“An analogy for business leaders in the financial industry that compares the challenging times of today’s technological enterprise transformation with the changes during the time of the industrial revolution when steam ships ended the centuries-long era of sailing ships.”
In 1971, the BBC began broadcasting a series on the history of James Onedin, who, as captain and later as shipowner, lived through the stormy times of industrialisation and the conversion of the entire industry from sailing to steam navigation. The series, which takes place in Victorian England in the second half of the 19th century, describes in a special way the subtleties of the interplay of a changing market. New technologies, new skills of market participants, increased conflict potential between entrepreneurs and managers and reorientation in an environment of shrinking margins – special challenges for those who tried to continue their business as before: with sailing ships.
The captain is responsible for bringing his ship, crew and cargo safely and within a specified time and financial framework to the port of destination. But what if the ship is no longer able to do this and the competition suddenly moves across the blue oceans with completely different ships? What if the shipowner does not have the capacity to trust the new technologies or simply does not have the financial resources to re-equip his fleet? And what about the crew? Does the crew has the necessary skills to sail on the new ships?
Many captains of banks and financial institutions seem to have this scenario all too present. E.g. due to declining customer traffic in bank branches, the high costs for a broad branch network are hardly to be paid today. Germany as a financial centre is “overbanked”, interest rates in the basement – the conditions in Germany for successful banking have never been as challenging as they are now. To this end, customers are continuing to drive change in the industry with their changing demands on digital tools.
Outwaiting a problem or tackling it
The complexity of economic changes has been enormous in every epoch, the difference to current upheavals lies in the temporal component. If companies do not react immediate to market changes today, they might loose their customers faster than ever before. In such disruptive times, all those involved want an “efficient” change process. The only problem is that the term “change” is so omnipresent that it is often perceived as stress and overload. As a result, many levels of management fall into one of the following situations: either they try to sit out the situation and leave change to their successors, or they push many, often less effective measures in an attack of blind actionism. Active, thoughtful and vital change management is often neglected.
More entrepreneurial thinking
Processes of change require both superiors and employees. If the existing situation cannot be improved or adapted at any vertical level, it must be questioned. Concluding, this means for all those involved that situations must always be reflected and corrective measures initiated at an early stage.
Understanding the corporate culture is vital for a successful transformation
In many companies, however, this need for action, which has a high potential for conflict, is often insufficiently communicated. In some places there is a lack of interest for employee issues, a lack of error and conflict culture and a minimal willingness to change. If banks neglect these issues, change processes threaten to fail on a broad basis. This means that managers in a disruptive environment have a natural need for action. The implementation of new strategies, systems and structures and early adaptation to changing market situations are vital factors for survival. A well-known quote by former US President Wodrow Wilson (1913-1921) is particularly valid for today’s highly competitive financial sector: “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
Those companies that create the change will share the large financial services market with the new market players and use instruments that did not exist in the classic banking of the past.
Just like James Onedin, who for the longest time was an advocate of classic sailing ships, finally added a modern steamship to his fleet. And to facilitate the change for himself personally, he named the ship after someone he loved.
Author: Angelika Breinich-Schilly interviewed Jochen Werne, Director Marketing, Business Development, Treasury & Payment Services at Bankhaus August Lenz.
Banks need to do a lot to keep pace in an increasingly digital world. In an interview with Springer Professional, Jochen Werne from Bankhaus August Lenz talks about the challenges they have to face and the right strategies.
Springer Professional: Mr. Werne, what do you see as the most important driver of change in banks that is being invoked everywhere? Is it just the ongoing digitalization or do you see other reasons that require a strategic change process of the institutes?
Jochen Werne: The industry is undergoing what is probably a historic upheaval. We live in times of exponential technologies and in addition to the cost-side necessity of digitizing a large part of the processes of the institutes, the rapid change in customer expectations associated with technology, poses great challenges to an industry which is not known for being greatly agile. This disruption will eclipse many things and later perhaps be judged as revolutionary as the invention of the steam engine. In recent weeks, this has hardly made anything as clear as the rise of the online payment processor Wirecard. Wirecard was not only able to outperform Commerzbank in the DAX in September. Founded in 1999, the company has already overtaken Deutsche Bank in terms of market capitalization. In addition to the ongoing digitalization, there are also other current challenges: The low interest rate phase, which has now already lasted for a long time, is putting massive pressure on the margins of traditional houses. Political crises, trade disputes, currency problems such as in Turkey and Brexit naturally also have a direct effect on the classic business models of banks: In the future, they will have to adapt more than ever and increasingly prove their agility. The exponential leaps in technology and ever shorter product cycles are forcing the global economy as a whole to change and adapt to changing circumstances more than ever before. Kodak is a good example. For the sake of simplification, the company has often been accused of not being far-sighted, but it has failed because of a culture that has allowed little change. Two letters are currently electrifying the economy: AI. After decades of disinterest, artificial intelligence is suddenly once again regarded as the decisive guarantor of a company’s future viability. The immediate integration of AI into one’s own business model seems indispensable, even vital for survival. Without smart software, you’d think you were dedicated to meaninglessness. Similar to Facebook, the financial industry holds very valuable data. The preparation and processing of this data will not only become easier with maturing AI systems, but also much faster, cheaper and more targeted. It is nevertheless private and sensitive data. In order to make this resource usable in conjunction with external data, the industry must at the same time ensure its long-term security. Data may only be used in the sense of the customer, the human being – an objective that certainly has to apply to all AI-based approaches. Artificial intelligence offers an enormous range of opportunities for companies to be closer to their customers. But it also has its limits and here we are not only talking about technical limits, but also about limits that arise when the customer’s mindset does not go hand in hand with what is technically possible. Technology will only prevail if people accept it. Too radical a step, without consideration for all three areas Human, Digital and Culture, is always counterproductive.
Springer Professional: You describe that many decision-makers in the banks are well aware of the necessary changes in the business model. At the same time, however, top management often does not seem to set a concrete course and have corresponding visions. Why do you think that is?
Jochen Werne:Digitization, technological advances and the acceleration of product cycles are forcing executives to reposition their businesses. The question is no longer whether and why companies should change and introduce a more flexible organizational form, but only: How quickly and sustainably can they do it? The need for successful Change Management is not new and digitization was not an unforeseeable event. What is new, however, is the sum of the technical innovations, the possibilities offered by the technological leaps and the resulting need for extremely high implementation speeds. This circumstance has far-reaching effects on the entire management of the company. This often leads to different change processes overlaying each other, individual change processes being interrupted, modified or restarted and the organization being in a state of continuous change. And this also applies to the manager.
Springer Professional: In order to become a driver of innovation as a bank, it is necessary to anticipate not only upcoming technological but also social changes, some of which still vary greatly from region to region. One example is the payment behaviour of customers, which looks different in Germany than in other European countries or even in Asia. Many financial service providers now have think tanks or innovation labs to take on this task. But does some good ideas go up in smoke due to poorly thought-out change management?
Jochen Werne:Every new innovative offering must be easy for the customer to understand, intuitive to use and as a bank, absolutely trustworthy in terms of data security. The customer relies on the security of the communication channels as well as the careful handling of his private data. The challenge is to ensure data protection while at the same time providing the highest possible level of customer convenience. The resources of traditional banks offer enormous advantages here. An established bank is perceived as a brand by its clients, who at best associate it with important values such as trustworthiness, competence, industry knowledge and personal service. This trust is enormously important to us and should definitely be used.
Springer Professional:Companies in other industries sometimes find it easier to cope with change processes because they are not subject to additional strict regulations, as is the case with banks. Nevertheless, financial service providers such as Wirecard have succeeded in clearly differentiating themselves from traditional banks with their business model. Recently, the share value of this Fintech has even overtaken Deutsche Bank, the industry leader, as the most valuable institution. What can the industry learn from this?
Jochen Werne:Laws and guidelines have a strong influence on the competitive situation. MIFID II and PSD II are prime examples of this. In the second case, industry experts predicted that the mere opening of the banking infrastructure to third parties would lead to a major shift in competition. This is a big advantage for FinTechs, but also the FinTech industry, which is already in the process of market consolidation, has to make considerable investments and adjustments, even if the new regulations now also open up new market opportunities. Non-adaptable service providers without sustainable and a viable business models will be driven out of the market, as will banks whose offerings do not meet the needs of customers in a digital world. The example shows not only the usefulness of cooperation, but also its necessity. The advantages of banks, such as routine handling of regulatory issues or cross-selling opportunities due to the existing customer base, will continue to exist even after the market consolidation of the FinTech industry and the introduction of new technological standards.
Springer Professional: In order to be a driver of innovation, a bank does not necessarily have to handle all tasks alone. Where and when do cooperations with Fintechs make sense from your point of view?
Jochen Werne: What some have, others lack. Banks have a solid customer base, greater financial resources and, most importantly, a banking licence and the necessary know-how to deal with the relevant regulatory authorities. In addition, traditional financial institutions with many years of market experience, expertise in customer business and their trust can score points. Fintechs, on the other hand, have business models that are geared precisely to bringing innovative, customer-centric digital tools to market in a short space of time. Strategic alliances make sense, because ultimately everyone benefits – especially the customers. Not only the young generation today has very high demands on innovative mobile banking, but all age groups have discovered the new mobile possibilities in a very short time. Personal access to customers, which has persisted despite all the financial crises to date, is a sign that banks have preserved their most important asset – the trust of their customers. In an increasingly transparent and open financial world, however, the extent to which the customer’s loyalty to his bank will remain, is open.