Long reads

Using technology to transform, not run around in circles

Marco Mottadelli

Marco Mottadelli

Head of Global Brokerage, Fineco Bank

It may strike some as self-evident, but we are the midst of one of the most rapid transformations in the history of the banking centre. At the core of this shift is digital transformation, as the banking industry looks to adapt and synthesise the incredible gains made elsewhere in society and make it relevant for how people save, invest and spend. But for all the promise – and the hundreds of speeches and conferences – it can be hard to identify what progress has really been made on issues of note.

A paper from EY’s banking and wealth management practice identified three steps for a bank to create a strong digital culture from upgrading systems, re-allocating resources and developing performance management tools. It is the ability of newer and digital-first organisations to skip over the first step that gives these native players an advantage. Without legacy systems to upgrade, focus can completely be placed on the correct allocation of resources and improving performance.

But that doesn’t mean digital banks always follow a path that guarantees customer responsiveness. Here in the United Kingdom, we have seen a number of initiatives around premium cards and subscription services introduced to fanfare only to quietly be pulled several months later. A related phenomenon impacted some of the largest banks in the country, who have spent millions on independent ‘millennial banks’ with bold colours and new products. These also have failed to move the needle, and have been mostly mothballed.

So how can banks use technology in a way that actually moves them in the direction of impactful digital transformation? While it is impossible to be correct all of the time, at Fineco we have found that keeping certain principles in mind increases the chance of success. Here are five rules for the road when it comes to maximising the impact of new technology.

Bring in experts who speak the language – Banks need internal teams that have the necessary market and financial expertise to develop products that will pass regulatory muster. They also need people with backgrounds in consumer technology and quantitative science so they can nimbly adapt technology brought in elsewhere. For example, at Fineco, we place a huge focus on ensuring our online platforms can withstand high market volatility, which is why over 20% of our staff are employed in IT. There’s no time for either group of specialists to learn on the job – rather experts need to collaborate in a team model.

Staff your bank with your target market – Banks stumble when they try to imagine new market segments strictly in theoretical terms. If people in their 60s are a major area of focus, make sure representatives of that generation are inside the bank. The same goes for Gen Z and millennials. We make sure to bring these people into discussions, both at our headquarters in Milan and with staff based in the United Kingdom. They may not always be right, but they have a useful perspective.

Integration is key – Digital systems should make it seamless for customers to move information and analysts from one part of the system to another. Single sign-on and automatic transfer of data should make customers want to do more and more inside a unified product. Manual copy and paste is a sign of overly elaborate and poorly thought out design. At Fineco, we are passionate about integration, which is why we have always believe in a model where our banking services to offer trading services and access to a wide range of funds.

Add simplicity, not complexity – Too much banking ‘innovation’ has been adding more products into an already crowded and undistinguished line of solutions. That makes it harder for customers to find the services they actually use. Bank infrastructure should allow for customisation and simple navigation, so users can understand what they are doing.

Constantly solicit feedback – Customer expectations are fickle. What might seem OK now might change as expectations or desires evolve. It is important to have a steady stream of feedback to understand what’s working. Use a mix of quantitative metrics and inputs such as time on app and downloads combined with qualitative feedback from a changing and representative groups of users to ensure you evolve with users.

The speed of change in banking is unlikely to change, but banks can better adapt to this pace of change.

Preparation and equipment is critical. Consider this analogy. Running 30 kilometers an hour is a nearly superhuman feat, something only elite athletes can achieve for short periods of time. With the help of a couple wheels and a helmet, it’s something nearly any fit person can do for minutes at a time. In a car, it’s no problem at all. Banks who take the time to build a car now will be better able to arrive at their next destination, no matter what road their customers follow.

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