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Wall Street futures flat, global stocks stumble, oil slides as inflation, earnings loom large

By Michael Chalmers, MD EMEA at Contino

COVID is forcing extraordinary change in the financial services industry. It’s happening fast, already uprooting insurance, transforming payments and changing the way we interact with our customers across the industry.

But for the 4000 UK financial services providers who are at critical risk due to COVID-19, these tales of success should come with a warning. Disruption in the industry certainly won’t come overnight.

Only the most interconnected web of people, technology and culture can produce effective disruption at this critical time. Discover below the key trends we’re seeing in financial services, and how to upskill, empower and equip teams in order to create the organisational impetus for this transformation and disruption, in an industry known for its monolithic ways of working.

Top Technology Trends in Financial Services for 2021

As we enter another year of uncertainty, financial services organisations–and their customers–are looking for technology solutions that promise above all, flexibility.

Partnerships between retailers and payments companies that can deliver greater flexibility for consumers as well as increased reliability for retailers will boom in 2021. Even before the pandemic, we saw the flourishing of partnerships between retailers and Klarna, the ‘buy-now-pay-later’ online payment processing firm. With the impact of the downturn likely to continue well into 2021, add-on services that offer more options to support merchant resilience will be essential.

Many companies have embraced ‘fluid’ payment ecosystems capable of handling multiple digital payment solutions but only those capable of capturing data insights to drive their product innovation and sales strategies will reap the full benefits. Real-time user profiles, fraud anomaly detection and personalisation, are all enabling marginal gains for payment providers that will differentiate them from competitors in 2021.

But don’t run before you can walk

Before businesses can jump on new technology trends however, it’s critical to ensure they have an innovative culture in place. This will form the foundation for effective disruption. Here are my four tips for building a solid foundation.

1)    Focus on data, with the customer at the centre

Customer experience is the central element to all disruption in the financial services today. Respond in real-time to customer queries. Better still, anticipate the customers’ next need before they’re even aware of it. All of this is made possible through a connected view of data.

Businesses should continue to embrace technologies such as AI and ML to harness customer insights and respond to customer needs–whether that’s approving a loan or recommend a new offer.

From answering customer queries and personalising banking experiences to revenue accounting and trade settlement dashboards, advanced data capabilities will continue to be critical.

2)    Be realistic about what your team can achieve–and up-skill if need be

In my own work, I’ve seen that digital transformation is most effective when it factors in the abilities of the existing team–but that doesn’t mean leaving them on their own.

First, collaboration is key. IT and data teams must form internal partnerships in order to get plugged into the business side of things. Critically, they must be present in the boardroom. For many years, those with technical skills have been left out of planning meetings. But their knowledge is absolutely critical, especially when it comes to choosing the right tech stack to enable innovation.

If it becomes apparent that the team is lacking in the necessary tech capabilities, outsourcing is extremely valuable. But beware: it is essential to focus on building up internal capability in order to create long-lasting change–and scrimping on the upskilling for cost reasons will only result in greater expense. Bring in fully trained teams to both implement tech and upskill to foster stronger teams internally.

3)    Enable innovation in a worry-free environment

In order to remain competitive in the modern marketplace, and to ensure long-term survivability, financial services organisations must transform their business models to focus on digital innovation and customer expectations.

It’s no secret that the cloud enables organisations to innovate at speed and scale. However, before teams can get stuck in, it’s crucial to ensure they have safe cloud environments in which to explore and innovate.

Developers must be given the freedom to evaluate new technologies and to make any necessary changes to enable rapid creation of business value. Having this flexibility and foresight when implementing and rolling out your public cloud solutions means that ideas can truly come from anywhere in the organisation.

4)    Don’t just get the cloud, get the cloud right

The adoption of cloud is now widespread, but those who can optimise it will be reaping the rewards in speed, efficiency and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. Cloud shouldn’t just be a platform to build in–it should help to inform decisions and facilitate new ways of working, ultimately producing something greater than the sum of its parts. Building out cloud-native engineering, culture and operating models will future proof the capability of financial services organisations.

Finally, cloud capabilities should be rolled out right across the organisation. Contino research shows that, while 77% of organisations have adopted the public cloud, only a tiny proportion have actually scaled this out across the organisation. To do so means you’re able to share data across every department, to every person, creating a data-driven culture which will hugely benefit all decision-making going forward.

Prepare the ground and seeds will grow

Disruption is achievable for every financial service organisation in the UK market today – yes, even legacy brands. But the saving grace for those that are struggling at the moment needn’t be the debut of an exciting new product or pipping a competitor to the post with a partnership. It will be the construction of a collaborative and creative culture from which innovative ideas can grow – without being choked by unavailable data, the fear of upsetting day-to-day operations, or restrictive team structures. Innovation is what will pick today’s struggling financial services providers up and get them out of danger.

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