By Kris Sharma, Finance Sector Lead at Canonical
Financial services are an important part of the economy and play a wider role in providing liquidity and capital across the globe. But ongoing political uncertainty and the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis have deep implications for the UK’s financial services sector.
In a post-Brexit world, the industry is facing regulatory uncertainty at a whole different scale, with banking executives having to understand the implications of different scenarios, including no-deal. To reduce the risk of significant disruption, financial services firms require the right technology infrastructure to be agile and responsive to potential changes.
The role of open source
Historically, banks have been hesitant to adopt open source software. But over the course of the last few years, that thinking has begun to change. Organisations like the Open Bank Project and Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS) have come about with the aim of pioneering open source adoption by highlighting the benefits of collaboration within the sector. Recent acquisitions of open source companies by large and established corporate technology vendors signal that the technology is maturing into mainstream enterprise play. Banking leaders are adopting open innovation strategies to lower costs and reduce time-to-market for products and services.
Banks must prepare to rapidly implement changes to IT systems in order to comply with new regulations, which may be a costly task if firms are solely relying on traditional commercial applications. Changes to proprietary software and application platforms at short notice often have hidden costs for existing contractual arrangements due to complex licensing. Open source technology and platforms could play a crucial role in helping financial institutions manage the consequences of Brexit and the COVID-19 crisis for their IT and digital functions.
Open source software gives customers the ability to spin up instances far more quickly and respond to rapidly changing scenarios effectively. Container technology has brought about a step-change in virtualisation technology, providing almost equivalent levels of resource isolation as a traditional hypervisor. This in turn offers considerable opportunities to improve agility, efficiency, speed, and manageability within IT environments. In a survey conducted by 451 Research, almost a third of financial services firms see containers and container management as a priority they plan to begin using within the next year.
Containerisation also enables rapid deployment and updating of applications. Kubernetes, or K8s for short, is an open-source container-orchestration system for deploying, monitoring and managing apps and services across clouds. It was originally designed by Google and is now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Kubernetes is a shining example of open source, developed by a major tech company, but now maintained by the community for all, including financial institutions, to adopt.
The data dilemma
The use cases for data and analytics in financial services are endless and offer tangible solutions to the consequences of uncertainty. Massive data assets mean that financial institutions can more accurately gauge the risk of offering a loan to a customer. Banks are already using data analytics to improve efficiency and increase productivity, and going forward, will be able to use their data to train machine learning algorithms that can automate many of their processes.
For data analytics initiatives, banks now have the option of leveraging the best of open source technologies. Databases today can deliver insights and handle any new sources of data. With models flexible enough for rich modern data, a distributed architecture built for cloud scale, and a robust ecosystem of tools, open source platforms can help banks break free from data silos and enable them to scale their innovation.
Open source databases can be deployed and integrated in the environment of choice, whether public or private cloud, on-premise or containers, based on business requirements. These database platforms can be cost effective; projects can begin as prototypes and develop quickly into production deployments. As a result of political uncertainty, financial firms will need to be much more agile. And with no vendor lock-in, they will be able to choose the provider that is best for them at any point in time, enabling this agility while avoiding expensive licensing.
As with any application running at scale, production databases and analytics applications require constant monitoring and maintenance. Engaging enterprise support for open source production databases minimises risk for business and can optimise internal efficiency.
Additionally, AI solutions have the potential to transform how banks deal with regulatory compliance issues, financial fraud and cybercrime. However, banks need to get better at using customer data for greater personalisation, enabling them to offer products and services tailored to individual consumers in real time. As yet, most financial institutions are unsure whether a post-Brexit world will focus on gaining more overseas or UK-based customers. With a data-driven approach, banks can see where the opportunities lie and how best to harness them. The opportunities are vast and, on the journey to deliver cognitive banking, financial institutions have only just scratched the surface of data analytics. But as the consequences of COVID-19 continue and Brexit uncertainty once again moves up the agenda, moving to data-first will become less of a choice and more of a necessity.
The number of data sets and the diversity of data is increasing across financial services, making data integration tasks ever more complex. The cloud offers a huge opportunity to synchronise the enterprise, breaking down operational and data silos across risk, finance, regulatory, customer support and more. Once massive data sets are combined in one place, the organisation can apply advanced analytics for integrated insights.
Uncertainty on the road ahead
Open source technology today is an agile and responsive alternative to traditional technology systems that provides financial institutions with the ability to deal with uncertainty and adapt to a range of potential outcomes.
In these unpredictable times, banking executives need to achieve agility and responsiveness while at the same time ensuring that IT systems are robust, reliable and managed effectively. And with the option to leverage the best of open source technologies, financial institutions can face whatever challenges lie ahead.