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What has COVID-19 taught banks about agile IT?

One of the biggest lessons is that banks need to be able to quickly adapt to change. This was evident from the first lockdown, when financial organisations realised they had to reshape their technology set-up almost overnight. It required leaders to ask key questions like “What’s most and least important to our customers?” and “Do we have a good understanding of service levels and priorities for them?”

The pandemic also forced banks to confront how quickly they could move work around. During COVID-19 there was a huge rise in telephone banking; customer service operations teams were simply not prepared for the deluge of calls. Part of this was driven by customers needing help with digital service completion.

18 months on, some banks have indeed learned their lesson. They have reviewed how well their IT infrastructure is set up to adapt and meet customer expectations. Key to this is how banks can distribute work more smartly to manage staff capacity and an investment in new technology to modernise data management and processes.

So what does this look like? Banks have looked at how much technology, and people flexibility they have built into their operations teams to distribute workloads effectively and optimise service levels to customers. On the people side, this involves thinking about blended sales and service teams with the right levels of cross-skilling to reallocate people to different work queues at volumes shift. It also means looking at how technology can be changed to not just route the work but also guide staff and get the balance right between what can and should be fully automated and what needs a personal touch.

One of the largest banks in North America had teams who worked over a weekend to enable customers to register online that they needed a payments break from their loans. It also went the extra step to link to the Canadian Revenue Agency to help customers get access to benefits they were eligible for. Importantly it had its team set up and technology to adapt quickly.

Similarly in my old home of Australia, Commonwealth Bank of Australia immediately updated its benefits finder app as the state and federal governments made changes to cover hundreds of benefits and guide customers. It estimates it put over $150m of eligible benefits in the hands of customers. Many banks processed record levels of loans – in one case a large US bank processing 18 years’ worth of loans in 45 days. You can’t do that with just great people and operational setup. You need to be able to quickly change and adapt your technology.

Unfortunately, some financial organisations (and many others) are still learning what needs to be done. It’s crazy that some centres are still using the pandemic as an excuse to be slow to answer calls or not even answering some menu paths on their interactive voice response system more than a year and a half after the first lockdown. I had this experience with a large airline a few weeks ago when following the path to let them know I’d be travelling with a bike. Following its online instructions led to… a dead end. What this kind of response shows is that when call centres are overloaded, they don’t have the ability to easily leverage other channels to support customers, for example via app and web help. The root cause of this is often the ability to integrate across channels to get work done.

Accelerating digital transformation

The other big lesson was that bank IT leaders needed to accelerate digital transformation and IT projects. People have joked about COVID-19 being a big accelerator of digital change, but the fact is a lot of banks had big plans in place before the pandemic. These included reducing the number of locations for example, including major office sites, and branches. For example, a number of banks were already experimenting with branch specific set ups around for example more specialised units for lending mortgages.

The difficulty is, most banks still have a way to go to completely digitally transform. For all banks, there’s still internal battles about what to prioritise, where to focus most investment, how to get the best return and how to maximise the benefit of new technology for customers.

The ideal solution for many established banks is to invest in an agile low code platform that allows them to ‘wrap and renew’ old legacy technology. That means they can carefully transition away from decades-old systems – effectively ‘hollowing out’ – without causing disruption to everyday operations. In doing so, senior bank leaders and technology teams can easily collaborate to agree the most effective processes for managing work in the future. It also means they can quickly and easily adapt applications when they are no longer fit for purpose or need tweaking to account for new situations as they arise.

If we’ve learnt anything in the last 18 months, it’s about being adaptable and ready for change. However, it’s also about how to make that change easy both in the design and delivery. Agility not in the sense of just an agile approach to technology, but for business overall.


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Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan

Banking Industry Market Lead


Member since

04 Sep 2019



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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

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