Banking under siege by new entrants and new technology; inflection point or Kodak moment?

People and businesses will always need banking, but will they always need banks? This question is driving a wave of disruption and new thinking in the industry.

Discovery has announced plans to enter the local retail banking market; telco and tech companies are making similar moves.

Fintech is offering completely new ways of doing business and customers are embracing exponential start-ups who offer frictionless, mobile services.

Banks are responding with increased digitisation, new lines of business and highly innovative channels.

What’s really happening, how will the banking landscape change and when will it take place?

The reason that non-traditional players are getting into main account banking is because of the customer intimacy and insight that comes with a transactional bank account.

It’s the one place that all the money goes into and comes out of; businesses put their main account on all their invoices and many married couples don’t even share one!

A home loan or insurance policy is important but still just a monthly debit order that doesn’t generate any behavioural insight about a customer.

The relationship is also typically low key; you will only hear from your insurance broker on your birthday and only home loans collections department if you miss a payment.

Some banks have taken advantage of this and created additional stickiness through rewards programmes, improved channels and ecosystems of value-adds.

Core transactional platforms are at the heart of a bank’s operations; Standard Bank is spending R21Bn on replacing theirs with a German software called SAP.

Regulation and banking license approval ensures that banking platforms are robust and well managed.

In addition, financial aspects such as capital adequacy and risk controls such as anti money-laundering mean the requirements for running a bank are significant barriers to entry.

The local banking industry is consistently rated very highly and its world class resilience and regulatory oversight provided a shock absorber for South Africa during the global financial crisis of 2008.

Internationally, large banks have relied on these barriers to entry to block new entrants but the rise of fintech and trust-disintermediating technologies such as Blockchain is changing this mindset.

Looser regulation in the UK is seeing a wave of banking license applications from start-ups and in the US, firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon are actively launching financial services products.

Locally, banks are collaborating with digital start-ups through incubators such as Barclays’ TechStars, FirstRand’s Alphacode and more recently Standard Bank with Google’s StartupGrind and Nedbank with LaunchLab.

Arguably much of this activity is still peripheral and the core business of running a large scale bank relies on well established processes.

Banking Under Siege by New Entrants and New Technology

This was true for Kodak in the mid nineties when it employed 140,000 people, sold 85% of the world’s photo paper and was the fourth most valuable brand in the United States.

In 2012 it filed for bankruptcy; it got left behind in an industry that was turned upside down by technology and its impact on their customers’ lives and the market.

Kodak invented digital photography but they failed to embrace the disruption to their own business model that it caused to the industry.

Similarly, the Walkman was the first portable device for listening to recorded music; Sony could have digitised it but Apple’s iPod eventually obliterated it.

In 2000, Blockbuster was the biggest video rental chain in America, and at the time internet startup Netflix offered to run its fledgling online business.

Blockbuster turned this down and went bankrupt 10 years later, having failed to move its business from bricks to clicks while Netflix has become a global leader in streaming movies.

South African banks have been very successful at moving processes off of paper, out of physical locations and onto digital channels.

FNB announced in March that it would be closing branches as a result of its successful customer digitisation strategy; FirstRand’s 2016 results indicate that overall electronic volumes increased 13%, while manual volumes grew only 2%.

New ways of working are also extending beyond channels to back office operations.

Standard Bank credits its large scale transition to Agile software development with a 30% reduction in testing failure rates on IT projects.

Barclays Africa recently built an innovative workspace called co-labs for high profile digital transformation projects such as its newly launched open API for small businesses.

An API, or Application Programming Interface enables software connections between companies and this is the first Banking as a Service product to be launched in South Africa.

Similar innovations from other banks and fintech players could create very useful networks of plug and play services in an inter-connected API economy or “app store” style of banking.

The next decade is likely to be pivotal for the banking industry and it will be driven by the race for the customer and not by the fintech on its own.

Digital is just the enabler of new business models built around improved customer centricity that according to Dimension Data’s Digital Advisory is something that banks should avoid just doing, they have to become digital in their thinking, operating models and execution.

Customers expect frictionless processes that are available where they are and not only where the bank is, the transport and accommodation industries have already delivered this with Uber and Airbnb.

According to Google, the tipping point to mobile in South Africa happened in 2014 when internet searches from mobile devices exceeded desktops.

Millennials don’t stand in queues or fill in forms, they build trust through convenience and they reward customer delight with loyalty and peer group recognition.

By 2020 there will be 500 million people in Sub Saharan Africa with connected smartphones; these people will still need banking but it will probably look very different from today.

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