The end of the world as we know it: Banking’s new reality

The end of the world as we know it: Banking’s new reality

Simon Wilson

Director, Payment Solutions at Icon Solutions

Views 1008

The end of the world as we know it: Banking’s new reality

04.05.2020 09:30 am

There are decades where it feels like nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades seem to happen. In just over 100 days, COVID-19 has swept around the planet, more than half the world’s population has been forced into lockdown, far too many lives have been lost and entire industries have shutdown. A crippling global recession seems inevitable and a clear exit strategy, for now, remains elusive.

Make no mistake, this truly is the end of the world as we know it. As we gradually emerge from this unprecedented crisis, societies and economies will have been irreversibly transformed at a pace and scale that would have been unimaginable only months ago.

For the payments industry, transaction volumes have collapsed as entire sectors have shut down and buying has ground to a halt. The impact is felt not only at the point-of-sale, but across supply chains and corporate, FX and trade finance transactions. In contrast, massive stimulus, relief and requisition packages have led to a huge increase in government payments directly to corporates and consumers.

Banks and financial institutions have critical, positive, immediate roles to play in supporting consumers and business, while facilitating the repurposing of entire economies and welfare systems. Longer-term, banks will need to address a range of challenges as they adapt to the new normal. One thing’s for sure, efficiency across every area of their business will be central to doing the best for customers and shareholders, and minds need to be on accelerating digital transformation.

Becoming the good guys

The reputation of the banking industry has never fully recovered from the 2008 financial crash. Public reaction to banks seen to be abandoning their customers will be severe, immediate and potentially unsalvageable. When push really has come to shove, the human race has prioritised life over money. Banks (and other businesses) that are stepping up now will be rewarded in the long-term.

Viable companies that have fallen on hard times must also be supported. Many industries such as airlines, travel and hospitality will not immediately bounce back, and finding sustainable ways to prop them up is undoubtedly a challenge. Accurate cash management to protect liquidity and reserves, for example, will be key to the survival of many businesses until better times return.  

In contrast, other companies have taken off. Medical ventilator manufacturers are rapidly working to scale production, while engineering firms from other sectors are repurposing factories. Remote working means Zoom and Slack have seen share prices skyrocket since the end of January. Supporting and facilitating growth where possible will save lives and assuage ailing economies.

The unique financial circumstances and inclinations of consumers must be considered.  Diligent savers are being forced to raid rainy day funds, take on debt and risk potentially defaulting on mortgage, loan and credit card payments. Spendthrifts are all-dressed-up with nowhere to go and are transformed into frustrated misers. A one-size-fits all approach will not work, and banks must think outside the box to ensure the individual needs of customers are met.

Making life easier in hard times

Banks must also consider the behavioural impact across the economy. The way we transact is likely to have changed forever as we get used to new payment methods. With billions of people stuck inside and shops shuttered, online spending has soared. And when shopping in-store, consumers are opting for cashless payment options, especially contactless cards and mobile wallets, to avoid touching cash and POS terminals. For corporates, cheque use (which accounts for 40% of B2B transactions in the U.S.) will decline as banks push real-time alternatives.

Banks also need to prepare for mass channel changes and provide support to aid this transition. Consider the many (mainly elderly) customers who were reliant on branches being forcibly converted to digital banking as a result of lockdown and quarantine measures. My suspicion is that many lockdown closed branches are unlikely to re-open, accelerating an existing trend.

Digital education is particularly crucial given another predictable, and disappointing, trend. We have seen a significant increase in fraud as criminals and chancers prey on uncertainty, confusion and inexperience.

But with banks’ own internal human resources under huge pressure and strain, supporting the transition to digital channels presents challenges. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies, therefore, have a key role to play in service provision. AI call centres and chat bots are already seeing increased use to help deal with enquiries, while AI-based fraud prevention tools can help protect customers. However, using them in the right way at the right time is a challenge that still needs to be met.

Speed and scale matters

Beyond support to individual consumers and companies, huge structural shifts must be addressed. The ability to respond quickly and on a massive scale is the key to protecting lives and livelihoods. Payments are an integral part of this response.

We are therefore seeing unprecedented government intervention. The U.S. is sending $1,200 to every citizen. But welfare systems are simply not designed for this scale, and urgent support is needed to help distribute funds and relief to those who need it.

Real-time payments enable the distribution of urgent funds, such as aid, immediately rather than in a week. Value-added services built on RTP rails, such as Request to Pay, will enable data-driven action and could prove powerful.

Global supply chains have also been decimated. Protectionist instincts alongside practical necessity have taken root as governments come under increasing scrutiny. With ongoing supply constraints due to social distancing the need to source closer to home is likely to drive lower intercontinental trade.

Banks have a crucial role in supporting a rapid shift towards domestic production, whether it be food, medical supplies or PPE. For example, Singapore (which produces only 10% of its food locally) has launched a $30 million fund to incentivise innovation.

Payments transformation in a transforming world

It is a brave person that predicts what comes next. But what we do know is that bank profitability, already a significant pain point, will be placed under unprecedented strain from reduced transaction volume, historically low interest rates and increasing default rates.

Reducing costs, and quickly, is essential.  With the stakes now higher than ever, we can expect to see a marked acceleration in payments transformation initiatives. Outdated, fragmented and expensive legacy systems are a burden that banks can no longer afford. As McKinsey noted, ‘banks will need to reflect on how to organise themselves for change, possibly by running some of their payments businesses in a completely different way.’

Establishing a clear strategy and target architecture, outsourcing non-strategic elements of the payments value chain and leveraging cloud-based open source technology provide opportunities to reduce costs and increase resiliency, while laying a foundation to adapt to the uncertain times that lie ahead and support consumers and businesses through them.

Latest blogs

Nish Kotecha and Noslen Suárez PhD Finboot

How blockchain can help us have trust in the food we eat

Today’s food supply chains are global, connected and generally efficient, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on areas of weakness. The urgent need for robust and resilient systems and processes has been brought sharply into focus, and Read more »

Chris Miller RSA Security

Back to Normality: Five Steps to Stay Resilient After Disruption

The financial services sector has lived through many global disruptions, but the nature of recent events has put an unprecedented strain on operational resilience; from needing to ensure critical functions could continue with skeleton staff and Read more »

TYRON JONES n/a

How Technology Has Disrupted the Used Car Buying Experience

We’ve seen many fields change rapidly as a result of the integration of modern technological advancements over the last couple of decades. And it looks like more is coming on the horizon as well, judging by current trends. One of the markets that Read more »

Shuvo G. Roy Mphasis

Reboot 1.0: How financial services technology can enable the supply chain to support a post-lockdown boom

Ground control and Captain Tom When veteran Captain Tom Moore decided to walk one hundred laps of his garden before his 100th birthday to raise funds to support NHS heroes battling Covid-19 from the frontline, he never imagined that he would Read more »

Lisa Gutu Salt Edge

Building a PSD2 compliant channel: challenges and opportunities for financial institutions

PSD2 obliges ASPSPs including banks, e-wallets, prepaid cards and other companies that offer payment accounts to provide at least one channel for secure communication with third party providers (TPP). Even neobanks or e-money institutions, including Read more »

Related Blogs

Alex Malyshev SDK.finance

The Biggest Danger to Branchless Banking

With a third of the global population on lockdown and scores of bank branches closed, many are convinced that branch banking is dead, and the future is branchless. Is this really true? Read more »

Sudip Lahiri HCL Technologies

Why it’s time for the financial services industry to start banking on 5G

The demand for high-speed, reliable internet connectivity has skyrocketed in recent years. Whether it’s the rise in remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or an increased number of businesses now storing and backing up their data in the cloud Read more »

Hirander Misra GMEX Group

Are UK Banks profiting from the current coronavirus crisis and failing SMEs?

A UK business could be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), as set out by the UK Government. However, it appears that despite the Government’s best intentions, this scheme is not working in practice and some urgent Read more »

Marcus Vinicius Martinez CGI

Hyper-Casual Banking

If you own a smartphone, the chances are you have at least one gaming app installed. You know, for those rare moments when you have a few minutes to spare and just need to switch your mental focus. However, with the ever-increasing power of Read more »

Danny Healy MuleSoft

The 'Lego-ification' of Banking IT and the Rise of Digital Finance Ecosystems: Four Priorities for Banks in 2020

The advent of the open banking era and continued emergence of fintech has forced customer experience up the banking agenda. According to McKinsey, of the 50 largest global banks, three in four have now pledged themselves to some form of customer Read more »

Magazine
ALL
Free Newsletter Sign-up
+44 (0) 208 819 32 53 +44 (0) 173 261 71 47
Download Our Mobile App
Financial It Youtube channel