By Roman Regelman
The urgency to digitize even faster was a theme throughout the CONNECT20 sessions (watch CEO Todd Gibbons’ opening remarks here). It’s one of the greatest imperatives that arose across the corporate world during the early phase of the pandemic lockdown. Where would we be, the thinking goes, if the pandemic hit and the world didn’t have the digital tools that already exist to connect and work outside the office?
Some believe that going digital fast for the sake of going digital fast is more important than the measured, thoughtful and deliberate digitization goals that the world’s most successful global banks have achieved over the past decade. (I think there is a middle ground.) It’s a debate that will undoubtedly continue, but one thing is for certain: Digital transformation is only as strong as the ecosystem in which it exists.
Building stronger ecosystems is an enormous challenge for all companies in the post-COVID world—not just those in the financial services industry. True, we need to forge ahead with even greater digital accomplishments than ever before, but first we need to focus on strengthening the ecosystems that got us here in the first place.
As recently as four years ago, a Gartner survey found that 71 percent of financial services CEOs believed their firms could compete in a digital world while keeping essentially the same economic model. Today, it’s safe to say that none of them thinks that way. The digitization of a bank’s core can’t occur without a vibrant, open ecosystem of developers, collaborators, policy makers and, yes, sometimes even rivals.
Evolving Beyond the Core
Remember the advent of the automated teller machine? It was supposed to be the death knell of the bank teller, if not the bank branch altogether. But the new technology actually saw branches proliferate, as well as tellers and other associates who could offer customers more products and services when they were dropping by to withdraw some cash. What had happened was that banks learned how to develop a branch ecosystem built on the ATM that delivered far more value for their clients than making simple deposits and withdrawals.
Today banks have become more open to innovative fintechs and pure-play technology companies because expanding their ecosystems has a high correlation to digitizing the way they do business. Two of the innovative fintechs that we featured at CONNECT20, Proxymity and Early Warning Systems (the parent company of Zelle), are bringing the kind of digital services to market that address our clients’ needs. Although each company focuses on its own speciality, they both bring an amazing array of collaborators together in a consortium.
There are more than 10,000 financial institutions in the United States alone, and they face similar challenges. Working together in a consortium allows for an efficient way to bring solutions to market. When all parties trust and rely on each other, the pace of innovation increases as well. That’s not to say operating a fintech consortium is easy. After all, many of its members compete against each other (Proxymity got its start within Citi, for instance). But it says a lot about the sheer advantages of pooling resources and brainpower that market rivals are willing to cooperate—what many like to call “coopetition.”
Strengthening the Global Mindset
If anything, the pandemic showed how interconnected the world has become. When a bank in one country teams up with a telecommunications provider in another and uses the cloud capabilities of a third in order to provide mobile payments to an underserved population, that’s a global ecosystem that can grow outward and become more efficient and inclusive as more entities contribute to it. In the session “The Fintech within BNY Mellon,” we highlighted how our Data and Analytics Solutions team is collaborating with technology companies like Microsoft and academic institutions like Maastricht University.
Some ecosystems aren’t quite fully developed to match the technology of the products and services within them. Robo advisors help alleviate the role of the advisor. But human advice remains paramount when investors need help with complex matters or markets turn choppy. That’s why it’s important to consider how BNY Mellon is constantly re-imagining itself. We strike the right balance between maintaining the trust built with our clients over centuries and a willingness to be open to bold experimentation and open collaboration. (Really, if we do the latter right, it should enhance that trust.)
Our commitment to making our ecosystems as inclusive as possible is also important. When viewpoints become more varied and diverse, every member benefits.
As we rebuild a post-COVID world, we should be mindful of creating ecosystems based on what clients and customers truly want and need. Another of our exciting fintech collaborators, Symphony, has become the largest community of financial counterparties and professionals. During the program we explored how Symphony is expanding its ecosystem, moving beyond core chat to incorporating bots, natural language processing and AI into their ecosystem and letting firms like BNY Mellon innovate on top of their platform.
The post-COVID world will be dominated by companies that lose their reactive stance that kept them steady during the pandemic and instead carefully carry out digital transformations within the most open, innovative and expanding ecosystems.
To view all of the CONNECT20 sessions, click here.
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