It would be impossible to talk about predictions for the banking industry in 2021 without mentioning the cataclysmic impact that 2020 and the pandemic has had on people, businesses and countries.
Unlike with the global financial crisis, banks have been able to step up as “good guys” this time around, rebuilding their reputations as well as accelerating digital transformation. One of the main outcomes is increasingly smart, efficient online payments.
In 2020, the banking industry innovated like never before. This is the new normal. Overall, customers and society will be the beneficiaries from the changing industry.
Here are my predictions:
Reputations are reborn
Banks across the globe pulled out the stops to integrate and adapt systems and processes to help customers during the pandemic. They offered accommodations in loans, assisted governments with the distribution of financial relief, and supported consumers by upping contactless spending limits and virtual deposits.
In 2021, banks will risk losing that rosy glow as economic circumstances drive them to deal with non-performing loans, mortgage foreclosures, layoffs etc. But, beyond their role in society as providers of capital and liquidity, banks will invest to sustain their reputations as trusted and good corporate citizens and use their power to persuade their customers and providers to adopt higher environmental and ethical standards. This will be in the areas of bank carbon-neutrality, sustainable financing, serving the unbanked, diversity and gender equality (as the number of women running a major global bank will double from one (Jane Fraser at Citi) to two). It’s a start.
Coming of age in the way of working
Back in Q1, when bank employees cranked up their laptops on their dining room tables, banks that were strategically undertaking business transformation accelerated their efforts. Those that were tactical, or on the fence, now understand with painful clarity that this work must be undertaken strategically.
Cracks in process and the way of working and their resulting risks can be crippling. Especially from a back-office perspective, it is not enough to rely on “organizational memory” and collegial proximity for work to get done right. Advanced banks pushed the boundaries of remote work, and the proof of concept was successful. So, they’re doubling down on developing digital twins and moving to the cloud. They’re adopting the hybrid office/WFH approach to reduce health risks and reduce cost permanently. The watercooler will never be the same.
The death of cash
Ok, maybe the rumors of the death of cash are a bit exaggerated since there will always be the need for cash (and, to some extent checks; the USA, for example, cannot seem to live without them). But the pandemic has permanently changed the way that consumers and small businesses bank, and the demotion of cash has been accelerated by a decade by the pandemic. For example, the Norwegian central bank said that cash payments in that country have plummeted to just 4% of transactions since March.
Implications? It will be critical to continue evolving payments to be smart, safe and flexible to compete in new world, in both retail and commercial banking. Also, the permanent change in the mix of channels will see banks’ face-to-face engagement with customers fade. Branches aren’t going to go away entirely, but they will be reserved for high value activities – by appointment only. To compensate, the personal touch has to be delivered digitally and intelligently.
The role of the bank as a “financial wellness partner” is being born. Banks will use customers’ data, not just to personalize and differentiate banking experiences, but to make recommendations for products and services beyond traditional banking from across their ecosystem to serve their customers well. Just as customers own their cash (physical or digital), in the future they will demand that they own their data (and can share it with whom they choose). Then retail and commercial clients will share their data in return for value.
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