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Cloud in Banking: An Opportunity That Can’t be Ignored

Cloud in Banking: An Opportunity That Can’t be Ignored 3

By David Rimmer, Research Associate at Leading Edge Forum

Originally offered as a better way to build IT systems, cloud itself did not transform the business. Fundamentally, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), as its name suggests, represented a new service model. IaaS brought a radical change in the commercial model for IT (rent vs. buy) and in the time taken to provision IT (instant self-service vs. the months of a standard procurement cycle), but ultimately the same system was still operating in a datacentre somewhere. ‘Lifting and shifting’ systems to the cloud delivered no discernible value for customers. At best, cloud enabled enterprises to provide value indirectly through ability to develop capabilities faster, for example by re-engineering and migrating systems to the cloud to harness its flexibility and speed.

This is absolutely not the case now. Cloud today is as much about delivering business capabilities as it is about IT. The hyperscalers are rapidly building out the range and number of services that they offer. For instance, at the end of 2017, AWS offered around 90 services; today the number is 225. The hyperscalers have expanded their portfolio of tools for developers to build cloud-native applications, thereby enabling more rapid development and testing, but the crucial departure from around 2017 onwards has been the addition of value-adding business components. In particular, the hyperscalers are building specialist services targeted at the major technology trends – for example: blockchain, Internet of Things, edge computing, immersive real-time experiences through 5G, streaming and visualisation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, unstructured data extraction and analysis, digital identity management, marketing analytics and automation.

The hyperscalers are also adding industry-focused solutions – for instance in banking: fraud APIs, payment services, financial data services and solutions optimised for specific core banking systems. Yet, for many, this mental transition has not yet been made, with people continuing to think that cloud is all about IaaS, when today it is as much about business components, and, in future, this will be even more so.

Developing your cloud strategy – it’s not just about IT, it’s about shaping the business

You can capitalise on the hyperscalers’ huge investment by intercepting their development path,

gaining momentum in the market by exploiting the newest cloud services and avoiding investment

in custom-building capabilities that will soon be available as a utility. At a higher level, you will want

to understand which components with rich business value will soon be forthcoming so that you can

short-cut the traditional product development cycle and afterwards ride a wave of future upgrades and enhancements.

Wardley mapping is a valuable aid in developing a strategy that makes optimal use of external capabilities and focuses a bank’s resources on the areas that will deliver the greatest return. In the Wardley map below, we have picked out just a fraction of the public cloud services now available for the banking industry to illustrate how cloud components can directly transform customer products and services, or provide capabilities for internal customers (developers, data scientists, UX designers, analysts, etc.). The vertical axis of the map reflects the degree to which a capability adds value to end customers: the horizontal axis shows the evolution of technology as it passes through stages from genesis, to custom-built, product and utility.

Cloud in Banking: An Opportunity That Can’t be Ignored 4

Capabilities that are new to the market (such as voice banking and blockchain-enabled asset management) feature in the genesis stage of the map. Under the custom-built stage come capabilities that are more mature but still highly unique to an individual enterprise, such as development of models and analytics on unstructured data. In the product column, capabilities are very similar from one bank to another, with a less direct yet still significant scope to impact end-customer services – for example, through faster product iteration.

Assembling cloud services to deliver cloud-native business capabilities in the banking environment

The increasing availability of business components opens up the prospect of cloud-native business capabilities that from the very start are conceived, designed and delivered through the cloud. Cloud-native business capabilities represent a higher level of abstraction than cloud-native applications. As a result, cloud-native business capabilities go that much further in enabling the speed, experimentation and ability to scale that underpin the competitiveness of a 21st Century Bank as it strives to bring new products and services to market in ever shorter cycles. In addition, cloud-native business capabilities change the role of the IT Function from developer-intensive build to more automated assembly of components

So, what does this look like in practice? The Fundamental Review of the Trading Book (FRTB) is a set of rules, introduced under Basel III, to standardise the treatment of market risk and impose stricter capital requirements. In order to comply with FRTB, the main steps that banks need to take are develop enhanced risk models; populate models with bank positions and market data, such as prices and credit ratings; and run the models.

Banks can assemble capabilities from the cloud to meet FRTB in a faster and more effective manner than is possible using traditional solutions:

  • Faster model development cycles allow “strats” to tune their models to reduce the amount of capital that the bank needs to hold.
  • Common real-time reference data removes the need for the disparate reference data and interfaces to be found in most banks. The result is reduced cost, less complexity and standardisation between different parts of the bank.
  • Since FRTB requires an increase in the number of models and their complexity, greater compute capacity is necessary (some experts project a twenty-fold increase). Moreover, risk models are run only on an occasional basis to provide internal and regulatory reports, the burst capacity of cloud compute is a natural fit for running FRTB models. In contrast, traditional infrastructure would be sized for the peak, with substantial capacity remaining idle for most of the time.

By adopting a cloud delivery model to address FRTB, banks not only minimise their upfront investment and speed implementation, but going forward have greater flexibility, with ability to scale to meet new demands and capitalise on future investment by the cloud providers in model development and data services.

David Rimmer

David Rimmer

All this potential to exploit cloud for new products and services comes with a colossal proviso.  Today’s catalogue of public cloud solutions can make a direct contribution to new products and services, but fundamentally what they offer is a basket of much more sophisticated components.  These components still have to be assembled and configured.  Business capabilities have to be built: processes redesigned, staff trained in new skills, culture aligned, new KPIs put in place, new organisation structures set up.  Of course, for anyone with experience of business transformation this is no surprise.

The changing roles of business and IT leaders

At this point, it is clear that the transformation from build to assembly is of such a wide-ranging and fundamental nature that the active intervention of CEOs, COOs, CFOs and other business leaders is essential. However, the success in driving a cloud business strategy (as opposed to a cloud IT strategy) entails major changes in the roles of business and IT leaders.

CEOs, COOs & Boards

  • Cloud business strategy – Once a cloud strategy has the potential to become a business-shaping strategy rather than an IT strategy, responsibility clearly needs to sit at the top of the enterprise. Here, vision and imagination in how and where to combine components that bring differentiation will be vital. Of equal importance will be championing this new perspective on how business capabilities can be built and challenging where traditional custom-build approaches are being applied without sound reasoning.
  • Vendor strategy – As the richness of capabilities and the ease of integration between them increases, so critically does vendor dependence. This greatly raises the importance of vendor strategy. When you needed a vendor strategy for each level of the stack or each significant component, this responsibility sat in IT and procurement. If you are buying the entire stack and non-interchangeable modules with rich business capability – potentially across huge spans of your business – then these vendor strategies and relationships will sit at CEO or Board level.
  • Operating model and culture – Some of the biggest barriers to strategy execution will be your existing operating model and culture. Both will require transformation in order to harness the potential to assemble business components from the cloud, rather than build systems and capabilities in-house using traditional tools and processes. Without drive from the top to change culture and operating models, any cloud strategy will remain still-born.

Business unit leaders & their IT partners

  • Market insight – A critical role of business leaders and their IT partners is to understand where genuine differentiation can be gained in the market and how the current and future products of the cloud vendors can be assembled to enable this differentiation; or, alternatively, where custom-build and niche industry capabilities are the answer. In this process, it will be essential to understand the wider cloud strategy of your organisation so that you can see what capabilities have been or will be adopted elsewhere. This will drive re-use and simplification, which in turn bring lower costs and greater speed. Finally, business unit leaders and their IT partners will need close relationships with niche industry software companies and other IT firms to see where they can bring unique capabilities or act as partners in developing new solutions.

IT leaders & their teams

  • Advice – With cloud strategy becoming a business issue, CIOs and their teams will play a vital role in educating and advising their colleagues about cloud capabilities and the individual cloud vendors. The industrialisation of IT through assembling rather than building components is a far cry from traditional models, so the extent of education and explanation that will be required should not be underestimated.
  • Orchestration – As focus moves from build to assembly, the CIO and his or her team will become orchestrators of change. This is both in a literal sense by laying the technical foundations to assist assembly and inter-operation of cloud across the enterprise, and in a figurative sense through shaping and combining strategies from across the enterprise to ensure standards and re-use that are essential to low costs and flexibility. In fulfilling this role, definition of business and technical architectures will be essential, as these architectures will describe components and how they are combined.
  • Vanguard of change – CIOs and their teams will play an essential role in galvanizing the organisation and acting as the vanguard for change. They will need to be cheerleaders for the changes in operating model and culture that are key to transformation. In addition, CIOs will on occasion need to recognise when traditional functions of the IT function (such as build and control) are a hindrance and they need to step aside to let business units take the lead.

Some practical steps to building your cloud strategy

So, what is your public cloud strategy? Here are some of the key questions that you will need to answer:

  1. What are the new products and services that will add most value to our internal and external customers?
  2. Which components are available from the cloud to support new products and services?
  3. How does the map look for each of the hyperscalers – they each have very different strengths and strategies – and which will provide the best fit for our business?
  4. How many cloud providers will we use? Will we go deep with one to drive fast and transformational change? Or will we partner with several to tap into different streams of innovation and maintain leverage in negotiations?
  5. In which areas will we want to devote our own resources to custom-build differentiating capabilities that cannot be sourced from elsewhere?
  6. Where will we use partners to assemble and manage cloud components because they bring distinct experience and skills, and/or the capabilities in question do not deliver meaningful difference in our customers’ eyes?
  7. What changes are required in the enterprise’s operating model to take advantage of potential to build cloud native applications and assemble (rather than build) cloud-native business capabilities?
  8. What does our composite map look like?
  9. Where do we begin?

Ignore it at your peril

The failure to see cloud for what it is and what it has to offer is currently widespread. However, experience shows that banks that can define a strong cloud strategy, and act on the business transformation needed in order to make it a reality, open up the potential for a market-leading competitive advantage. Building new products and services and replacing aging infrastructure, they are able to respond rapidly to market demands with low technical, regulatory and financial risks.  Cloud is ready for banking. Banks now just need to decide whether they can really afford to ignore the opportunity.

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