In fact, it has been the focus of technology investment 33% of executives globally, second only to cybersecurity, which really shouldn’t be a surprise in this sector.

Lastly, the study highlights that the digital transformation in banking goes beyond the mere application of technology when providing services. It also affects the business model itself. Almost half (45%) of respondents are “committed to transforming business models into digital ecosystems and making the bank the centre of these platforms”.

In keeping with this digital consolidation caused by the pandemic, simply providing services via the internet or mobile apps is no longer considered to be transformative. This is a change in the method of access, but the business models themselves have remained the same. However, the ecosystem model provides the opportunity to implement intuitive self-learning software which truly integrates banking into our everyday lives, moulded to suit each customers experiences, abilities and needs.

“The current environment is undoubtedly challenging for banks. The behavioural and economic effects of the coronavirus crisis will be profound and come on top of lingering financial, operational and consumer pressures”, conclude the study’s authors. “With these elements in place, banks will cut costs and drive efficiencies, helping them weather the coming storm and redefine their value to customers in a shifting market.”
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