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Quantum Leap: How will banks cope with tomorrow’s tech?

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Quantum Leap: How will banks cope with tomorrow's tech?

By Elina Mattila, Executive Director, Mobey Forum

Last century, one of most dramatic changes to the banking ecosystem was the integration of digital technology, both with back office and customer-facing systems. Today, we are entering a whole new phase. Customer demographics are shifting as technologies evolve, giving rise to a digitised market dynamic and a new playground for financial services, one that offers challenges and opportunities for banks and financial institutions that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Elina Mattila

Elina Mattila

These are the droids you’re looking for

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are creating huge efficiencies for banks and consumers alike.

Conversational AI chatbots and voice assistants, for example, are emerging as a popular way to deliver rapid, personalised customer service experiences at scale. And the use-cases go way beyond basic customer support. With technologies advancing, these chatbots and assistants can act as personal finance advisors to help end-users manage their money, or pay bills with a simple command.

As AI becomes increasingly pervasive, banks need to find the right balance between ease and experience.

Sometimes a customer wants a quick answer and a quicker fix. There are certain situations though, when considerable expertise, empathy and tact are required. Here, human interaction is the best approach.

But with technology now able to effectively mimic human speech patterns, it will become harder to draw a clear line between people and robots.1 The question is – should consumers know?  Considering these ethical and reputational issues will be a priority for banks as AI becomes integral to the delivery of financial services.

Delivering the personal touch

AI and ML are also helping banks move beyond traditional pre-packaged products and services to forge a more meaningful connection with their consumers.

By using data to truly understand consumer behaviour, banks can create products that are, well, better than those we have today. More flexible. More relevant. More equipped to help us reconcile our spending habits with our longer-term financial ambitions.

Among younger consumers, who are increasingly wary of credit, for example, platforms that encourage savings, investment and financial-planning will resonate more than those that simply promote additional spending. Banks benefit too, as it keeps product portfolios relevant and allows resources to be distributed effectively and efficiently.

A Quantum of Solace for banks

To remain competitive in the long-term and deliver truly personalised experiences and services, continually improving data quality and using smarter tools is key.

Enter quantum computers, which have the potential to completely revolutionise AI, ML and data modelling.

It’s reported that quantum computers can be up to 100m times more powerful than traditional computers.2 Such power could allow banks to deliver AI services and applications that are simply beyond our reach today, and incorporate critical thinking, creativity and intuition.

Of course, it is hard to say when the first commercial applications of quantum computers will become viable. Harder still is to predict what the quantum future will look like, not only for banks, but for society as a whole. The prospect of such overwhelming change makes it critical that banks and financial institutions come together now to explore future opportunities and negotiate potential challenges.

The Bank of GAFAMAT?

Looking into the more immediate future, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Alibaba and Tencent – the major technology titans collectively (and clunkily) known as GAFAMAT – have recently poured huge investments into financial services.

Many see the ‘Bank of GAFAMAT’ as the next logical step. Changing consumer behaviour, particularly among younger generations, is a key driver. 36% of all consumers would consider switching to a GAFAMAT bank. 50% of those are aged between 25 and 34.3

Where does this leave banks? Given the impact of GAFAMAT in other sectors, there is an understandable wariness in some quarters.

In the open banking era, however, GAFAMAT should not be seen as an existential threat, but rather an opportunity to deepen customer engagement and establish stronger bonds with younger consumers that associate more readily with platforms, not institutions. Indeed, GAFAMAT can be a powerful channel for banks to leverage through symbiotic partnerships, integration and collaboration.

The road ahead

The dialogue surrounding the impact of these disruptive trends and technologies for the banking ecosystem is evolving fast. For banks and financial institutions, standing still is simply not an option.  This is why platforms like Mobey Day Toronto are so important, enabling close and collaborative discussion on how AI, robotics and changing spending habits are shaping the future of financial services.

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/may/08/google-duplex-assistant-phone-calls-robot-human

[2] https://thefinanser.com/2018/03/banker-march-quantum-will-change-everything-including-banking-money-security.html/

[3]https://www.intelligentenvironments.com/will-gafa-next-bank/

Banking

SoftBank reaches settlement with former WeWork CEO Neumann

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SoftBank reaches settlement with former WeWork CEO Neumann 1

(Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp said on Friday it has reached a settlement with WeWork’s special committee and the company’s co-founder and former chief executive, Adam Neumann, putting to rest a legal battle dating back to 2019.

SoftBank, the new owner of the office-sharing firm, did not disclose terms of the settlement. Media reports earlier this week indicated the deal includes a nearly $500 million cut in Neumann’s payout from SoftBank.

The legal tussle between SoftBank and Neumann started in 2019, when SoftBank agreed to buy around $3 billion in WeWork stock belonging to Neumann as well as current and former WeWork employees. SoftBank later contested its obligation to purchase the shares.

Under the new settlement, SoftBank will purchase around half the shares it had originally agreed to buy, a source familiar with the talks had told Reuters on Monday.

The settlement is also expected to clear the decks for WeWork as it reportedly pursues a public listing by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

“This agreement is the result of all parties coming to the table for the sake of doing what is best for the future of WeWork,” said Marcelo Claure, executive chairman of WeWork and CEO of SoftBank Group International.

SoftBank, which poured more than $13.5 billion into WeWork, was pulled into the legal dispute with directors at WeWork after backing out of the $3 billion tender offer agreed when it bailed out the office-sharing firm following a flopped IPO attempt.

(Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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Banking

Banks weigh up home working – the new normal or an aberration?

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Banks weigh up home working - the new normal or an aberration? 2

By Lawrence White, Iain Withers and Muvija M

LONDON (Reuters) – As the finance industry prepares for life post-pandemic, commercial banks are moving quickly to harness working from home to cut costs, while investment banks are keen to get traders and advisers back to the office.

HSBC and Lloyds are getting rid of as much as 40% of their office space as an easy way to make savings when bank profits have been crunched by the pandemic.

But there are concerns that remote working does not benefit everyone. Junior staff miss out on socialising and learning opportunities and there are also risks home working can entrench gender inequality.

At investment banks, where long hours in the office were the norm pre-pandemic, bosses say they want most people back where they can see them.

HSBC plans to almost halve office space globally, as it aims to squeeze more use out of the remaining space and increase the number of staff per desk from just over one to closer to two.

Britain’s biggest domestic lender Lloyds plans to shrink its office space by a fifth within three years. Standard Chartered will cut a third of its space within four years, while Metro Bank said it would cut some 40% and make more use of branches.

“We’ve had a period where flexible working has been tested in full, with about three quarters of people not based in offices as we used to call them, and the business has performed remarkably well,” Andy Halford, Standard Chartered CFO, said.

But major investment banks take a different view, with Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David Solomon pouring cold water on the potential of remote working.

“It’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible,” he told a Credit Suisse conference on Wednesday.

Barclays CEO Jes Staley, who last year said he thought the days of 7,000 employees trudging into its Canary Wharf headquarters were numbered, is also unwilling to commit for now to large office closures.

The Barclays boss has said the bank had “no plan” to make a major real estate move as Britain’s prolonged third lockdown had shown the strains of working from home.

Nick Fahy, CEO of online lender Cynergy Bank, said working over screens often could not compete. “You might have a disagreement on this, that or the other but actually over the coffee machine or over a glass of wine or a bit of lunch, issues can be resolved.”

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Some banks have acted quickly because they are used to flexing workforces in line with economic cycles, particularly in investment banks, Oliver Wyman principal Jessica Marlborough said.

But some are waiting on analysis of staff productivity changes before making final decisions, while others were mindful junior staff may still prefer going into offices, she said.

Banks are also concerned women may lose out from the shift to remote working.

“We thought the pandemic would be a big leveller for women. But actually what we’re starting to see is it’s extremely challenging to get women to move jobs in a pandemic,” Marlborough said.

“Banks were making progress in hiring a more balanced workforce in terms of gender and other metrics, but they’re actually struggling now (as banks are finding) they (women) are less likely to seek out a new job.”

Union leaders said part of the reason was that some women are juggling more childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.

Dominic Hook, national officer for UK union Unite, said banks must ensure working from home is voluntary, use of surveillance tools is limited, and employers respect staff hours so work does not spill into evenings and weekends.

“Our concern is that it won’t actually be a choice and that banks will pressure staff to work from home,” Hook said.

There are also concerns hybrid working will favour employees who visit the office more regularly, as they can spend more time in person with colleagues and managers, said Richard Benson, managing director at Accenture Interactive.

The staff most likely to go back to the office are traders, bank executives said, while back-office functions such as finance, risk management and IT will spend more time working remotely.

In Germany, Deutsche Bank said it had been challenging to adapt home office spaces for traders and expected many will want to return, but not all.

“We will pay more attention to the personal circumstances at home. Dealers also have children or parents in need of care. We have become more sensitive,” said Kristian Snellman, Deutsche Bank’s head of investment banking transformation for Germany and EMEA.

The trend to shed offices predated the pandemic as many banks made cuts after the 2007-09 financial crisis. Some have already made moves as a result of the pandemic, such as NatWest, which shut its tech hub in north London last summer.

Retained offices are being remodelled, with desks removed to make way for collaboration and break space such as coffee areas, gardens and libraries, property consultancy Arcadis said.

“It’s not just about adding a ping pong table and table football and hoping it will work, it’s about making sure people get downtime,” said Sarah-Jane Osborne, head of workscape at Arcadis.

David Duffy, CEO of Virgin Money, said the bank is among those planning to strip out office cubicles.

“The world of large-scale populations returning to a tall skyscraper building to come in and do their e-mail in the office doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

(Reporting By Lawrence White and Iain Withers in London and Muvija M in Bengaluru, Additional reporting by Patricia Uhlig in Frankfurt. Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Jane Merriman)

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Banking

Bank of England’s Haldane warns inflation “tiger” is prowling

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Bank of England's Haldane warns inflation "tiger" is prowling 3

By Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) – Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane warned on Friday that an inflationary “tiger” had woken up and could prove difficult to tame as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that central banks may need to respond.

In a clear break from other members of the Monetary Policy Committee who are more relaxed about the outlook for inflation, Haldane called inflation a “tiger (that) has been stirred by the extraordinary events and policy actions of the past 12 months”.

“People are right to caution about the risks of central banks acting too conservatively by tightening policy prematurely,” Haldane said in a speech published online.

“But, for me, the greater risk at present is of central bank complacency allowing the inflationary (big) cat out of the bag.”

Haldane’s comments prompted British government bond prices to fall and sterling to rise as he warned that investors may not be adequately positioned for the risk of higher inflation.

“There is a tangible risk inflation proves more difficult to tame, requiring monetary policymakers to act more assertively than is currently priced into financial markets,” Haldane said.

(Editing by David Milliken)

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