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You're not cool enough for mobile

As you can imagine, Sibos is a showcase for the dark suit (no matter the weather).  You can see some fight against the greys, blacks and blues - the sharp tie, the custom made lining, the Day-Glo nail polish, patterned tights or snazzy heels. But by and large, the sober suit (for men and women) tends to win the sartorial challenge at shows like Sibos.

But does that mean Sibos is a show devoid of ‘cool’? If suits, ties and ironed shirts equal conservative thought, push back and a lack of innovative thinking, then conversely those that wear rumpled t-shirts and skinny jeans are automatically cutting edge, forward thinking, and ‘cool’, right?

Why trust one [outfit] and not the other? That's politics, innit? And we all know how well politics drives innovation.

This straightforward ‘us vs them’ way of looking at the world, reared its simple head at the end of the Mobile Workforce – Hype vs Reality session on Day 2. I posed some questions concerning IT security, operational procedures and the challenges facing the financial services industry when empowering their employees with mobile to Christopher Remondi, CIO and Partner, Brown Brothers Harriman and Carol Sormilic, Vice President, Global Workforce and Digital Enablement Executive, IBM. Christopher and Carol gave presentations, answered questions, while sitting on stage in their Sibos-ready suits (you can watch the Sibos TV video here).

Towards the end, an audience member raised his hand to comment ‘You guys don’t look cool enough to be talking about mobile.’

Oh please, it’s like those people who send out inane tweets about how ‘impressed’ they are that banks have innovation departments. Go home; I’m bored with you now.

The amount of conferences I go to where someone gets up to spout some random statistic about there being more cell phones than toothbrushes in the world or how bank branches are disintegrating before our eyes because EVERYONE banks on their phones – what exactly does someone who ‘talks about mobile’ look like, then?

If mobile is no longer the ‘alternative channel’ but is the channel – doesn’t it mean that those that don the tie and slip on the heels are now actively ‘talking about mobile’? Isn’t that a good thing?

Brown Brothers Harriman is the oldest and largest private bank in the United States. According to Chris, in two years there will be no traditional desktops at BBH. The world my parents grew up in, where work was relegated into nine to five day and the most sophisticated technology most people came in contact with was at their office desk, is long gone.

Work has changed and technology has driven that change (well, *duh* you say). Instead of ignoring that change, BBH is facing it head on. According to Chris only two percent of mobile workers are ‘working from home’. Mobile at work is about bringing your own device, having access to all your relevant materials when traveling or on the road, it means offices can better use real estate and space with hot desking and yes, it means you can attend your child’s soccer game or school play knowing that you are enabled with a device that keeps you in the loop at work.  

Chris wasn’t all sunshine and flowers on stage at Sibos, he did concede to a certain amount of ingrained ‘push back’ within financial services regarding mobile working, despite claiming he was still ‘bullish’ on mobile. His advice was simple. If you want tech-savvy people to work at your bank, you have to allow them to be tech-savvy in your bank.

IBM started looking at a mobile enabled workforce four years ago, according to Carol, which in tech years might as well have been forty years ago. However, it has not been without challenges and hiccups. IBM’ers are encouraged to ‘bring their own device’ to work and join the mobile programme. The programme allows staff to use their smartphone or tablets for work as long as they follow certain security and operational procedures. Those procedures have at times proven difficult for staff – such as personal applications on devices requiring extra passwords for example. Some IBM staffers have even ‘opted out’ of the mobile programme because of these barriers. However, Carol said that IBM is working towards improving the employee experience with their mobile programme, while maintaining a high level of IT security (not always an easy process).

Is that cool or not cool? I don’t really care. When present hype becomes future reality it’s because the culture and environment has changed for everyone from the young and tech-savvy to the grey and dark suited. Innovation doesn’t come in a t-shirt or a tie, it comes from people.  The financial services industry can’t afford to dismiss any forward thinkers, even if they show up dressed in a burlap sack.  

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Elizabeth Lumley

Elizabeth Lumley

Global FinTech Commentator

Girl, Disrupted

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

Future Finance

Finextra and Oracle have gathered together some of the industry's top thought leaders to discuss, debate and analyse the key trends and issues within transaction banking, regulations and retail banking. This group will focus on upcoming regulations, new service offerings and industry debate shaping the new financial services landscape with regular blog posts, video interviews, webcasts debates and surveys.


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