Finextra Leadership: Life in the fast lane

Finextra Leadership: Life in the fast lane

Finextra talks to David Watson, global head of client access products for Deutsche Bank's global transaction banking business, about how the giant German bank is remodelling its technology platform to address the needs of a younger generation of digitally-savvy corporate treasury managers.

The shake-up in financial services stemming from the emergence of new digital technologies is not just being played out in the retail sector. In the back office plumbing of bank-to-bank and bank-to-corporate transaction processing, a shift to real-time visibility of payments and securities flows is creating demand for more innovative products and agile ways of working. At the same time, a generational change in corporate treasury management staffing is bringing further pressure to bear.

"Nowadays clients, who use our broad suite of electronic banking products, are the same people whose opinions are formed from engaging regularly with applications in the consumer world such as Google, Facebook, and Ebay." Says Watson. "Monolithic transaction banking platforms no longer provide the right services to clients and new demand has emerged for more flexible and simplistic solutions. Clients ask for innovative products which are simple, easy, and intuitive to use and capable of reducing the complexity of their daily work-streams."

Watson joined Deutsche Bank fresh out of the University of Edinburgh in 2001. In 2008 he moved into the Global Transaction Business, which has evolved post-crisis into one of the bank's most important pillars of growth.

Transaction banking as a whole has experienced "monumental change and growth" during this time, says Watson, and the process is ongoing. Now charged with responsibility for access channels to Deutsche Bank's GTB products and services and leadership of the front office IT delivery team, Watson is at the forefront of the technology-led upheavals sweeping through the industry.

He says the institution has made a concerted effort to shake off the perception of commercial banks as lumbering behemoths, unable to react with speed to client demands, by fundamentally restructuring its approach to product development.

"Traditionally, financial products were designed by financial product managers sitting in a room with their sales counterparts and technology counterparts - meaning often in isolation from real market problems and technology trends; a concept which was outdated."

To redress the balance, Deutsche has formed internal product development teams which look for examples of best practice within the bank and seek fresh perspectives from outside of the financial services industry.

"In addition we have dedicated teams who solely focus on user experience," says Watson. "They are in constant touch with our clients and we involve them in the development, testing and implementation process. We also leverage cross-business expertise and regularly exchange best-practices with our colleagues in Corporate Banking & Securities and Global Technology & Operations."

He cites the recent development of a new cash management app to replace the bank's existing db direct internet offering in the Indian market as an example of the new approach in action.

"To get a better understanding on how clients use db direct internet the bank interviewed more than 100 users in Asia Pacific, Europe and the Americas," he says. "We then analysed the client interactions with the system and through behavioural observations, designed online workflows that allow clients to perform their tasks easily and efficiently."

Built using the latest front-end technology toolkit, the resultant Cash Manager App works across a multitude of browsers, operating systems and devices. It facilitates straight-through processing of payments and collections, takes into account local market conventions and offers an innovative dashboard feature that consolidates information, enabling clients to gain quick visibility into their account balance positions, payment statuses and key reports.

The Cash Manager App is the latest addition to DB's Autobahn App Market, an online portfolio of the bank's software applications for the commercial banking business, which now houses 160 apps.

It may borrow its terminology from the mobile sector, but the Autobahn App Market is primarily populated with deskbound applications. This may soon be about to change.

While the disruptive effects of mobile and tablet-based technology are most pronounced in the retail market, the transaction banking business is not immune from the threats posed. Witness Microsoft's recent decision to provide an iOS-based version of its Office suite, and IBM's recent tie-up with Apple with the aim of building more robust, enterprise-ready B2B-based applications.

While the shift to mobile cannot be ignored, Watson stresses the importance of a client-first - rather than technology-led - strategy.

"Developing mobile applications or services for our clients, first and foremost means breaking down the complexity of existing products and making services more accessible and more importantly simplifying their ease of use," he says.

To this end, the bank has recently introduced Autobahn Mobile, which provides access to selected services via iPhones and iPads.

But with big-ticket corporate business at play, Watson strikes a defiantly cautious tone.

"We deliberately adopt a conservative stance to rolling-out mobile services and have decided to slowly expand mobile capabilities to make sure initial client feedback will be considered in further development circles," he says. "This approach ensures that only those apps that bring something valuable to our clients, either by addressing a problem, or creating efficiencies, will come to market."

Comments: (1)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 04 August, 2014, 11:00Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

With respect to ‘enterprise-ready B2B-based applications’, there is another way to ensure applications work for corporate customers which may be complimentary to that deeper research into behaviors and requirements proposed by Deutsche. Enterprise requirements will often be quite diverse and hence a challenge to the cost-effectiveness of a central coding model. Enabling your customers to self-manage and customize and enabling your own non-technical staff to modify and deploy to your customers can encourage change and ‘requirements-fit’ at a far faster rate than through traditional IT routes (even those with open ears). It is often the smaller simpler changes that corporates require – changing the promotion on the customer portal page for example, that cause a lot of pain when a bank takes 6 -12 weeks to complete the change on a PCI-compliant website through its IT department. Opening this type of change to non-technical resource makes sense.

Of course the headline of ‘open’ is the technical IT matter of enabling standard, easy communication with and manipulation of supplied functionality by third-party developers: enabling corporates ‘open’ access to applications so they can modify to fit their particular requirements exactly. As recommended by Gartner, the provision of APIs with, say, a payment product, is one way a bank can enable third-parties to do so and typically can be used to enable corporate customers to integrate the product with their ERP, for example. But for payment product development (with which we at Ixaris are concerned), APIs are too powerful to give to other than trusted parties - handling sensitive transaction/identity data - and this will often mean staying within the bank. But tools that enable transactional apps to be developed without compromising security – see for instance the PayML extension of HTML from Ixaris that enables web developers (as well as IT programmers to design and implement great UX without actually accessing the sensitive data (and without the limitations of tokenization) – are now available too.

And soon there will be tools that enable non-technical staff not just to modify apps (we already do this) but also to combine and customize different components from several payment products to create new payment offerings. An open approach offers huge potential for product development by those closer to the customer and free from many of the constraints of IT – just like picking apps from an app store.

These ideas are converging into the mainstream with coverage by Gartner, Deloitte, Bain and others for some time now. And they are no longer just ideas – the products are available. I think we will see more established banks like Deutsche – as well as new challengers - adopting some or all of the above approaches and ‘disrupting back’, to defend and grow, not only with greater effort in understanding the customer before coding, but in shifting the finessing of products to the corporate customers IT team and to non-technical staff within the bank and within the corporate customer too.